Filling the Chavez Ravine

Norm Hall

Left-handed power was not a strength of the 2013 Diamondbacks: Miguel Montero led the team with 11 home-runs, and things might not be much better next year, with Eric Chavez hitting free agency. Should we be looking to resign him?

2013 performance

While there were plenty of grumblings regarding some of Kevin Towers' off-season moves, one that received general thumbs up from the SnakePit readers was the signing of Eric Chavez to a one year, $3 million contract. Decent left-handed power, though even then there were concerns about his lengthy injury history, which had seen Chavez average only 47 games per year over the previous five seasons. While he was coming of a 113-game campaign for the Yankees, less than half of those appearances has been in the field, and there were concerns as to how Eric might hold up in a league without a DH.

Over the first two months, things went swimmingly well. Chavez hit, both off the bench and in occasional spot starts, mostly at third, with a line through the end of May of .325/.368/.588, a .956 OPS. However, after the loss of Aaron Hill to his hand injury, regular third-baseman Martin Prado was forced into replacement duty, and Chavez's workload increased significantly. When he took the field on May 30, it was Chavez's tenth start at the hot corner in 14 games, but he wouldn't make it through the day. He left the game against Texas, grabbing his side after fouling off the second pitch he saw in the first inning, and missed almost a month with a strained right oblique.

Chavez was definitely used more cautiously the rest of the way. Over the first two months and 53 games of the season, he had 126 PAs; from July 1 through the end of the year (81 games) he had 123 PAs. However, he was almost much less successful after returning from the oblique injury, with a line of .237/.297/.368, an OPS of only .665, with his final home-run of the nine hit by Eric, coming on Juiy 31. He started a mere four games in September, and ended the season in a 6-for-38 slump.

2014 roster role

There's no doubt that Chavez would like to stay with the Diamondbacks: He told Nick Piecoro in September, "They know I like it here.  This is home, my kids are here, spring training’s five minutes from my house. It’s a given that I would want to come back." But whether the team decides to make Chavez an offer is less certain. The key factors seem to be, whether they think prospect Matt Davidson is ready to occupy third-base on a regular basis and, tied to that, whether Martin Prado will be moved to left-field.

The latter could well depend on whether or not outfielder Cody Ross recovers from the damaged hip that he suffered in August, that ended his season and renders his availability for Opening Day next year questionable. With both Prado and Davidson being right-handed bats, a platoon of Chavez with either of them would seem possible. This was the intent with Prado this season, before injuries to various parties lobbed a spanner in the works, and a re-run - perhaps to a greater extent with Davidson - for 2014, would be a good fit for Chavez's talents.

As noted, left-handed power was certainly an issue for us this year: the Marlins were the only other team in the majors without a southpaw to reach a dozen home-runs. Some of that issue may be mitigated if Miguel Montero can return to better form - he had a total of 33 home-runs over 2011-12 - but the other left-handers likely to be part of the 2014 roster (Adam Eaton, Gerardo Parra and Didi Gregorius) aren't exactly names you can count on to strike fear into opposing pitchers.

Alternatives to Chavez

If you're looking for a left-hander who can play third, there isn't a great deal of talent apparently available on the free-agent marketplace this winter. Indeed, the only other name which comes out of the MLB Trade Rumor's free agent tracker as fitting those criteria is former Diamondbacks Kelly Johnson: he started a dozen games at third for the Rays this season. [MLBTR also list Munenori Kawasaki, which seems odd, considering he last played the position back in Japan, in 2003.] However, we can broaden the selection by adding left-handed first basemen, if we assume whoever starts at 3B for us is going to play 150+ games.

Here's a short table summarizing possible candidates, and how they stack up alongside Chavez along with their age, and the stats + cost from last season.

Name 2014 Age 2013 Sal PAs BA OBP SLG OPS
Eric Chavez 36 $3.0m 254 .281 .332 .478 .810
Kelly Johnson 32 $2.45m 407 .235 .305 .410 .715
Casey Kotchman 31 $700K 21 .000 .048 .000 .048
Adam Lind
30 $5.0m 521 .288 .357 .497 .854
James Loney
30 $2.0m 598 299 .348 .430 .778
Justin Morneau
33 $14.0m 635
259 .323 .411 .734
Lyle Overbay
35 $1.25m 486 .240 .295 .393 .688
Carlos Pena 36 $2.9m 328 .207 .321 .346 .669

You can cross Lind and Loney off the list, since they'll be looking for starting roles at first, and I think Arizona are "adequately covered" for the job, shall we say. Morneau is probably on that list as well, though won't get anywhere near what the Twins paid him. Overbay ended up starting a great deal more than expected for the Yankees, due to their plethora of injuries. He needs to be kept firmly away from left-handed pitching (OPS .516) last year, but hit righties well enough (.748) he might fit Arizona fairly well. Pena seems past it, and Kotchman was released by the Marlins in August. No-one was interested then, and no-one should be now.

Conclusions

If he can stay healthy - I'd even settle for moderately healthy - I'd have no problem bringing Chavez back, at or around the same price we gave him last season. We do need to be aware that he has to be handled carefully, wrapped up in tissue paper and stored at the back of a closet when not in use: starting him five games a week is just asking for trouble. The good news is, he seems perfectly happy with his one-year deals, saying "I just enjoy being on a one-year contract, not knowing if I even want to play next year. So just take it one day at a time, the cliche, and just finish it out."

Failing that, I'd see if Overbay or perhaps Johnson can be had for the left-handed/PH role, for slightly-below what Chavez can cost. However, neither are experienced at playing third-base, so those would only be credible options if we were certain that whoever played there, was going to be able to start almost every day - we could conceivably use Cliff Pennington in a pinch.

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