Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar (left) tags out Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Juan Pierre (10) on a stolen base attempt in the fifth inning in a spring training game at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
I don't want to make fun of addiction, so I'll have to phrase this delicately: There are certain things that you need to keep out of the hands of certain people. Like, Sonny the Cuckoo Bird might be a respectable member of society now. He might be a bus driver or a surgeon. Might have a wife and kids. Everything could be going right for him. So if you give him a bag of Cocoa Puffs while he's at work, driving buses or operating on people, at least part of the body count is on your hands. You knew he couldn't handle it. You knew it wasn't the right time. Yet you gave him the Cocoa Puffs anyway.
So with that, we come to Juan Pierre and the Philadelphia Phillies. When he was signed to a minor-league deal, there were some initial chuckles, but there was also a steady refrain of "It's only a minor-league deal. It's only a spring-training invite." Big whoop, right? I'm still thinking that he'll play an awful lot. This is part two of a three-part series in the "Juan Pierre: I Told You So" series. The first part came a couple of months ago when Pierre was signed:
… over there on the end of the bench is Juan Pierre. Speedy little fellow. Hits 'em where they ain't. He's a real spark plug who can get things going and distract the opposing pitcher. I'm not going to say that's how all managers think. But a couple of them do, at least. And a GM who puts Pierre in the hands of such a manager is an enabler.
At the time that was published, Domonic Brown was going to be given a chance to win the starting job. He kept his head above water in his first extended major-league trial last year, hitting .245/.333/.391 (97 OPS+) with a downright decent strikeout-to-walk ratio. Without an established player standing in his way, Brown had a clear path. But his spring defense was, according to some, "appalling", and he was sent down last week to work on a few things.
With Brown gone, that leaves Laynce Nix, who isn't good compared to his left-field peers, or John Mayberry, Jr., who either ironed out the kinks in his Stanford swing when he was a 27-year-old in his first extended major-league stint, or played far better than you'd expect based on his minor-league stats. In 2010, Mayberry hit .267/.328/.412 in triple-A. His career minor-league line is .258/.328/.457. Last season, he hit .271/.341/.513 in 267 major-league at-bats. Those at-bats aren't meaningless, but they were a clear improvement compared with everything else he's done as a professional.
There's a chance that the Phillies will look up at the end of April and see that Nix and Mayberry are hitting a combined .192. Heck, that's possible for anyone in baseball -- Albert Pujols last year, for instance -- but it's even more possible for Nix and Mayberry, who probably trend closer to .200 than most major-league hitters.
And there will be Juan Pierre, smiling, at the end of the bench, trying to catch Charlie Manuel's eye. The temptation is just too strong.
Heck, maybe when the choice is between Nix and Mayberry, Pierre is the best option. His fielding last year was abysmal -- both by anecdotal and statistical measures -- and that led to him being one of the least-valuable players in baseball when using Wins Above Replacement. But that was something of an outlier. Between the poor seasons of 2008 and 2011, Pierre had two decent-to-good seasons. It's not wild to think he could have another season as a starter left in him.
But just because you can make an argument that he's the best of three unexciting choices, it doesn't mean that he's going to help an offense. Or a pitching staff. And his raison d'être, his speed, might be on the decline. He's already led the league in caught-stealings seven times in his career, but last year was the first time he did it with fewer than 30 successful steals. That's not a good sign. And there's a decent chance that his decline in defense last year had something to do with his waning speed.
Part three of the series will examine what this looks like in August when Pierre is closing in on 500 at-bats. Maybe he'll have one of those freaky .330-hitting kind of years! Slappy, batting-average-dependent players can be good for a couple of those every now and again. Most likely, though, he won't help the offense. And considering the injury problems that the Phillies have, they could need offense from every place they can find it.
"He isn't going to start, you idiot! He just made the team as an extra outfielder," you cry!
Okay. You could be right. But when you put a guy like Pierre in the hands of an old-school manager, you've enabled that manager. Curious decisions will follow. Unless there's some sort of industrial accident between now and July, my money's on Pierre taking over the starting job and running with it. And when Pierre takes a job and runs with it these days, baseball throws him out about half of the time. Be warned, Phillies fans.