Jacobs provides bench depth

Posted on February 11, 2010 by

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The Mets reached into their past and signed former draft pick Mike Jacobs to a minor league contract.  This is a continuation from the Gary Matthews trade where the team is stockpiling reserve options so that if the injury bug hits again, the team will have some bench/Triple-A options better than they had last year.

The only question is: Why?

As a reserve, Jacobs offers almost no versatility.  In the National League, he is limited to first base and he is not a very good fielder at that position, either.  Last year, Jacobs had both a positive UZR and Defensive Runs Saved (albeit in only 15 games at first base) but in the previous four years he was negative in both categories.  From more traditional fielding metrics, Jacobs was below average among first baseman last year in both fielding percentage and range factor.

Jacobs’ biggest strength is his bat.  Last year he hit 19 HR, which would have led the Mets.  But at this point in his career, power is his only strong point.  Jacobs had a .228 AVG last year and barely got above .400 in SLG.  A .173 ISO got him to a .401 SLG and neither of those marks are acceptable for a first baseman.  Jacobs strikes out over 30 percent of the time and he posted a .305 wOBA, just barely edging out Omir Santos, who had a .298 wOBA.

And before you say it was a down year based on really bad luck, Jacobs had a .283 BABIP just seven points below his career average.

Since it is a minor league deal, perhaps the Mets signed him to stash at Triple-A.  The only problem with that thought is that Ike Davis, one of the club’s top prospects, figures to be the starting first baseman this year in Buffalo.  And the club also has minor league slugger Chris Carter, picked up in the Billy Wagner deal last year, kicking around, too.  Last year Carter, also a lefty hitter, put up a .294/.358/.465 line at Triple-A Pawtucket.

Some might consider the Jacobs signing to provide competition to Daniel Murphy for the first base job.  But Murphy seemingly turned the corner last year and hit .294/.321/.504 over his final 266 PA to salvage his season.  Meanwhile Jacobs had a .225/.280/.372 line over his final 236 PA.  Murphy will be 25 this year while Jacobs will be 29 and less likely to show any improvement.  And Murphy showed good defense at first base in his initial exposure to the position last year, further widening the gap between the two players.

Perhaps the Mets signed Jacobs to be a power lefty bat off the bench.  Currently, the bench has Henry Blanco, Fernando Tatis, Alex Cora and Matthews.  The Mets are likely to carry another outfielder while Carlos Beltran is on the disabled list, while Angel Pagan becomes a reserve when Beltran returns.  So it comes down to how many pitchers the Mets are going to carry.  If they go with an 11-man staff, they can carry six bench players and have room for Jacobs.  But if they go with seven relievers, there apparently is no room for the one-dimensional player.

The 65-97 Royals thought it was a better idea to play defensively challenged Billy Butler at first base last year than Jacobs.  At the end of the season, they thought it better to release him than go to arbitration and risk having to pay anything above the minimum wage for his limited upside.

It makes sense to have a lefty bat on the bench to offer the possibility of hitting a HR late in the game as a pinch-hitter.  What does not make sense is paying any sort of premium for this privilege.  The minor league portion of Jacobs’ contract calls for him to be paid $900,000 while if he makes the majors he can earn another $1.15 million in incentives.  The minimum salary is $400,000.  Is it really worth potentially paying Jacobs five times the minimum salary, given the likelihood of what he will give you?

In isolation, this is not horrible.  But it is the continuation of paying premiums for known mediocrities that in total makes this a bad move.  If Jacobs was the only player like this, there would be no major problems.  But it is Jacobs and Cora ($2M) and Matthews ($1M) and even a larger expenditure on Jeff Francoeur ($5M) when a cheaper and likely better alternative in Pagan was available.

In an effort to stockpile the Mets and their Triple-A affiliate with known major league names, the club is simply wasting money.  In order to avoid the embarrassment of last year, when the plague hit and the Mets had double digit numbers of players on the disabled list, general manager Omar Minaya is making sure to have all of his reserve bases covered.

As a secondary or tertiary plan, that is fine.  But to focus on that and not address the uncertainty of the starting rotation is clearly a type of negligence on Minaya’s part.  Most fans would have gladly sacrificed these name reserves for a chance to add a reliable starting pitcher, like Jason Marquis or Jon Garland, during the offseason.  It was one thing if Minaya felt that some of the pitchers received too much money.  But that there was not one single free agent pitcher worth acquiring, when six starting pitchers ended up on the DL last year for the club, is unbelievable.

And seeing Jacobs, Matthews and Cora sitting on the bench is not going to make up for having to watch the Pat Misch’s of the world take the mound when injuries hit the starters, a much more likely scenario than a repeat of last year’s decimation to the offense.

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Posted in: Perspectives