Can't go wrong with a Big Lebowski reference, right?
Anyway, no sooner does it get noted the Chicago Cubs could use people who draw a walk now and again than Theo Epstein’s band of merry front-office mercs signed a guy who… draws a walk now and again, inking transient Athletics/former Royals outfielder David DeJesus to a two-year-plus-option contract. DeJesus will cost either $10 million to employ over two seasons (counting a buyout of the club option of 2014) or $15 million over three years.
My first reaction was superficial and positive -- after all, David DeJesus was once a heck of a player, if a bit fragile, and if he’s in demand first in Oakland and then in Wrigleyville, it means he’s getting the stamp of approval from both Billy Beane and Theo Epstein. And there are a few quick and easy takeaways from this, but upon reflection, not all of them are positive.
First, DeJesus had an awful 2011. You can blame that on the BABIP fairy if such is your inclination: He put up a career-low .274 average on balls in play, against his career average of .316. You can try to blame the always-tough Coliseum a little bit, although he had an equally miserable season on the road, with a .701 OPS away from Oakland against his .695 OPS at home. Whatever Oakland’s rep, he also wasn’t fouling out at a more prodigious rate.
What’s really troubling is that DeJesus was striking out at a career-worst 17 percent clip in 2011, more than three points worse than his next-worst campaign in the last six seasons. Dig into the data, and he was proving increasingly susceptible to off-speed stuff from right-handers while simply being owned by lefties. Maybe the Cubs see something they can fix, instead of just banking that $10-15 million on mere regression.
Second, DeJesus doesn’t actually walk that much. He’s patient, and he will be patient -- for a Cub. He’ll be the walk-iest Cub this side of Geovany Soto, but his career walk rate of 8.3 percent is just a hair below the MLB average (8.5).
Third, having DeJesus in the fold certainly frees the Cubs up to explore their outfield options, which is perhaps the best news the deal represents. He’ll be in right field unless/until Epstein’s crew somehow makes Alfonso Soriano and his monster contract and his no-trade clause go away. That’s highly unlikely, though.
An outfield of Soriano, Marlon Byrd in center and DeJesus in right is better than counting on Tyler Colvin or eventually top outfield prospect Brett Jackson, but not a whole lot better. But with Jackson nearing the majors and with DeJesus signed, Jed Hoyer and Epstein can that much more easily shop Byrd around. He’s in the last year of his deal and due $6.5 million, and everyday center fielders with good defense and a bat that won’t hurt you can have value on a contender unhappy with the market’s slim pickings. However, that’s a decision that can wait until one of a few things happen: The Cubs get an offer they can’t refuse, and/or Jackson looks great in spring training, and/or they hold Byrd until the deadline to try and land the best deal.
Finally, DeJesus’ deal reflects another economic reality that upsets a free peoples’ applecarts, which is that the inflationary pressure of salary arbitration rewarded DeJesus more than the open market did. Via arbitration, DeJesus made more in both 2010 ($4.7 million) and 2011 ($6 million) than he will in 2012 or 2013 ($4.25 million each year). That’s without adjusting for inflation, which would only make his new deal look worse. You can chalk this development up to a couple of things: DeJesus’ lousy 2011 season, or perhaps his quest for multi-year security instead of a single-season payday.
Or, perhaps most fundamentally, there’s the expanding gap between what the best players will get via free agency and what everyone else can expect. There’s next to no doubt that had the A’s suffered temporary madness and offered DeJesus arbitration and he’d accepted, he would have gotten a raise -- the last guy who was even at risk for a pay cut within arbitration was Steve Avery with the Braves in 1996, and he won his case, getting a $200K raise from $4 million instead of the $400,000 pay cut that John Schuerholz and company asked for. The market is not the liberated remunerative paradise that it might seem to be in the abstract, and DeJesus just joined guys like Jack Cust in finding out about that unhappy fact of life.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.