Friday, December 14, 2007

Cathal Kelly is a great soccer writer

But when it comes to baseball, he's obviously content to toe the cliche line.

Plucky Eckstein to set Toronto's table

The Blue Jays have added more depth to their middle infield and a new leadoff hitter by signing free-agent shortstop David Eckstein.

Career OPS+ 89. Yay! Also, "plucky" is the nondescript Eckstein word of the day. Use it in a sentence three times while discussing Eckstein at home or work today.

The 2006 World Series MVP need only pass a physical today in order to join the team. According to Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, the deal is for one year. Though Ricciardi would not confirm the dollar figure, it's understood to be $4.5 million (U.S.)

"We've agreed to terms pending a physical, so let's just get the physical done," Ricciardi said yesterday.

The Jays medical staff must need to do more tests before determining exactly how small and how pale he is.

Eckstein, 32, has been on two World Series winners. Along with current Jays third baseman Troy Glaus, he was a member of the world champion Anaheim Angels in 2002. He batted .309 for the Cardinals last year, a career high, with three home runs, 31 RBIs and 10 stolen bases.

Big OPS+ of 93 last season. Also, those 3 home runs, 31 RBIs and 10 stolen bases were supposed to be a selling point.

He will bat leadoff for the Jays, a spot the club had trouble filling last year in the absence of Reed Johnson.

"That's been his role and he's always been successful at it," Jays manager John Gibbons told The Canadian Press. "He's a tough out and he really battles. He just seems to find a way to get something done."

It's not a quantifiable "something" of course, but it's really just a thing. That he does. Being tough. And battling. Might he be plucky?

Eckstein is known for housing a formidable will inside a diminutive frame. Though he stands only 5-foot-7, his hard-charging style made him a huge fan favourite in St. Louis. However, the Cardinals declined to offer the two-time all-star arbitration this off-season, forcing him onto the free-agent market.

Rudy! Rudy! Rudy! Oh yeah, Rudy only played for a minute and a half. This guy is a multimillionaire Scrappy Doo.

The ripple effect of acquiring Eckstein will be felt throughout the Toronto clubhouse. First, recently re-signed shortstop John McDonald will likely return to a backup role. News of the move surprised McDonald when he was contacted by the Star early yesterday afternoon.

"I had no idea," McDonald said. "Obviously, that's the position I was preparing to play and hopefully be the starter. But I don't think it changes my outlook on things. ... I know David from playing against him for a long time so I'm sure he won't mind some healthy competition in spring training."

Over/under 5 home runs from the shortstop position next season for the Jays?

It also pushes utility infielder Marco Scutaro, picked up in November from the Oakland A's, further down the pecking order.

Considering Eckstein's defensive frailties and the fact that third baseman Glaus underwent off-season foot surgery, McDonald and Scutaro might still see considerable time on the field.

Frailties? You mean, because he throws the ball like a toddler? At least he's a great... well, good... he hits singles occasionally.

Eckstein's arrival also creates another roadblock in front of former No. 1 draft pick Russ Adams, who has been unable to find an everyday spot since 2006. As a result, second baseman Aaron Hill, long projected as the team's future shortstop once Adams was major-league ready, will remain in his current role for the time being.

Our scouting for SS is obviously amazing.

There is also a question mark attached to left fielder Johnson, who had been the leadoff hitter until a back injury ruined his 2007 season.

You can make a pretty sound argument that there is no discernible difference between Johnson and Eckstein's offensive ability.

Resident baseball expert, zgall1 chimes in: "If they are both healthy (and I'd say they are equally likely to be unhealthy a good percentage of the time), Reed Johnson is about 10-20% more valuable as a hitter"

Some of the money to sign Eckstein was provided Wednesday by the club's decision to non-tender Josh Towers. Ricciardi said the Jays likely would not invite Towers to spring training, effectively ending the pitcher's career in Toronto.

Josh Towers, while the target of many of our tirades, has more value to the Jays as a relief pitcher than David Eckstein does as a starting shortstop. That is not arguable.

All this talk about pluckiness has inspired me to go find a duck to de-feather.

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