It was a small story, and should have been. But let's give the Pirates credit for making a smart move this week:
- The Pirates added Ryan Church on a one-year contract on Tuesday that will pay the outfielder a 1.5 million dollar base salary which could reach up to 2.8 million if all plate appearance-based incentives are reached. Church should become the team’s 4th outfielder and could compete for an outfield starting spot, depending on the status of Garrett Jones and Brandon Moss. Church has shown potential, as he posted a 3-win season in 2007 as a member of the Nationals, with a 116 wRC+ and plus defense in the outfield. His loss of power and injuries made him only a one-win player last year, with time split between Atlanta and the New York Mets.
Church was one of the more interesting non-tender candidates of this offseason. He’s always been a decent on-base player, but his power has fallen off the map since a stellar 2006 season in which he posted a .250 ISO. Now, he’s coming off a .111 ISO season and injuries have been a major problem. Luckily, the Pirates don’t need Church to be even an average player for this deal to work – Church is a virtual lock to be worth 1.5 million dollars, and on a one-year deal, it would be hard for this move to make any sort of dent into the Pirates’ future.
Ryan Church has been unlucky in recent years, to say the least. The aftereffects of concussions have nearly derailed his career. Personally, as somebody who has suffered from post-concussion syndrome, it makes me happy to see Church get another major league opportunity with Pittsburgh, and it’s likely that Neal Huntington and the Pirates will be happy with their investment as well.
As Moore points out, Church is a decent player who won't take at-bats from a prospect and probably means the Pirates won't blow a bunch of money on Rick Ankiel. And of course Church comes super-cheap.
Still, one might reasonably ask, "What does Ryan Church do for the Pirates?"
Maybe they win 72 games rather than 70, because Ryan Church is around. So what?
Think of Ryan Church not as a man and a baseball player -- sorry, but it does help sometimes -- but rather as a commodity. If Church is an undervalued commodity and proves that on the field in April and May, his perceived value might catch up with his actual value. If that happens, suddenly the Pirates have something particularly valuable: they've spent a million dollars (so far) on something that's worth two or three or four times as much.
The next step is to trade that commodity for another that's more valuable ... say, a Grade B prospect worth $3 million (and yes, one can place a dollar value on Grade B prospects).
If Church can't play, this is a nothing deal. If Church plays even decently, it's a good deal. And if the Pirates can flip Church this summer for young talent, it's a fantastic deal. When you've got a franchise like the Pirates, it's all about adding a little value here and a little value there, and eventually hitting on a few big ones.