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Why Signing Scott Podsednik Makes Sense for the Blue Jays

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As per an article on the official Blue Jays team site, the team has signed veteran free agent outfielder Scott Podsednik to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training.

Image courtesy of MLB.com

Podsednik is expected to report to Dunedin on Friday, and he’ll be in line for a $1 million salary if he makes the Major League roster, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter).

I remember thinking when the Justin Upton rumors were swirling back in November that Podsednik would have been a good low-cost pickup for the Jays, considering he declined to exercise a $2 million mutual option with the Los Angeles Dodgers on November 4th in order to test the free-agent market. When the Jays uneventfully signed Corey Patterson to a minor league contract right before Christmas though, I figured that ship had sailed.

It’s interesting how since then, even though Podsednik’s last two seasons were respectable and above his career numbers, GM Alex Anthopoulos was able to sign him to just a minor league contract.

Here’s why the Podsednik signing is good for the Blue Jays:

The likelihood of Patterson being a member of the 2011 Blue Jays is slimmer

In a 2010 season split between the Royals and Dodgers, Podsednik followed up a great 2009 season with the Chicago White Sox (.304/.353/.412 in 132 games) by hitting .297/.342/.382 with 14 doubles and 6 home runs in 134 games. His 51 RBI were the most he’s had since 2003, his 7 triples were the most he’s managed since 2004, and his 40 walks and 35 stolen bases were the most he’s managed since 2006.

After being limited to just 16 games in 2009 with dismal results, Patterson signed a minor league contract with the Mariners for the 2010 season. He opted out of that contract after failing to make their Major League roster, and signed another minor league contract with the Orioles, starting the year out in the minor leagues. He was called up to the Orioles in May, hitting .269/.315/.406 in 90 games, which was actually his best slash line since 2007 and very similar to Podsednik’s. Patterson had more power than Podsednik in 2010 – hitting more doubles and home runs than Podsednik in two-thirds of the games – but do the Blue Jays necessarily need more power in a lineup that will have Bautista, Snider, Lind, Encarnacion, and Hill, especially from a potential situational fourth outfielder? Patterson is definitely not a threat at the plate in terms of batting average or on-base percentage, though.

Owner of a career .292 OBP, Patterson has drawn more than 23 walks in a season only once, and has eclipsed 160 hits in a season only once as well. While Patterson posted his best numbers across the board against RHP since 2006 this past season, Podsednik was still superior in virtually every category in 2010. In terms of performance versus LHP — an area the Blue Jays definitely needed to address this offseason — Patterson has been downright atrocious against southpaws ever since the 2008 season began. Podsednik lacks power against LHP (well, RHP too), but he has at least been decent versus left-handers in each of the last two seasons.

Patterson does have one advantage though, and that’s his decision making on the base paths. This past season, Patterson went 21-for-25 (80%) in stolen base attempts, while Podsednik went 35-for-50 (70%). Podsednik has also been caught more throughout his career than Patterson, who has never been caught stealing more than 9 times in any one season. The Jays do have speedy center fielder Darin Mastroianni in the minors as well who could easily swipe some bases at the Major League level if called upon instead of Patterson.

People have griped that Podsednik’s arm is terrible and there is no way he could play center field, a position Patterson would be better off playing if the Jays sat Rajai Davis at any point, because Patterson’s the better fielder, especially according to UZR/150. Patterson has played 767 games in center field since 2003, compared to Podsednik, who has played just 377 over that span and no more than 49 games at the position in one season since 2004.

But who says the Jays are even intending to use Podsednik in center field?

The Blue Jays obviously want to see how Rajai Davis will play this season and want to have a backup option who can play CF in case, but why would it be Podsednik?  Patterson is an option, sure, but the Jays also have Mastroianni in the minor leagues as a more interesting option who is a similar player to Patterson, and has the range in center field and the ability to get on base versus right-handed pitching (which was all mentioned in our scouting report on him here). The main knocks on Mastroianni, though, are that he has never played above Double-A and that he likely wouldn’t receive the everyday at-bats with the Blue Jays that some feel he needs.

Podsednik’s career numbers versus RHP — more importantly the numbers he has put up versus right-handers in the last two seasons — make him a candidate to platoon with Juan Rivera at a corner outfield position or with Edwin Encarnacion the odd time at DH. Rivera’s best overall season against RHP since 2006 was in 2009 (.271/.313/.419), and Encarnacion’s was in 2007 (.291/.346/.444).

Rather than have both of Rivera and Encarnacion – right-handed hitters who have power potential but hit for low average and OBP against RHP – in the lineup every day, Podsednik, a left-handed hitter, could better complement either player’s power tendency against RHP with his ability to hit for average and get on base for those hitting behind him.

The preferred scenario between those two, obviously, would be to spell Rivera at a corner outfield position, as the scenario of giving Encarnacion regular at-bats over the course of a full season is definitely intriguing (which Mat profiled in a post back in December and I did as well in another post from December).

Contrary to the beliefs that Rivera will easily be traded at some point this season, it seems as though he’ll be with the team for the whole season. Regardless of which combination of players the Jays choose, though, their outfield will definitely be below-average defensively.

Podsednik brings veteran experience to a young Jays team on the field and in the clubhouse

As someone who has no direct affiliation with the Toronto Blue Jays or any kind of information as to what could go on in their clubhouse, it’s impossible for me to declare that Podsednik will be a positive clubhouse presence and mentor for the young players.

That’s where Anthopoulos comes in, who mentioned those very attributes to Gregor Chisholm, MLB.com reporter for the Blue Jays, in an article on the official Blue Jays website about the Podsednik signing.

“His reputation precedes him. Everything we’ve been told is that he is a great teammate, great worker, a player of high character and high integrity and a real model for the young players, just in the way he carries himself and his approach to the game.”

While Anthopoulos has been quick to state that Podsednik has not been guaranteed anything and will, as it stands right now, be competing for, at most, a job as a fourth outfielder off of the bench, it seems unlikely that Anthopoulos would publicly mention “everything he’s been told” about Podsednik, only to cut him loose after spring training.

Anthopoulos could get something in return for Podsednik down the road

Now this one’s a stretch, but it’s worth a mention.

Unlike Patterson, who was decent in his first 37 games with the O’s in 2010 before his performance tailed off for the rest of the season, Podsednik was consistent up until (and beyond) the trade deadline, which netted the Royals a pair of minor leaguers when they shipped him to the Dodgers at the end of July.

The Royals managed to receive Elisaul Pimentel, a 22-year-old, right-handed starter who posted a 3.49 ERA (3.21 FIP), 3.5 BB/9, and 9.7 K/9 in 16 starts for the Royals’ Class-A affiliate prior to the trade, as well as Luke May, a 25-year-old catcher who hit .283/.349/.483 in 104 games of mostly Triple-A baseball.

Even if the Jays could only land one player of similar caliber for shipping Podsednik to another team this season, it’d be more than they could have imagined getting in return when they signed him to a cheap minor league contract.

If Podsednik was to stay with the Jays for the entire season, another possible scenario, he could have the chance of qualifying as a Type-B free agent like he did this past season. With the Jays likely to use Podsednik off the bench, though, the odds of that happening would be slim.

Obviously these scenarios are big “ifs”, and hinge on Podsednik having a relatively successful 2011 campaign combined with interest in him from other teams. The likelihood of this happening to Podsednik, though, is a lot higher than it happening to Patterson.

Conclusion

With Jose Molina and John McDonald as virtual locks for the Jays’ rumored four-man bench, that would leave Mike McCoy, Patterson, Podsednik, and possibly Mastroianni to compete for the two remaining spots.

With McDonald already on board as a utility infielder, that could rule out McCoy. Patterson could get ruled out if, in a valuable season from a player assessment standpoint, the Jays decided to take a look at Mastroianni at the Major League level, as they’re similar players in certain aspects. That scenario would have the Jays’ bench consist of Molina, McDonald, Podsednik, and Mastroianni/Patterson with McCoy and the other of Patterson/Mastroianni waiting patiently at Triple-A Las Vegas as insurance options.

Regardless of where Podsednik winds up this season, though, it’s impossible to complain about this low cost, minor league signing.

-JM

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Tags: Alex Anthopoulos Corey Patterson Edwin Encarnacion Juan Rivera Kansas City Royals Los Angeles Dodgers Scott Podsednik Toronto Blue Jays

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