I Read the News Today Oh Boy: Sparrow Set Free; Eckstein Signed; Mitchell Report Released

Big day in the news...

First, the Jays declined to offer arbitration to Sparrow. It appears as though JP's earlier talk about the Jays offering Sparrow arbitration was just talk in order to prop up his trade value. Sparrow is now a free agent, and while he could technically be signed by the Jays at a lower cost, it is more likely he will (as he should) seek his fortunes elsewhere. While it would be just fine to bring Sparrow back, it's not really necessary to pay $3 million or more for an 8th or 9th starter, especially when the Jays have other folks who could probably perform just as well. The Jays tendered all their other arbitration-eligible players, including Sparky.

As Torgen broke in the diaries, the Jays inked David Eckstein to a 1 year, $4.5 contract. While Eckstein's skills and health appear to be in decline, as we've discussed before, he still gets on base relatively well and his offense is a big improvement over Mac (89 OPS+ career for Eckstein, 58 for Mac). Particularly significant is that Mac's career OPS against righhanders is .571, while Eck's is .706. While Eckstein's power is awful, his on-base skills are actually quite good for a SS (lifetime .351 OBP). That makes him a great 9 hitter in my mind, although he could also lead off (as it has been suggested that he will).

On the downside, Eckstein's defense was above-average until last season, where it was lousy. The question is whether that was a blip on the radar and/or caused by injuries or whether it is irreversible age-related decline. Chances are it's a combination of both, which brings up the next point - Eckstein hasn't been particularly healthy over the past few seasons, missing about 40 games each of the past two seasons. But with Scutaro and Macdonald, the Jays should have adequate cover. Starting Mac over Eckstein against lefties, particularly when the Jays have a groundballer on the mound, is probably not a bad idea.

One good thing about having Eckstein in the leadoff spot is that it might get Matt Stairs or Adam Lind more at-bats than he would otherwise have, since Gibbons won't feel compelled to start Sparky against righties just to have him lead off. The potential downside is that Gibbons might stick with Eckstein in situations in which he would pinch-hit Stairs for Mac.

On the whole, this seems like a good move. Having a SS who can hit only seems like it can help, since the Jays will still have Mac to provide defense and Scutaro to provide power. I thought Eckstein would cost much more. The key to how much this will help the Jays is how healthy Eckstein is and how that manifests itself on the defensive side of the ball - Eckstein was not a bad defensive SS until last season, despite having a lousy arm.

For example, J-Mac managed a .227 eqa in 2007 season, which was actually one of his better seasons with the bat (career .219) and was -13 BRAA. Defense-wise, he was 20 FRAA, but had never been as many as 8 FRAA in the past. His WARP3 was 4.3. Eckstein eqaed .275, (career .262), and was 8 BRAA. The catch is that he was -10 FRAA where he had been +14 in 2006. His WARP3 was only 3.8, lower than Mac's. The difference is that that was a low number for Eckstein, who had managed 7.3 and 5.5 in the previous 2 seasons. On the contrary, Mac was way above his norms, as he had never before finished with more than 1.8 WARP3. So if Eckstein can get his fielding even near his norms, he will be an upgrade. If he can't get his fielding in order, we still have Mac and Eckstein cost us nothing and involved no long-term commitment. At worst case, Eckstein should be worth about as many runs as Mac and it's more likely that he should be worth at least a couple of wins more. Although it's worth mentioning that the Twins paid less for a 1-year deal for Everett, who is a better fielder than either Mac or Eckstein and about as good a hitter as Mac.

Finally, the long-awaited report on steroids from George Mitchell is in . TO Blues has the scoop in the diaries, so check it out.

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