It's no secret that Adam Lind has not been very good in the last three years, after signing a 4 year deal worth $18M and three team option years in the wake of his 2009 breakout season in which he finished .305/.370/.562 with 35 HR, good for a 139 wRC+. In the three years since, he's not even come close to repeating that, posting wRC+ of 88, 95 and 97 - decent to good numbers for a middle infielder, but pretty miserable for a 1B/DH. In fact, he's basically been the quintessential replacement player, tallying a cumulative -0.2 fWAR (in part due to poor fielding and baserunning, he's be around 1.0 fWAR without those) in 1508 plate appearances from 2010-12.
And yet the Jays have remained committed to him, through both struggles at the plate and struggles with injuries, not withstanding a three week demotion to AAA in June. In fairness, he's had some really good stretches - a sizzling May and June last year (and decent if unspectacular April), and a pretty strong second half that went pretty much under the radar (wRC+ of 117, 114 and 112 for the last three months respectively). Those numbers in the second half this year aren't great, but they're around league average at 1B/DH, and for $5M that's not bad value if he could maintain that level of production going forward.
But we also know something else about Adam Lind: he's had massive platoon splits over his career. He just cannot handle lefties:
Even in his breakout 2009 year, he had huge platoon splits (perhaps in hindsight a yellow flag? This is something potentially interesting for another day), though he was league average against lefties and that's perfectly acceptable production from your worse side. But when his overall performance dropped, it became an issue, especially as the platoon splits got worse, as can be seen above. His production has fallen a bit against RHP over the past three years compared to his career (113 vs. 119 wRC+) but it's fallen markedly against LHP (33 vs. 58). Neither of those numbers against LHP are good, but it's a big drop and significant driver of his fall to replacement level player. The $7M he's owed ($5M salary and $2M option buyout) is a sunk cost, but if the Jays are going to keep him on the roster and try to salvage value, something needs to be done.
I have long been an advocate of strictly platooning Lind, starting him against righties and pinch hitting for him if a lefty is brought in, and vice versa against lefties. If this were done, I think there's a good chance Lind could deliver value. If he stayed healthy and got around 400 PA, with a 115 wRC+, he would be worth around 1.5 fWAR. Not great by any means, but much better than nothing. The problem with this is twofold: roster space, and finding a platoon partner. As it stands, if the Jays are going with a 7 man bullpen that means only 13 position players and a 4 man bench. Having a back-up catcher (Mathis pretty much locked in), one back-up infielder, and one back-up outfielder are pretty much mandatory, leaving only one other spot. And most teams would like to leave that for a utility guy to have more flexibility. This I think is the more serious constraint. In terms of a platoon partner candidate, prior to this year I had suggested Edwin Encarnacion (as part of a larger platoon across a few other positions), but with the way he broke out obviously his bat needs to be in the line-up everyday.
In a recent gamethread when this came up, I threw out the idea of Rajai Davis off the cuff. For anyone who's watched Rajai Davis over the past couple years, on it's face it sounds a little crazy. But across both his career (107 wRC+ against LHP, 46 wRC+ against RHP) and the last three years (117 wRC+ against LHP, 69 against RHP) he has had pretty massive platoon splits. And if you just take the numbers against LHP, he's actually around league average for a 1B/DH.
Of course, there are other complicating factors to planning on using Rajai as a platoon partner for Lind (assuming that they first exercise his option, which I expect). First, the Jays' outfield is not set for next year. Going by the roster right now, either Gose or Davis would be the starting LF next season. If Gose is the starter, that's two lefties in the OF, both of whom have had significant splits themselves. In which case you'd want to give them days off against primarily lefties, and insert Davis. If Gose is sent back to AAA, then Davis would presumably be the starter. And then there's the possibility acquiring an OF, and the chain effects that would have on Davis/Gose/Sierra. So I decided to look for other platoon candidates.
My goal was to generate a list of players who hit lefties well, and would be available cheaply. Ideally, in light of the roster constraints, it would mean finding a player who could play in the field as well - that is, not limited to 1B/DH. To generate a list, I took all players who had over 750 PA over the last three years. I then filtered to remove all players with whose wRC+ against LHP was less than 110 (basically league average for 1B/DH), whose wRC+ against RHP was 100 of greater (players who hit LHP and RHP are full time players), and who had a platoon split of less than 20% (to find platoon specialists who will be cheap, measured by LHP wRC+/RHP wRC+). I did the same thing with platoon splits for the last 10 years, to filter out players whose splits are funny due to sample size fluctuation over the last three season.
That left a list of 38 players who met the criteria for the last 3 years. I eliminated Casey Blake who had retired, and further eliminated two players (Jamey Carroll, Marlon Byrd) whose splits in the 3 year sample did not match the larger 10 year sample splits and seemed to be the result of SSS. There were also 9 players who would have qualified based on the 10 year split sample, but not the 3 year sample. Most were veterans in decline, but I added two who seemed be be interesting possibilities (Mike Aviles, Scott Hairston). That left 37 players as candidates, listed below in groups.
Group 1 consists of players who are either everyday players despite their splits, or are under contract to teams (0r controllable by teams) that have no reason I can see to move them, etc. The distinction is subjective, and maybe some could be candidates, but I won't be discussing them further as viable options.
Group 2 consists of players who are controllable by other teams, but whom I think could be acquired, and fairly cheaply. Group 3 is players who are not currently under contract for next year, and most of whom should make it to free agency.
Starting with Group 3 since there's a better shot of these players being available, I've included Jeff Keppinger and Cody Ross here. I think both will probably be signed to be full-time players, but in the recent past their performance would have merited a platoon role. However, I don't see either as viable options to partner with Lind. Reed Johnson is obviously familiar to Jays fans, and a good portion of the fanbase wishes he never left. Though he's had some injuries, he can clearly still hit lefties, with this season's 116 wRC+ in line with his longer term trends. He'd be fairly limited defensively though, and honestly I don't know he's much different production wise than Rajai Davis (also on the list, it turns out).
So that leaves Delmon Young, Jonny Gomes, Scott Hairston and Blake DeWitt in Group 1. We all know Delmon Young has had some, um, issues over the years, but he can mash lefties. And due to his baggage and declining production, he might have to accept a part time role on a cheap contract. He's pretty limited defensively though, and if we're going that route, I'd prefer Jonny Gomes. He's been a part time player for years, and is coming off a one year, $1M deal so he should be cheap. He absolutely mashes lefties (139 career wRC+) and in case of injury could be respectable against RHP. Turning to Scott Hairston, and we're looking at a completely different type of player. He's not as good with the bat, and in recent years has had narrower splits. However, he can be a utility guy who can play all over the diamond if needed late in games off the bench when not platooning. And he'd still be nearly league average for a 1B/DH against lefties. It would be highly unconventional, but would give some added flexibility. So there's the trade-off: better offence with Gomes, limited defence; less production with Hairston, more bench flexibility. Finally, there's DeWitt, a minor league free agent. I'm pretty skeptical of his splits, as the sample size is only 121 PA. However, he can play around the infield so it the splits were legitimate it could make sense.
Looking to Group 2, there's a couple headliners here for Jays fans, so let's start with Michael Young (the one who got away) and Jason Bay (from the Great White North). Both were good full-time players in the past, but are clearly in the decline phase and it can be seen above now have some significant splits. Both also might have issues becoming part time players, but can play in the field (not necessarily very well) providing some depth and flexibility as well. Another issue is salaries. The current teams would have to eat salary (or provide other value like prospects). I doubt the Mets would be interested, but the Rangers might have some interest in moving Young to create playing time or prospects like Olt and/or Profar. In a similar vain, there's Jeff Francoeur. The Royals have him under contract for $7.5M, but also have Wil Myers ready to be promoted and needing a spot. His splits are more modest, and probably wouldn't want a part-time role, so I don't see this one working out. A few other similar players just missed the cutoffs: Alfonso Soriano, who is in a similar boat, and Vladimir Guerrero. I think it's safe to say we won't see the latter.
The most interesting option to me in this group would be Geovany Soto, who absolutely murders lefties. He's only got one year of control left
and the Cubs are rebuilding, so they might be willing to move him. The downside is that they'd want prospects to move him, and he'll get he`s due a raise off his $4.3M 2012 salary in arbitration so the Rangers might not want to keep him (whoops, didn't pick up he was traded). Further, he's a catcher, and there's a logjam there, so there's no other positional flexibility. So I doubt this one works. Chris Denorfia of the Padres is another lefty masher but can handle lefties. I include him here, but he could easily go in Group 1. I can't see the Pads moving him at a price that makes sense for a platoon option.
The logic behind Mike Aviles is similar to that of Hairston in that he can play the middle infield. I also don't know if Boston would move him. Mark Ellis hits significantly better, but is also more costly at $5.25M. If the Jays were willing to take the salary from the Dodgers, I could see them letting him go for effectively nothing. I'm a little skeptical of his more recent splits however (118 wRC+ in the last 3 years compared to 107 career, which is less attractive). Again, both would be highly unconventional as 1B/DH platoons, but that's the idea here.
Moving on, there's some strictly 1B/DH types in Daric Barton, Gaby Sanchez and to a lesser extent John Mayberry. Daric Barton had the massive 2010, but has failed to follow up. I imagine he could be had cheaply, and his salary last season was reasonable at $1.1M. His defence is excellent, so he could spell EE at 1B, and it would be nice having someone who can get on base. Gaby Sanchez is in many ways the reverse Adam Lind. He did better in Pittsburgh after the Marlins gave up on him, but they might be willing to move him. I'd be wary of touching off the fanbase after the last trade with Pittburgh though. Mayberry has played the OF, though he's not particularly good out there. You could use him in a pinch, but that's about it in my view. These guys are all lefty mashers, not particularly expensive, and I could easily see them being available at a modest price.
That leaves two guys. Jed Lowrie could theoretically go in Group 1, but I think Houston would be willing to move him. Just not for a price that would make sense for this role, though the positional flexibility would be great. Finally, there's Danny Valencia, who I think might be the most intriguing player in Group 2. He's 28, has had some success with Minnesota, but
has did not establish ed himself in Minnesota and was traded to Boston. He has massive platoon splits, and can play third base. So he can play on the infield, but actually hits like a decent 1B/DH against lefties. If Minnesota Boston would move him for a mid level prospect, I could see him fitting in really nicely as a platoon partner to Lind.
So in the end, I think it really comes down to finding the player who fits in with what is done with the rest of the roster. If the Jays could carry a strictly bat first player, Jonny Gomes would be a great option. There are a number of guys who can play the OF, but frankly, if this is route, then I think Davis could do. To get an infielder, some sacrifice would have to be made with the bat, but someone like Valencia or Hairston could be an out-of-the-box pick.
It also struck me that there's another possibility that's totally in house. If Travis d'Arnaud had a hot Spring, or was sent to AAA and hit lights out, he could force his way onto the club. J.P. Arencibia has some fairly significant splits (career 103 wRC+ against LHP and 83 against RHP), and in the short term, the Jays could use him at DH against lefties, with d'Arnaud behind the plate. JPA is not quite league average for the position against lefties, but is a far superior option than Lind. Against righties, d'Arnaud and JPA could split time, with Arencibia getting the lion's share. This would enable the Jays to ease him d'Arnaud in and evaluate him without having to fully commit.
If you've made it this far, leave some thoughts on these options in the comments.