Blue Jays: Is Eric Sogard The Answer For The Middle Infield?
By Jim Scott
The 2018 Jays may need help in the middle infield. Is Eric Sogard the answer?
Different writers have different priority lists for the 2018 Jays offseason. Some feel that a proven fifth starter is the top priority, and place players like Alex Cobb at the top of their wish list. Others feel that that a proven corner outfielder is a greater need, and dream of a Christian Yelich or Marcell Ozuna. Still others are concerned about the bullpen, and believe that a Wade Davis would be a valuable investment.
But, regardless of the priority, most would agree that backup for the middle infield is near the top of the list. With Troy Tulowitzki‘s injuries and his recent struggles, having a viable backup at short is more necessity than luxury. And while Devon Travis‘ career 112 wRC+ and +3.3 DRS/1000IP are more than satisfactory , his health issues raise even more questions than Tulo’s.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays thought that they had the solution in 2017 with a combination of Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney. However, not only did these two underperform at the plate (wRC+ of 69 and 58, respectively) but they also failed to produce the elite level defense which was expected of them, with a combined -10 (!) DRS.
So what would the Jays need in 2018? I would suggest that the ideal bench middle infielder would be able to play second, short and third at decent levels (say, a zero DRS) while not being a total liability with the bat (say, an 85 wRC+). The player should not be extortionately expensive, and should ideally be an option for more than a single year. And finally, it would help if the player had a relatively injury-free history (as he will be injury backup for two players who “don’t”)
My colleague Brendan Panikkar wrote two good articles about potential solutions available in free agency and via trade. But one name in particular has been coming up in discussion recently, and might warrant a closer look.
So let’s talk about Eric Sogard.
Sogard is a 31-year-old mostly-second-baseman. He is coming off a career year with the Brewers, in which he hit .273/.393/.378 (a 108 wRC+) over 299 PAs. Further, he had a +7 DRS (in only 560 innings), playing at second, short, third and in left field. He earned the MLB minimum in 2017, signing with Milwaukee on a minor league contract, and so might well be receptive to a low-AAV deal with Toronto.
Sounds perfect, right? Well, you know what they say about a thing that looks too good to be true….
Prior to the 2016 season, Sogard signed a $1.5 million deal with Oakland. But things started going downhill fast. In training camp, he suffered a cervical strain. No sooner had he recovered from that, he injured his knee, requiring a “patellar tendon debridement procedure” (yes, it does sound ugly) by Dr. James Andrews. The knee surgery, originally expected to keep him out for 6-8 weeks, ended up costing him the full season. As a result, he did not re-sign with Oakland and was forced to accept a minor league contract with Milwaukee in 2017.
A player with a stronger track record might have garnered more interest. Unfortunately for Sogard, in the four years from 2012-2015 he had a .240/.297/.312 batting line, good (or “not good”) for a 72 wRC+ over 1248 plate appearances. His defense over that period was good, but it is not clear how good – DRS loved him, with a +17 at second base (7 DRS/1000), but UZR/150 awarded him a far more pedestrian +3.4. By comparison, over those same four years Darwin Barney had a similar +69 wRC+ but with +48 DRS (15 DRS/1000). So for the period up to 2017, Sogard was Barney-lite with fewer innings played.
Another point to consider is Sogard’s flexibility. It is true that he has played multiple positions, but of the roughly 3700 innings he has played in the field, fully 76% of them have been at second base. Of the 222 innings he has played at third, only 36 of them (~4 games) have been played in the last five years combined. And while he did play 160 innings at short last year (and about 500 innings over the last 5 years), he did so at a -2 DRS (-12 DRS/1000) and a -6.5 UZR/150 (his career UZR/150 at SS is -7.8). So by either measure, he is a well below average defensive shortstop. And finally, the eight innings he played in left field in 2017 were the first outfield innings of his career.
So relative to the criteria with which I started the article: Sogard has little recent experience at third or left field, and is only an emergency solution at shortstop. His hitting over 299 PAs in 2017 more than meets my criterion, but his hitting over the previous 1248 PAs clearly does not. He should be cheap (for the above reasons) but his recent injury history is troubling.
Next: Blue Jays' Canadian Content: Connor Panas
The bottom line
Eric Sogard would be a gamble in 2018. Possibly a good gamble, and if he maintained his 2017 levels he could be a significant bargain. But given that his role would be largely to back up Devon Travis and Troy Tulowitzki, players with high upside but with a lot of risk, it would be dangerous for the Jays to fill this role with a player with even higher risk.