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2003-12-29 12:47
by Mike Carminati

The Montreal Expos signed third baseman Tony Batista a few days ago. Now, the 'Spos do not have the funds to keep any of their decent younger players like Vlad Guerrero and Javier Vazquez, but GM Omar "Oh My!" Minaya can spend reportedly $1.5 M on a 30-year-old whose adjusted OPS was 76% of the league average last season.

Quoth Omar the Magnificent:

"We have added a much-needed right-handed bat to our lineup with the addition of Tony Batista. Tony's presence also provides us with a veteran glove at third base, and his right-handed bat adds balance to our lineup."

The AP article on the signing states that Montreal "added some much needed power to their lineup" and mentions that Batista has averaged 31 home runs over the last five seasons. Batista had decent pop a few years ago (slugged .518 or .519 from 1998 to 2000), but his .393 slugging average last season was 18th among the 19 third baseman who qualified for the batting title (Edgardo Alfonzo was last at .391).

It's true that Batista still can hit his share of home runs, but given that his average has not been over .245 since 2000 and that his on-base percentage has not been over .310 since 1999, they're not enough. As for his "veteran glove" at third, a) Batitsa has only been a third baseman for about three and one-half seasons. Prior to that he was a shortstop. And b) Batista's range at third has never been anything to write home about. Last year his range was well below average (his range factor was 2.53 as compared to 2.67 for the average Al third baseman).

Batista is a player rapidly losing his skills as well. His defense fell of severely last season, along with his OBP (.270, .32 points below his poor career average). His slugging average was the lowest since he was a 23-year-old role player, as was his batting average. He walked 26 times in 670 plate appearances. His performance was not that much worse than his career averages, but it was lower in just about every facet of his game.

And we are not talking about Mike Schmidt here. Batista's career-high adjusted OPS for a full season is just 12% better than the league average and that was over four years ago. Since then he has been 3% better than average, 14% worse, 2% better, and 24% worse last year. Batista's game started to erode with the inability to draw a walk probably due to his ridiculous batting stance. And a move from short to third meant that his power was marginalized.

The 'Spos can hope that 2002 was just an off year and he bounces back to being an average offensive third baseman, but given his age and his salary isn't it a bad bet? There aren't great options on the free agent market, but Shane Halter, Greg Norton, and 2003 Expo Todd Zeile are probably not much worse than Batitsta and can be had for a song. Or why not hand the job to Triple-A third sacker Scott Hodges and save a million or so? He is basically Batista minus a few homers and a few years.

Oh, but I forgot that Minaya is a genius so of course, it'll all work out as well as the man he is replacing at third, Fernando Tatis. OK, that wasn't Minaya's fault, but acquiring Hernandez brothers' salaries sure was and those helped the Expos wave bye-bye to Guerrero and Vazquez but allowed them to sign Batista. Thatís how these Expos tick.

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