David DeJesus became a free agent this offseason for the first time in his nine-season career, and he wasted no time in making use of that right. His free agency allowed the recently reunited team of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to acquire a player they have had their sights on for years -- and at a good price.
The Cubs will be DeJesus's third club, as he was dealt from the Royals to the Athletics last year. This contract will also be his chance to redeem two disappointing seasons: his 2010 was cut short by injury and limited to 91 games, while 2011 was played in Oakland, in a park that hates left-handed hitters. (Okay, all hitters.)
His 2010 campaign was good, just short. DeJesus hit .318/.384/.443 in 394 plate appearances, while also playing quality defense. In fact, this success made it expected that DeJesus would be traded by the July 31 deadline. Two of the interested teams were Theo Epstein's Red Sox, who were without Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron, and Jed Hoyer's Padres. DeJesus ended up undergoing thumb surgery after crashing into an outfield wall, ending the chase for him, and forcing the Royals to pick up his 2011 option in order to trade him later.
That 2010 season was the end of a three-year stretch where DeJesus had hit .300/.363/.443 -- a 116 OPS+ -- with nearly four wins of defensive value to boot. The Athletics acquired him in exchange for Vin Mazzaro and Justin Marks, but the Coliseum proved too much for this left-handed hitter. DeJesus hit just .240/.323/.376, displaying the patience that helped make him valuable in Kansas City, but sans the power or batting average.
Oakland is terrible for lefties, according to Stat Corner's park effects. It cuts into both doubles and home run power, but DeJesus didn't have a significant problem with that relative to past seasons. His 2011 Isolated Power was .136, and it was .143 in the three years preceding it. That's not a surprise, though, as Kauffman is equally terrible for left-handers. DeJesus has spent his entire career playing in parks that don't want him to succeed at the plate, and he's done a good job of making the parks fail to this point.
DeJesus had rounded into form by the season's mid-point, hitting .220/.310/.333 in the first half before coming on strong to finish the year (.270/.342/.438). That's the DeJesus we have come to expect, and now he will be in Wrigley. This will be the first park that was made for him that he has ever played in; it wouldn't be a shock to see DeJesus have a career year, despite his being 32 years old in 2012.
Wrigley is as good for left-handed hitters from a power perspective as Kauffman and Oakland's multi-purpose park are bad. While it gives a slight boost to doubles, homers are easy to come by for southpaw sluggers. There is a reason lefty Carlos Pena made sense as a bounce-back candidate for Jim Hendry's final Cubs team. It's the same reason DeJesus, at two years and just $10 million, makes sense for Theo and Jed's first Cubs club.
He might have his best offensive year, is well-known for his defensive ability, and will cost just $5 million a year on average. Juan Rivera, who has .255/.316/.395 the last two years with below-average defense, signed a contract for $4.5 million for 2012 with the Dodgers. Chien-Ming Wang signed for $4 million, out of line with the comeback contracts of season's past. The whole off-season has been like this, as Ben Lindbergh pointed out at Baseball Prospectus recently:
Are Wang and Rivera isolated outliers who happened to ink their deals early, or are we seeing the opening salvoes of a market gone mad? The next few weeks should tell us whether teams have dismissed concerns about the economy and decided en masse to pay more per win. If not, it will be too late for the Dodgers to get Frank McCourt's money back.
Turns out the market is still going mad. Jonathan Broxton, who missed almost all of 2011 after the previous abuse from manager Joe Torre came to be too much for his elbow to bear, signed for $4 million with the Royals' yesterday. The Giants are throwing real money at relief arms, Joe Nathan got a two-year deal worth $14 million, and the Phillies decided Jonathan Papelbon is worth more in dollars than Mariano Rivera -- but only after attempting to make Ryan Madson very, very rich to do the same job. This is your reminder that the relief market was one favoring buyers less than a month ago.
It's normal for the markets to explode after a new collective bargaining agreement is in place, though, so don't expect the money to stop flowing. That just makes locking up DeJesus for what has been this off-season's floor for veterans -- and for more than one year -- all the more impressive. Especially for a team whose last post-CBA outfielder acquisition was Alfonso Soriano.