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What a Difference a Mediocre
2003-03-15 01:34
by Mike Carminati

What a Difference a Mediocre Player Makes

After all that talk about how Brian Giles would prefer to play center because it's actually smaller in Pittsburgh--baseball's version of the Tardis I guess--, the Pirates have decided to reconfigure their entire outfield as well as the top of their order. The reason being that the putative Vicksburgian siege that were the Kenny Lofton-Pirates contract negotiations have finally ended.

Lofton is signed. He will play center field and lead off. Giles moves back to left. Recently-signed Reggie Sanders moves to right. I'll get to Scotland before ye.

That's the extent of the changes due to Lofton's defensive presence. Offensively, the signing means that Jason Kendall drops down to number 2 in the lineup and the heretofore number-two hitter, Jumpin' Jack Flash Wilson, drops to eighth.

This does improve them both offensively and defensively, but so would luring Garry Maddox out of retirement to lead off and play centerfield. The Pirates have some holes in the ole lineup, more holes than it takes to fill the Albert Hall (I'd love to turn you on, whatever that means). Wilson, Pokey Reese, Kevin Young, and Aramis Ramirez were all deplorable offensive players in 2002 (all much worse than the league average in OPS). Kendall wasn't much better, and is not nearly the offensive player he was just a few years ago, but at least he gets on base (.350 OBP). Signing Lofton means that two players who are above average Craig Wilson and Matt Stairs, who were set to platoon in right field, will see less playing time. That is, unless the Pirates wise up a relocate the platoon to first, where the avuncular and now inappropriately named Young still patrols.

Lofton is not the player he once was but promises to play an average offense and get on base around 35% of the time. He displaces Jack Wilson, who had a .306 on-base percentage last year. The Pirates can now properly set the table for the awesome Brian Giles and the meat of the order, which I would assume would consist of Ramirez (on the hopes that he returns to his 2001 form), Sanders, and/or whoever is playing first. That leaves the all-mitt-can't-hit double-play combo to finish out the order. It's not pretty but it beats giving Jack Wilson the extra at-bats. Given the price Sanders and Lofton must have commanded and the dreck that the Pirates have been parading in the outfield for the last few years (all with the surname of Brown seemingly--Rios means brown, too, right?), the signing shouldn't be much of a liability.

And I think Brian Giles can accept the move back to left to have a few extra baserunners to drive home during the year.

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