B.J. Surhoff was signed to a minor-league contract by the Baltimore Orioles today. G.M. Jim Beattie heralded Surhoff's veteran presence:
"B.J. gives us a proven major league veteran, both on and off the field," Orioles general manager Jim Beattie said. "He is a quality major league hitter and will add to our outfield depth."
Meanwhile, at the other end of the country, Rickey Henderson is campaigning to get a role in the Oakland A's outfield.
The Rickey had this to say:
"I just want the opportunity to play baseball. I can give (the A's) anything they're looking for. They've got their starting lineup, but I can come off the bench. I can play the outfield if someone goes down. I can pinch hit. I can steal a base. I can score a run. There's a lot I could give. I'm educated in the game, and I could help them win."
But the usually redoubtable Oakland GM, Billy Beane, does not concur:
"I don't see where he'd fit with us...At this point, I don't think it's something we'd be interested in."
These two situations juxtaposed don't sit well with me, and I'll tell you why-didn't you know I would? First let's look at their 2002 stats:
Neither lit up the baseball world, especially when you consider that Surhoff had just 75 at-bats and Henderson, 179. Surhoff's limited action was due to injury whereas Rickey just rode the bench in Boston. Henderson was slightly better overall. When you consider that this was a year in which Rickey's Adjusted OPS was about 75% his career average (128) whereas Surhoff was just 4 point off his career average (98), the disparity becomes greater. Also, Surhoff's on-base percentage was the highest it had been since 1995. Henderson's is off his career average but is similar to his numbers since 1998 (except for 1999).
Basically these are small samples and there are indications that Surhoff should be worse than the sample while Rickey's sample probably represents his current playing level. And Henderson is still better.
Simply put, for the O's to devote playing time to the moribund Surhoff and to take away any at-bats from Chris Richard, Melvin Mora, Jay Gobbons, Marty Cordova, Jeff Conine, or David Segui (let alone the young players who need to develop), even with their somewhat limited abilities, would be a crime when they are rebuilding.
Henderson, on the other hand, would be a step up OBP-wise from starting A's left fielder Terrence Long and his sub-.300 OBP in 2002 (.323 lifetime). Backup left fielders Adam Piatt (.303 OBP last year , .339 lifetime) and Eric Byrnes (.291 and .306) aren't much help.
Rickey is a pain in the neck, a raging egomaniac. But he still has some value if for no other reason than the fact that his teammates seem to walk more when he's in the clubhouse. The Red Sox went from 520 walks in 2001 to 541 in 2002, a modest increase. However, the Padres went from sixth in the NL in walks (602) in 2000 to first (678) in 2001. The same was true of the 2000 M's: they were sixth in walks in 1999 (610) and first in 2000 (775). The 1999 Mets were second in walks (717) after finishing seventh (572) in 1998. Maybe Beane remembers that that Henderson did little to improve the 1998 A's walk totals. They were second in th AL in '97 (642) and stayed there in 1998 (633).
Rickey is also 44, definitely cause for concern, but I think Beane may be overthinking this one. Henderson is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, has been for about twelve years. He's one of the greatest left fielders of all time and the greatest base-stealer of all-time. His assessment of Rickey is right: he can still pinch-hit to get on base, steal a base, and score runs. I would put him on the team just to let his on-field attitude rub off on Terrence Long. Maybe it's the prospects of his off-field attitude infecting young players that worries Beane. Whatever the reason, he's making a mistake by not signing Hederson, maybe not as big a mistake as the O's signing Surhoff. But a mistake nonetheless.