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Cody Ross: $9.5 million platoon guy?

After the surprising move to send Trevor Cahill down to the minors to get himself sorted out, we're wondering who might be next. Could it be Cody Ross?

Jeff Curry

"We ask ourselves if he's compensating. Is the hip affecting his swing? He said he feels good. I don't know if he'd tell us the truth if it was any different."
- Kirk Gibson

Cody Ross's past year has been a miserable one. On August 11, 2013, he suffered a freak injury, falling as he ran out a ground ball, and dislocating his hip with such force that it cracked the wall of the hip socket. He had to go on an IV drip of morphine, just so his hip could be put back into place, and the resulting surgery required 13 screws and a plate to be inserted to stabilize the joint. For more than three months after the operation, Ross wasn't able to put all his weight on it. Given the uniqueness of the injury, it was by no means certain Ross would ever be able to take the field again.

On that basis, it's impressive that he ended up missing only a couple of weeks of the regular season, making his first appearance of 2014 in game #19. However, the results since then have been far from the Ross we saw in 2013, when he put up 1.8 fWAR and 2.8 bWAR, the latter trailing only three Arizona players . This year, Ross has been not only far and away the Least Valuable Player on the 2014 Diamondbacks by fWAR, he has been one of the least valuable of all time. Remember how bad Jason Kubel was last season? We're only in mid-June, and Ross is on pace to surpass that as the worst fWAR of all time for Arizona.

10 worst seasons in D-backs history by fWAR

1 2013 Jason Kubel 89 267 5 21 32 0 .220 .288 .324 .270 63 -1.0 -12.1 -11.2 -1.7
2 2003 Quinton McCracken 115 226 0 17 18 5 .227 .276 .271 .243 35 0.5 -18.3 -5.8 -1.6
3 1998 Brent Brede 98 238 2 23 17 1 .226 .311 .325 .287 66 0.2 -9.9 -12.5 -1.5
4 1998 Karim Garcia 113 354 9 39 43 5 .222 .260 .381 .276 59 -0.7 -19.0 -7.7 -1.5
5 2005 Jose Cruz 64 245 12 23 28 0 .213 .347 .436 .342 101 -1.4 -0.9 -20.8 -1.4
6 2008 Eric Byrnes 52 224 6 28 23 4 .209 .272 .369 .284 61 -3.2 -14.1 -4.1 -1.1
7 2004 Alex Cintron 154 613 4 56 49 3 .262 .301 .363 .290 65 -0.5 -28.5 -3.5 -1.1
8 2004 Andy Green 46 119 1 13 4 1 .202 .241 .266 .227 23 -1.0 -12.8 -2.5 -1.1
9 2014 Cody Ross 42 123 1 8 8 0 .193 .252 .246 .230 35 0.4 -8.7 -4.6 -1.0
10 2010 Tony Abreu 81 201 1 16 13 2 .233 .244 .316 .244 39 -1.1 -15.8 0.2 -1.0

It's hard to be certain how much of this is injury-related, as opposed, say, to Ross being a year older and a step slower. But the fact that Ross has apparently had a severe drop off in both offensive and defensive production this season, tends to suggest there is a significant hangover from the surgery.

Certainly, there's no way to tell what the damage, and resulting corrective procedures, could have done to his timing or other aspects. You can definitely argue a case that Ross came back too early, looking at the particularly woeful results over his first fifteen games: 6-for-48, a .125 average, with no extra-base hits and a K:BB ratio of 15:1. Since then, it has been sporadic: May say him post a line of .234/.300/.313, for a .613 OPS, but that was driven by a solid early couple of weeks and hasn't been sustained. Since May 20th, Ross has been struggling once again, hitting .175 in 19 games with an OPS below .500.

Maybe it's a LaRussa effect, but there has been a very sharp change in usage pattern for Cody of late: he has been in the line-up almost exclusively when there is a left-handed pitcher for the opposition. We are now ten games into June, and even with two-thirds of our projected outfield on the DL, in Pollock and Trumbo, Ross has only one start this month against a right-hander, on the 8th against the Reds' Aaron Harang. I can see the point: when you have a struggling player, you want to put them in situations that give them the best chance of success, and Ross has, historically, handled LHP an awful lot better than RHP, with a career OPS close to 220 points higher.

However, the problems with this are several-fold. Firstly, left-handers are a clear minority. The Diamondbacks have faced a LHSP only 16 out of 58 times this season. Secondly, Ross is not being paid like a platoon guy: he's earning $9.5 million this season, and we are contracted to pay him the same in 2015 (with an option for 2016, again at $9.5m, and a $1m buyout). Thirdly, Ross hasn't been lighting up even left-handed pitching this season, with a split of .233/.303/.233, a .536 OPS (small sample size caveat, at only 33 PAs). If the plan is first to get him comfortable facing southpaws, then ease him back into the everyday line-up, there hasn't been much positive impact as yet.

Another issue is, the Diamondbacks don't exactly have many other options. They're very little chance of them being able to find a trade partner, for a 33-year-old hitting below the Uecker Line and with one home-run in his first 42 games. And Ross's future is just such a question-mark at this point. it probably wouldn't matter if the team agreed to shoulder the bulk of his salary over the next two years, . That said, NESN had a piece last week, listing Ross as a possible outfield target for the Red Sox. This is, however, probably just a bored writer blowing smoke, and even the author admits, "The question is whether Ross has anything to give."

The question is whether Ross, who has been plagued by injuries and offensive struggles, has anything to give.

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So, he's more or less a sunk cost, and the team might as well hang on to Ross and see if he comes around while on their dime, using him the best way they can, as a very well-paid platoon guy against left-handers for now. He's a good fit with LHB Gerardo Parra or David Peralta, though Ross is defensively less versatile. If he eventually returns to decent form there, all the better, but I'm not counting on it. Right now, I suspect we'll end up eating a good chunk of the $16 million or so currently owed to Ross.