The Phillies signed Juan Pierre today to a Minor League deal. While the Phillies were wise to take on no risk with the deal, signing Pierre simultaneously makes little sense for the Philes as well as puts another obstacle in the path of Domonic Brown.
In announcing the deal, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. said that Pierre could serve a valuable speed role for the Phils, who didn’t have much speed on their bench last season. What this generally means is that Pierre would serve as a pinch runner. Unfortunately, Pierre, who has long been one of the least efficient basestealers in the game, is ill-equipped to be a late-game weapon.
Last season, Pierre was caught stealing more than any player in the game, and that wasn’t a fluke — over the past three years, Pierre has been caught stealing nine more times than any other player in the game. And while some of that is a function of the fact that he runs so frequently — only Michael Bourn attempted more steals over the same three-year period — it’s not all of it. Of the 160 players who have attempted at least 25 steals over the past three seasons, Pierre’s 72.7% success rate ranks 95th.
That’s not to say that Pierre isn’t a good base runner. While he may be a bit overaggressive in trying to steal bases, he is that way for a reason — he’s fast. Pierre has a positive BsR in every season for which it has been measured, and over the past three seasons, his 14.4 BsR is third-best in the game. That’s all well and good, but it’s also likely a quality that either has little value or is redundant on the current Phillies roster, take your pick. Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino certainly don’t need to be pinch run for. Laynce Nix isn’t a burner, but he has generated neutral or positive BsR scores throughout his career.
Looking at the infield, the story is much the same. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins aren’t going to get taken out of the lineup for a runner, and while Placido Polanco, Ty Wigginton or Jim Thome aren’t the fleetest of foot, you would need to get Michael Martinez or John Mayberry into the game afterwards if you bring in Pierre to run for them. Catchers are always easy to run for, but managers are also usually loathe to leave themselves without a catcher on the bench. There will be opportunities to pinch hit for the pitcher, but are you really going to pinch hit Pierre? Jim Thome will be the primary pinch hitter du jour against right-handers, and while Pierre has hit better against lefties the past four years, Wigginton is still probably the better option. Again, Thome and Wigginton aren’t the swiftest duo in the Majors, but pinch hitting one of them and then inserting Pierre as a pinch runner if they reach burns two of the team’s four bench players who aren’t the backup catcher in one move. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room, especially for a National League team.
Adding Pierre also makes little sense because the Phillies roster was already pretty chockfull. Assuming that there are 13 slots for position players, the Phillies lineup looks as such:
Catchers: Carlos Ruiz, Brian Schneider
Infielders: Ryan Howard (DL), Michael Martinez, Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins, Jim Thome, Chase Utley, Ty Wigginton
Outfielders: John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, Hunter Pence, Juan Pierre, Shane Victorino
This is where the Phils get a little extra credit for keeping the deal to a Minor League one. If you were counting, you noticed 14 names. In other words, when Howard returns — which could happen as early as May — someone on the above list will need to go. It seems like a good bet that that person would be Pierre.
Of course, the real crime here is that one of the 14 names you didn’t read on the above list was Brown’s. With Raul Ibanez leaving for … something, it was thought that Brown would get a chance to garner substantially more playing time. In his time in the Majors last year, Brown put up league-average offensive numbers. He put up the same wOBA as did Nix, and bested Pierre by 28 points. Perhaps that’s not much to hang your hat on — after all, it was only 210 plate appearances — but you have to start somewhere. Brown posted his best BB% and K% since A ball, the latter of which was likely a concern after his 2010 cup of coffee. He didn’t go all Brett Lawrie on National League pitchers, but he wasn’t atrocious either. He deserved a shot at more Major League playing time, but now if he hopes to get any, he will have to get hot in March. And that still might not be enough.
Perhaps the most telling thing about Pierre’s signing is that the Phillies may only need him for the first six weeks of the season. Given the choice between keeping Brown on the Major League roster and giving him a chance to work his way into regular playing time while Howard is out or signing someone else, the Phils chose to sign someone else. Even if Pierre stays with the Phils for the duration of the season, his value is limited due to the fact that he is not an efficient base stealer, as well as the fact that the Phillies have few players for whom he can pinch run without Charlie Manuel having to burn a second player after the inning ends. Finally, bringing in Pierrer also throws another road block onto Brown’s already cluttered road to regular playing time. Like many of the Phillies’ moves this offseason, signing Pierre probably doesn’t make the Phillies any worse, but it is also unlikely to make them any better.