This may seem like a little bit of déjà vu as last year my initial pick for this project was also Mark Ellis, but since I had already written about him beforehand I ended up going with Nate McLouth instead. I couldn't have been farther from the mark for either of those guys so thank goodness the Blue Jays front office didn't listen to me. Ellis signed in St. Louis for one year at $5.2 million and proceeded to only play 73 games due to injuries and wind up with a batting average of.180 and a wRC+ of 31. He was even left off the postseason roster and the Cardinals obviously let him walk after the season thanks to him essentially stealing that $5.2 million from them. McLouth fared no better after signing in Washington for $10 million over two years plus an option in 2016. The outfielder lost a ton of time to injuries as well and played in only 79 games while hitting .173 with a wRC+ of 50. I'm surprised I still get the chance to do this after last year.
As was the case in 2014, I jumped the gun and already wrote about the free agent I think the Blue Jays should target in Chase Headley. To make things interesting I've selected Mark Ellis AGAIN, as he finds himself in a significantly different situation than last offseason. After absolutely bombing in St. Louis, Ellis will be lucky to get a major league contract although I believe it could an opportunity for the Blue Jays to see if he still has anything left in the tank.
It's a well-known fact that the Blue Jays are trying to upgrade their second base position which was shown by their recent acquisition of Devon Travis from the Tigers. Although there are sexier options, like Jed Lowrie, it seems the team is content with riding the hot hand from a group of guys including Maicer Iztruris, Ryan Goins, Steve Tolleson and the aforementioned Travis. It wouldn't hurt to throw Mark Ellis into that group as well since he has proven before that he is capable of providing above average value at the second base position. While there isn't many positive things to say about how Mark Ellis looked at the plate in 2014, besides his usual lack of power there was no massive change in his peripherals to suggest that he had lost his ability to provide average-ish hitting from the right side. Ellis is no longer going to hit more than 10 home runs in a season and certainly won't break a .300 average, but for many years he could always be counted on to get on base at a .330 clip, while keeping the strikeouts down. Then last year happened:
|2012 with Dodgers
|2013 with Dodgers
|2014 with Cardinals
The BABIP didn't help things last season, but no one is going to make the mistake of thinking that Mark Ellis is going to ever set the world on fire with his bat. What he has always reliably provided in a major league uniform is a solid glove at second base. He clears the 5.0 UZR mark every year and if you're into the more traditional stats then a perfect fielding percentage in 2014 should make you happy. For many years what Ellis lost in terms of value at the plate he more than made up for in the field posting fWAR numbers of 3.0, 1.0, 2.6, 1.8 from 2010-2013 with the only ugly spot being the miserable -0.4 from last season. He's currently 37-years-old so eventually the fielding is going to become less consistent but he hasn't shown many signs of a Jeter-esque slowdown yet.
A case can also be made for the presence he brings to the clubhouse along with the fact that he's seen his fair share of the postseason, but that isn't the easiest to quantify so we'll just leave it as an added bonus. You may think that Ryan Goins fills the same role as a great defender at second base who can't hit, but even in Mark Ellis' worst year at the plate in 2014, Goins still managed to be equally as bad.
Since I had been sitting on this idea for a little while, I contacted Ben from Viva El Birdos to ask him his thoughts about Mark Ellis' time in St. Louis. He graciously replied:
The Cardinals signed Mark Ellis after he had a solid age-36 season with the Dodgers, posting a .270/.323/.351 (.300 wOBA, 91 wRC+). Cardinals management maintained that rookie Kolten Wong would be the primary second baseman with Ellis serving as a complement, a role that seemingly included serving as an insurance Plan B as well as right-handed platoon partner. But Ellis sustained an injury in spring training and didn't open the season on the active roster. Curiously, the Cardinals allowed Ellis only a one-game minor-league rehab stint before activating him from the DL in mid-April.
Manager Mike Matheny began using Ellis to the exclusion of Wong and the Cardinals ultimately demoted Wong near the end of April and seemingly handed the job to Ellis. But Ellis didn't hit at all and the Cards ultimately recalled Wong, who grabbed hold of the primary second baseman job. Ellis just looked bad most of the season. He didn't hit the ball hard very often and when he did make solid contact, the ball seemed to find a fielder's mitt. I was actually in Colorado when Ellis went on a mini hot streak and, for a brief few innings, pulled his average up above the Mendoza line. After that late-June game, Ellis was batting for a .202 BA and had a .292 OBP. Neither stat would be that high again all season.
Ellis ended the year with a ghastly .180/.253/.213 (.212 wOBA, 31 wRC+). The Cardinals even saw fit to leave him off their postseason roster. I doubt there's a buy-low candidate on the free-agent market sitting at the subterranean depths of Ellis. I wouldn't give him anything more than a non-roster invitation to spring camp.
Well after hearing from Ben it really does sound like Ellis was as bad in 2014 as his stat line suggests. Ben brings up an interesting option though by suggesting a team could give him a non-roster invitation to Spring Training. Alex Anthopoulos always seems to find these players on the scrap heap who perform well in March and end up seeing time at the major league level and Ellis could be another one of those guys.
It's a toss up whether the South Dakota native will receive a major league contract for 2015, but I'd like to see the Blue Jays take some sort of gamble on Ellis and see if he can make everyone forget about his 2014 campaign. Contracts like this are always hard to predict, but I'd offer Ellis some sort of incentive-laden contract for one year that won't do any damage if he flames out. If Goins, Iztruis, Travis, and Tolleson look like better options entering the season then so be it, but with the way that second base currently looks for the Blue Jays, taking a shot on Mark Ellis isn't the worst idea in the world.