Friday, December 18, 2009

Thoughts on Juan Pierre, Mike Gonzalez, Garrett Atkins & Nick Johnson

There are several interesting free agent signings and a trade that have taken place over the past week that warrant comment.

The Los Angeles Dodgers trade outfielder Juan Pierre to the Chicago White Sox for two minor league pitchers

Pierre might be the happiest man in MLB. For five consecutive seasons, between 2003 and 2007, Pierre played in all 162 regular season games. That all changed on July 31, 2008 when the Dodgers acquired Manny Ramirez. He was relegated to pinch running duty and late inning defense.

Yet Pierre bore no grudge against Dodgers manager Joe Torre. When Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games early in the 2009 season, Pierre filled in the breach and was key figure in their run for their second consecutive NL West Division title.

But Pierre will now get to be the White Sox everyday centerfielder. The Chisox haven't had a reliable everyday centerfielder since Aaron Rowand left following the 2005 season - the year they won the World Series. Speaking of World Series, Pierre and Chisox manager Ozzie Guillen have World Series rings from the 2003 Florida Marlins. Guillen was the third base coach for the Marlins that year before being named White Sox manager the following season. So Pierre can handle Ozzie's often mercurial behavior. It is worth noting that Pierre is MLB's active stolen bases leader with 459. Acquiring Pierre could do for the White Sox in 2010 what acquiring Scott Podsednik did in 2005.

The only downside of this deal is that the Chisox GM Kenny Williams parted with two more minor league pitchers. Remember that Williams dealt four minor league pitchers to the San Diego Padres to get Jake Peavy last summer. While the Chisox will contend in 2010 and Pierre will play a big part in their drive for the AL Central title, trading away that many pitchers from your own organization could do harm over the longer term.

Baltimore Orioles sign free agents Mike Gonzalez and Garrett Atkins

Relief pitcher Mike Gonzalez signed a two-year deal worth $12 million and will become the Orioles closer in 2010. Gonzalez appeared in a career high 80 games with the Atlanta Braves in 2009 going 5-4 with a 2.42 ERA. He also saved 10 games. The lefty has saved as many as 24 games in a season. He did this with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2006.

Jim Johnson had been the O's closer after George Sherrill was traded to the Dodgers in late July. Johnson will likely become Gonzalez's set up man. Gonzalez has a very funky delivery which should be fun for O's fans to watch - unless he's walking in a run or given up a three run home run. But this is a relatively low risk investment for the O's.

Garrett Atkins, on the other hand, is at a crossroads. While the Colorado Rockies enjoyed a sensational 2009, Atkins did not batting only .226 with 9 home runs and 48 RBI. Atkins, who turned 30 on December 12th, lost his job at third base to Ian Stewart. Atkins knocked in over 100 runs in 2006 and 2007 and was an RBI short of doing it again in 2008. It might be that Atkins had an off year or it could be that he is in the midst of a precipitous offensive decline.

Atkins succeeds Melvin Mora at third base. He could also see some action as a DH. Atkins will make $4 million for the Orioles in 2010 and the club has an option for 2011.

Nick Johnson returns to the New York Yankees

Larry Bowa's nephew returns where it all started. Nick Johnson signed a one-year deal worth $5.5 million. Johnson began his big league career with the Yankees in 2001 where he was largely a role player at first base and DH. He was dealt to the Montreal Expos along with Juan Rivera and Randy Choate for Javier Vazquez after the 2003 and would remain with the team when they moved to Washington although he missed much of the 2004 season with back problems.

Johnson enjoyed his best season in 2006 when he hit .290 with 23 home runs and 77 RBI for the Nationals. Although he played in a career high 147 games in '06 he couldn't escape injury. Late that September, Johnson broke his leg in a collision with teammate Austin Kearns which sidelined for the rest of the season and would result in him missing the entire 2007 campaign. Johnson would also miss most of the 2008 season with a wrist injury. He was also plagued with injuries during his original stint with the Yankees.

But when healthy Johnson is a productive player. In 2009, Johnson split the season with the Nationals and the Florida Marlins. At first glance, Johnson's stats look modest with a .291 average, 8 home runs and 62 RBI. But he drew 99 walks finishing 6th in the NL. Johnson's .426 OBP was second in the NL only to 2009 NL MVP Albert Pujols.

With Hideki Matsui gone, Johnson will be the Yankees' DH in 2010. Unless, of course, he hurts his back, wrist or leg. But with the signing of Johnson could this mean Johnny Damon will be soon be gone as well?

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