Juan Pierre on the South Side

The Chicago White Sox have pulled off another of their trademark surprising trades by acquiring Juan Pierre from the Dodgers for two players to be named later [as of this writing, I’m reading that they are John Ely and John Link]. The Dodgers will also pick up $10.5 million of the remaining $18.5 million on the horrible contract given to Pierre seemingly centuries ago. The White Sox get Pierre for eight million dollars over two seasons, roughly the market rate for a 1 WAR player.

Primarily relegated to a bench role the last two seasons, Pierre seemingly “reemerged” in 2009 while filling in for a suspended Manny Ramirez, putting up an above average seasonal wOBA (.338, 109 wRC+, .308/.365/.392) for the first time since 2004. That may seem promising, but it’s still only 425 plate appearances against several previous years of less-than-scintillating offensive performance. For 2010, CHONE sees a return to pre-2009 form, .282/.327/.363, 11 runs created below average per 150 games. My own projection is also pessimistic: .280/.328/.360, .309 wOBA, -10 runs/150. Pierre has been a good baserunner in the past, although that has also dropped off the last couple of seasons. Let’s add one run to the CHONE projection and call him a -10/150 offensive player.

Evaluating Pierre’s defense is trickier. While he sports a good UZR for 2009, that was primarily in left field. Apparently he will be playing center field in Chicago. His last few seasons in center have been below average. While his numbers in left are good, they don’t suggest average center field defense. CHONE has him at +6 in left, suggesting he would be below average in center. The 2009 Fans Scouting Report points in the same direction: good in left, below average in center. For defense, then, let’s call him “neutral” — +7/150 in left, -2/150 in center — good enough to overcome the left field positional adjustment, but not good enough to gain the advantage of the center field adjustment.

The arithmetic is easy enough: neutral defense, -10/150 offense, 1 WAR player. So the White Sox are getting what they paid for. Straightforwardly, yes. But:

  • There is still the matter of the Ely and Link. If they add value down the road in the majors, that counts against the Chicago’s side of the trade ledger.
  • A 1 WAR player may be worth what Chicago is paying him, but is still far worse than an average (2 WAR) player that you’d want starting. That isn’t to say Pierre doesn’t have value, but it’s worth noting in light of the next point.
  • When Chicago initially obtained Alex Rios off of waivers from Toronto, he was reportedly intended to man center field. Whether or not he’d be good there (one set of UZR projections say he’s better in center than Pierre), he’s certainly a much better overall player than Pierre. Rather than trading for a glorified bench player and putting him in center, the better strategy might be to stick with Rios in center and sign one of the available outfielders championed around these parts for right field. Such a player who would likely require less money, not require giving up talent, and as a bonus would be more productive that Pierre.
  • White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams follows his own muse, and has had enough success that I’m leery of doubting him, even when I don’t understand a move he makes. Still, I don’t understand this move.

    [Author’s update, Wednesday, December 16, 11:00 P.M. EST: As noted by numerous commentators below and in my own comment, it turns out that I misunderstood/misread the Sox’ plan for Pierre — he’s apparently slated to play left field rather than center. I apologize for my confusion; not sure how that happened, as I was surprised when I (mis)read that he was going to play center. I’ll leave the original as a testament to my late-night silliness, with this note as an correction/addendum. Having said that, the analysis isn’t really affected. The point about “neutral” defense is that being as much above average in left field and as much below average in center) around 10 runs/162 games is the standard adjustment between LF/CF) as Pierre is amounts to the same thing — a “0” for positional adjustment + projected defense. As a whole, the projected outfield consists of the same players as in my original analysis — Pierre, Rios, and Quentin. I still see Pierre as a 1 WAR player — decent for the bench, not so much as a starter. The same players that mentioned as better alternatives for RF could also play LF (and one could possibly add Kelly Johnson to that mix for LF over Pierre). Thanks for reading, understanding, and (hopefully) forgiving.]

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    Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

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    Your final point has a flaw: KW *DID* sign one of those available outfielders, Andruw Jones. He also re-upped Kotsay. It’s well-known that the Chicago front office favors speed guys like Podsednik and Owens over defense-minded outfielders such as Brian Anderson, so this is not at all out of the realm of understanding.


    And as great a guy as Juan Pierre is, I can’t stand him as a player.