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Sox Nab Pierre From "Witness Protection Program"

by Mike DePilla
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Good bye, Scotty Pods. Hello, Juan Pierre.

Ken Williams made good on his promise to bolster the Sox offense today by adding speedy outfielder and buddy of Ozzie Guillen Juan Pierre from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for minor league pitchers Jon Link and John Ely.

After taking on the huge contracts of Jake Peavy and Alex Rios in full, Williams dipped back into his trademark "You Pay 'Em, We'll Play 'Em" playbook in his trades so far this off season.

The Royals are paying about $1 million for Mark Teahen to play third base for the Sox in '10, and now the Dodgers will pay over $10 million for Juan Pierre to man left field for the next two seasons. (Of course, that is a favorite practice of Williams that goes all the way back to the Roberto Alomar trade of '03 and was a major factor in deals for Contreras, Thome and Vazquez among others.)

The Sox will only pay Pierre $3 million in '10, and $5 million in '11. While a pure "manageable contract" perspective should not the only way to view a player's worth to the team, that is a very fair value to the Sox.

No one may ever learn the thinking behind the Dodgers insane 5-year $44 contract to Pierre before the '07 season, but there was no way the man could ever live up to that deal. A modest 2-year, $8 million contract is the effective deal the Sox are getting, and it's just about right.

Fair deal or not, does this move improve the Sox on the field? (They could be paying the guy $500,000- if he's no good the team's not going to win, no matter how fiscally responsible they are.)

By all accounts, Pierre is a hard-working player who transcends his mediocre stats sheet. He plays solid outfield defense despite a poor arm, he makes consistent contact despite a so-so OBP, he hits for a respectable average despite a lack of slugging and he runs the bases well despite a less-than-optimal stolen base percentage. He's never going to fill out a stat sheet the way sabermetric analysts will adore, but he is good enough anyway?

Simply put, if he hits like he did last year, then yes.

Pierre batted .308 with a .365 OBP last year in 145 games (76 starts) with the Dodgers; add in his 30 stolen bases and you certainly have a player that can handle the lead off spot and has the stats to prove it. During Manny Ramirez's 50-game suspension, Pierre hit .318 with a .381 OBP and 21 stolen bases in his place. That'll definitely get the job done.

Can he repeat a performance like that in the tougher American League? He's a good bet to outperform Scott Podsednik and Coco Crisp, and those three were the main options at the top of the order for the Sox.

To evaluate this move, who would you rather have: Pierre, Crisp or Podsednik? Despite the Sox creative efforts to land an elite lead off hitter like Figgins, Upton, Crawford, or Roberts, it always seemed like it would come down to one of those three.

Career stats:

Pierre (age 32)............... .301/.348/.372, 74.8% SB
Podsednik (age 33)........ .277/.340/.381, 75.4% SB
Crisp (age 30)................ .277/.331/.407, 74.1% SB

Even in a money-neutral argument, Pierre seems to be the best of the bunch. If Crisp returns healthy, he might be able to outproduce them all on a dirt-cheap contract, but there is no question that Pierre > Podsednik.

Besides the numbers, Pierre plays better defense and is a much better baserunner and bunter.

In fact, Pierre ranks first among active players with 165 bunt hits (Guess who's second: new teammate Omar Vizquel with 150). If you're on the fence about renew season tickets, there's your inspiration: the two best active bunters in the majors, together on the same team!! Wooo!

Through his flurry of acquisitions (Teahen, Vizquel, Jones, Putz and now Pierre), Williams has solidified his ballclub, but I wouldn't use the word "overhaul" as MLB.com writer Scott Merkin did.

The Sox line up is now all but set, but there is still one more move to be made: a power bat, probably to DH. There are rumors that Williams is already on the trail for one, and I said from day one that it could be a big splash no one sees coming. Adrian Gonzalez? No, probably not.

I have this small, entirely irrational feeling that the Sox want to get in on Jason Bay, but there is no way I can justify passing that off as realistic. Despite a down market, and the fact that he possesses the exact skills the Sox are looking for right now (bats lefty, high OBP, versatile), there is no room in the payroll for him. Somehow my curiosity won't go away though.

There is a glut of cheaper DH options in the free agent pool as well, but if Williams has something bigger in mind, rest assured no one will see it coming.


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