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More Thoughts on Lawton/Gerut

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Various sources have confirmed that Jody Gerut is indeed eligible for arbitration after this year. This means that either:

1. The Pirates will non-tender him after this year, in which case this deal is actively counterproductive. Lawton is a better player than Gerut right now, and I'd rather have Lawton for the next eight weeks than Gerut. The Cubs obviously agree with me.

or

2. The Pirates will offer Gerut arbitration. This seems more likely, since Dave Littlefield has already said that Gerut will probably be in the Pirates' outfield next year.

Here are a few agreements teams reached with arbitration-eligible players last year:

Eric Byrnes $2.2 million
Brady Clark $1.5 million
Jeff DaVanon $950,000
Austin Kearns $930,000
Bobby Kielty $875,000
Rob Mackowiak $1.5 million
Gary Matthews Jr. $1.1 million
Luis Matos $1.025 million
Jason Michaels $825,000

Gerut is not perfectly comparable to some of these players, of course - he's markedly worse than several of them, and a couple of them weren't in their first year of arbitration. But he has a leg up on a couple who weren't starters for their teams. He'll probably fall somewhere between Michaels and Byrnes. To give the Pirates the benefit of the doubt, let's say he'll cost $1 million, $700,000 above the minimum salary.

Is this a good use of the Pirates' money? Here are the Pirates' potential corner outfielders next year:

  1. Jason Bay .297/.387/.553. Duh.
  2. Rob Mackowiak .269/.345/.408. Is arbitration-eligible. May also play infield.
  3. Craig Wilson .260/.403/.344. Is arbitration-eligible.
  4. Mike Restovich .266/.341/.430
  5. Nate McLouth
  6. Ryan Doumit - It's hard to know what the Pirates will do with this guy, but they'll be out of options.
  7. Jody Gerut
That's seven guys for two positions. Bay is an easy choice for one of them, so that's six guys for one position. Of those six, I see lots of question marks: Mackowiak and Doumit might play other positions; Wilson will likely command at least $3 million in arbitration; and Mackowiak will likely get a raise as well.

That leaves Restovich and McLouth. Gerut is a left-handed hitter, making him a potential platoon partner with Restovich, but McLouth is a lefty too, and a cheaper one and possibly a better hitter at that. McLouth has shown little power but good on-base skills at AAA this year; he's likely to be better next year, whereas Gerut, who is several years older and hasn't posted an OPS near .800 in two years, is not.

Gerut's defense is reputed to be very good; I don't know much about McLouth's, except that it's supposed to be worse than Chris Duffy's. That could just be an example of praising with faint damnation, though, and anyway McLouth is athletic and has played a lot of center in the minors, so it's reasonable to think he could handle a corner. He has also reportedly improved his defense this year.

So that's it. Giving the Pirates every possible doubt - that Wilson will be gone, that Mackowiak will be gone or elsewhere, that Doumit will be at catcher where he belongs - the only reasonable justification I can think of for plopping down a million bucks on Jody Gerut is improving the outfield defense. And even that only works as an excuse if McLouth isn't good out there.

Is improved outfield defense really a good use of $1 million for a  non-contending team with a serious lack of star power on its roster? I would say no. A good defensive outfielder who can't hit is a luxury if he makes more than the league minimum; with all the holes the Pirates have, it's a luxury they can't afford. Using Gerut as a starter next year would demonstrate an appalling lack of imagination and an appalling aversion to risk, considering only the options already available; paying him a million dollars to be a reserve would simply be silly.

And anyway, all I'm doing here is trying to judge whether Gerut should be offered arbitration next year. Whether or not the Pirates should have traded something valuable for him is a different matter, and he would have to be better than simply 'worth having around next year' to meet that standard. He doesn't come close - he's simply a random below-average outfielder who isn't very likely to get any better at this point. He's not a player the Pirates should be happy to get in return for helping their division rival with their playoff run; instead, he's a player the Pirates probably shouldn't even have around next year. This is a terrible return on this trade on the only major trade the Pirates made at the deadline.