November 20, 2011
It's tough to find good middle infield help these days.
At least that's what the market would suggest after another bland, unexciting and honestly not all that likely to make a significant impact middle infielder has signed for a lot of money with a team I wouldn't anticipate having a lot of financial flexibility.
First, it was the Minnesota Twins inking the soon to be 38-year-old Jamey Carroll(notes) to a two-year, $6.75 million deal with the intention of letting him compete to be their everyday shortstop. We'll see how that plays out.
Next, it was 34-year-old Mark Ellis(notes) signing a two-year, $8.75 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, essentially taking Carroll's roster spot, but not providing nearly the versatility as a second baseman only. That right on the heels of Los Angeles signing Matt Kemp(notes) to the largest contract in National League history (for now).
Barmes, who turns 33 in March, spent parts of eight seasons with the Colorado Rockies — six of those under current Pirates manager Clint Hurdle — where he did an admirable job keeping the seat warm at shortstop until Troy Tulowitzki(notes) debuted in 2007. He then shifted to second base until he was traded to the Houston Astros, where he turned in his typical .244/.312/.386 line with 12 home runs and 27 doubles last season.
Not the most exhilarating numbers, but you could do far worse as a short-term solution or utility player. In fact, having watched all three players very closely, I can say they're the type of players you might want in a utility role. They're going to catch the baseball, which looked like a lost art throughout most of this year's playoffs. They're going to do a couple things offensively here and there that help.
But given the teams that are signing them and the money they're receiving , all three players are obviously going to be counted on for more than sparse contributions.
To me, they're role players being paid more like final pieces to a puzzle, by teams that are missing too many pieces for it to make sense.
I'm not sure how smart the Arizona Diamondbacks will look re-signing Aaron Hill(notes) (two-years, $11 million) and Willie Bloomquist(notes) (two-years, $3.8 million), but at least there's legitimate offensive upside with Hill (career-high 36 home runs in 2009), and Bloomquist is making a reasonable salary as an insurance policy to Stephen Drew(notes). Arizona is also positioned for more success in the National League West, so it's worth rolling those dice.
At least I can spin this positively for Pittsburgh. I'm not sure I could do that for Minnesota or Los Angeles.
Of the overpaid trio, Barmes is the best bet to payoff because he can give you 40-45 extra base hits in his best year. He just won't be on base consistently, which always made the Rockies and Astros attempts to hit him second both puzzling and frustrating. But his defense will never slump, and he'll provide Hurdle flexibility. If the Pirates can't get an extension done with second baseman Neil Walker(notes), Barmes could easily make that shift again.
Also, with the Carroll and Ellis signings setting the market, Barmes is making about what he should be. It's not an awful overpay in that perspective, I just can't believe this is what the market is dictating, or how much these teams are investing early in the signing season given other needs and the logical expectations. I was not expecting Caroll and Ellis to receive multi-year deals. I didn't anticipate any of the three making this much coin, or signing before the big pieces in Jose Reyes(notes) and Jimmy Rollins(notes).
But like I've said before, this offseason has been full of surprises. Maybe the next one should be Ryne Sandberg pushing pause on the managerial dream and coming back for one last run.