Juan Pierre Saves Phillies from Themselves, Signs with Marlins

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Between 2005-11, Juan Pierre posted an aggregate 83 wRC+ (what is wRC+?), tied with Orlando Cabrera for the lowest among all players with at least 4,000 trips to the plate in that time span. If not for his prodigious base running, he would have been complete dead weight with the Marlins, Cubs, Dodgers, White Sox, and Phillies. Offense is just not his forte.

The Phillies picked him up on the cheap in January, signing him to a Minor League deal and an invitation to spring training. Pierre performed well, playing his way onto the Opening Day roster at the age of 34. He got a lot of playing time in left field as part of a hastily-made platoon with John Mayberry. For the most part, Pierre was quite good by his own standards, though not a particularly high one. He posted a batting average above .300 in four of six months and overall had his best offensive season since 2009, the year before offense really started to decline around the league.

Due to the fact that the Phillies are expected to spend big money on a center fielder, they are also expected to address both outfield corners cheaply. The prevailing consensus heading into November was that the Phillies would eventually sign Pierre to a Major League deal, paying him slightly more than the $800,000 he earned in 2012. The Miami Marlins recently pawned off an absurd percentage of their roster to the Toronto Blue Jays, and as a result do not have the luxury of waiting around to fill out one of the many open positions on the roster. Pierre was added to the Fish on Saturday night on a one-year, $1.6 million deal — exactly double last season’s salary.

Pierre is highly unlikely to match his 2012 output going forward, especially as a 35-year-old. His game is predicated entirely on speed and luck, not unlike free agent and ticking time bomb Michael Bourn. Pierre hits for almost no power (.063 ISO), doesn’t draw walks (5.2 percent), and is weak defensively, especially due to his arm. Pierre’s value to the Phillies came entirely from his high batting average (.307) and ability to run the bases (37 stolen bases in 44 attempts).

34-year-olds rarely reinvent themselves or find some magical hotfix that transforms them as a player. Pierre posted a .327 batting average on balls in play, his second-highest mark since 2005. That was the basis of Pierre’s high average and, given that Pierre’s batted ball splits did not change in any meaningful way, is unlikely to finish as well going forward.

$1.6 million isn’t a significant amount of money, but allocating it to Pierre is a mistake nonetheless. Thankfully, it is the Marlins’ problem and not the Phillies’ — though the Phillies did commit $850,000 to Kevin Frandsen on the basis of a strong but ultimately fluky 2012 showing in a limited sample. The Frandsen deal is more acceptable due to the complete lack of viable options at third base, but it doesn’t make it any more likely that he will repeat last season’s .338 average and .366 BABIP.

By having Pierre lifted out of the free agent pool this early, the Marlins actually helped save the Phillies from themselves and they will be better for it in 2013. They will now have to address the corners in a different way, perhaps by putting Domonic Brown in left and platooning Nate Schierholtz with Mayberry in right. No, it won’t feel as comfortable or familiar on Opening Day, but it has a much better chance to pan out favorably than paying for last year’s performance with a veteran retread.