Felipe Lopez: The Bargain of the Offseason
This is the lesson, boys and girls: don't ever, ever get into a staring contest with John Mozeliak.
Not that Felipe Lopez was in a staredown, necessarily, but I think the lesson is a valid one. Some GMs are build-from-within guys. Some are trade guys. Some specialize in candid signings or undervalued players.
John Mozeliak specializes in doing nothing. And Floppy is just the latest player to find out how good that nothing really is.
Actually, that's not quite fair. Saying Mozeliak specializes in doing nothing makes it sound as if he just sits around and doesn't make any moves at all. That's not really accurate. What Mozeliak does is sit around and not make any moves until the right move comes along. Since taking over General Manager duties for Walt Jocketty, the more patient Mozeliak has been, the better the deal he eventually gets.
I had thought Jim Thome would probably turn out to be the biggest bargain of the offseason for the Twins, who managed to snag the slugger to handle DH duties for just $1.5 million. I have to say, though, getting Lopez for what appears to be a base salary of just $1 million is probably an even better deal. (There are incentives, of course, but the nature of incentives is usually that if a player earns them, you're not going to complain about paying them.) This is a player who was worth 4.6 wins above replacement level in 2009; that's an eight-figure salary player. To get him for such a low salary is a serious coup.
Of course, expecting him to be anywhere near that good again in 2010 is ignoring reality. Besides just the normal regression you have to expect from a player who just put up career numbers, Lopez will be playing the majority of his games in Busch Stadium, not exactly known as a hitter's paradise. Floppy's offensive numbers will drop off; the question is just how much.
Bottom line, though, is this is a fantastic deal. The Cardinal bench just got an injection of talent, and there's every chance we won't have to watch Skip Schumaker flail helplessly against left-handed pitchers quite as much this year. We aren't going to see a platoon, by any means, but having Lopez available to play second against really nasty lefties will be a definite boon.
Really, the only fly in the ointment here is now Julio Lugo. The signing of Lopez makes Lugo entirely expendable; in fact, it actually turns him into an obstacle to getting playing time for more deserving players. If Lugo is still on this squad by Opening Day, I'm going to be very disappointed.
Neither Lugo nor Lopez should ever get anywhere near the shortstop position. Well, okay, I suppose I shouldn't say that. The closest either one should ever get to shortstop is standing at third with a glove. There, that's better. This team really needs Tyler Greene to make the squad, especially considering Brendan Ryan's health situation is currently less than settled. Problem is, if both Lopez and Lugo are on the team, there are only three more bench spots. One will be taken by Jason LaRue, leaving two spots open. And that's if Tony La Russa never goes to thirteen pitchers, which we've seen him do more and more as the years go on. It's clear at least one of Joe Mather, Tyler Greene, and Allen Craig are going to find themselves SOL as far as a major league job. Personally, I would take any of those three on my roster over what Julio Lugo brings to the table at this point. Lugo was a nice pickup last season because he was free; now, though, there are much better options for the bench.
Still, in the end, this is a fantastic deal. Lopez was the best insurance policy still on the market at the spots the Cardinals needed insurance. He can play second or third adequately enough, and his bat plays very well off the bench. And all that for a million bucks.
I think it's fair to say Johnny Mo just scored himself another spring win.