It has begun.
With the 3-year, $9-milliion signing of infielder Maicer Izturis yesterday, Alex Anthopoulos has made his first dabble into the free agent market. And while it wasn’t a deal that shook baseball, like a Greinke, Hamilton, or Upton might, it was a perfectly reasonable signing.
Izturis is 32 – not young enough to be on the upside of his career, but certainly not old enough to be on the downside. He is a middle infielder, which fills a glaring need on the roster. And while he’s not going to blow you away with power (he only has 34 career home runs), he is certainly a very useful player. As Andrew Stoeten at Drunk Jays Fans pointed out yesterday, Izturis will basically earn as much as Mike Aviles would have, and is a switch hitter, meaning he can platoon with himself.
What’s even better about his usefulness is an interesting trend that has emerged over the past six years. Take a look at Izturis’s OBP and OPS numbers in the past three even numbered years:
.329 / .691 .321 / .684 .320 / .634
Now compare that to the odd numbered years:
.349 / .753 .359 / .794 .334 / .722
Again – not incredible by any means, but not bad considering that the league average OBP and OPS for a second baseman was .316 / .694 in 2011 and .315 / .689 in 2012.
Also not bad considering that Kelly Johnson put up a .313 / .678 mark last year. Izturis, even in his worst season since 2005, still had a higher OBP than Johnson. And though he hit 14 fewer HR, he struck out 121 times less as well. Not a terrible trade off.
And 2013 is an odd numbered year…
But where does that leave the Jays now? With Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechavarria both still in the mix, how will the playing time work out? In my mind there are five options:
Keep all three on the big league roster. This would allow Hechavarria to ease his way in by platooning with Escobar at SS and Izturis at 2B, but it really wouldn’t help his development. He should be playing everyday.
Start the season with Escobar at SS, Izturis at 2B, and Hechavarria in AAA Buffalo. This is probably the ideal situation, but leaves a gap on the bench. With Johnson gone and Vizquel retired, the Jays are missing a bench player who can play the infield. Mike McCoy possibly?
Option 3 and Option 4
Trade Escobar or trade Hechavarria. Escobar’s stock has likely fallen to the point where getting anything decent in return for him would be difficult. Questions about his maturity and demeanour, along with his poor performance in 2012 override the fact that he put together a very nice 2011 campaign. But he is signed to a very reasonable $5-million contract with two club options, which will make him more attractive.
Hech showed improvement in September last year, and is still only 23 years old, so you’d hate to give up on him this early in his career. But the return on trading him would likely exceed that of Escobar.
The great unknown. We never saw the Vernon Wells trade coming. We never saw the Shaun Marcum trade coming. We never saw the Colby Rasmus trade coming. Who knows if AA has something up his sleeve that shakes everything up and renders the above four scenarios moot. I wouldn’t put it past him.
Personally, I think option two makes the most sense. Let Hech develop a bit more in the minor leagues, keep Izturis as the everyday 2B, and go from there.
No matter what happens, there is a bit of a cushion – nothing can be worse than last year.