Look, there’s nothing funnier than making fun of the David Eckstein, Purveyor of Grit, meme that runs through the national and local media whenever The Short One is in the public eye, but that ignores that fact that, over his career, tiny little pixy David Eckstein has been fairly valuable. In 10 seasons, he’s contributed somewhere around 20.0 WAR to his teams while combining decent onbase skills and defense. In particular, when teams don’t try to stretch him out as a shortstop, he’s a pretty good defensive player. Last year, Eckstein was worth around 2.0 WAR for the Padres, and he only played in 116 games. There’s a good chance that, given a couple weeks worth of at bats at AAA, David Eckstein would be a significant help to multiple teams in Major League Baseball.
(Rest of the article, as well as a chance to vote on David Eckstein's new nickname after the jump.)
Yet, strangely, according to MLB Trade Rumors, we haven’t heard anything about Eckstein since the middle of last month, when the Mets flatly ruled out signing him. That makes sense. With or without His Grittiness, the Mets aren’t going anywhere in 2011. They have no reason to commit the position to a marginal upgrade, when they can play Brad Emaus there and give young players a chance to prove themselves at the Major League level. Likewise, Eckstein doesn’t make sense for the Mariners or Astros, who both have holes in the middle infield, since any marginal upgrade only hurts their chances of drafting higher next year.
But a marginal upgrade in the middle infield, especially at 2B makes sense for several teams. Take, for instance, the Phillies. They are a team with serious competitive intentions this year, but have suffered a big blow to their playoff chances with the injury to Chase Utley. Plan B, to sign Luis Castillo, failed before it really even got started. Plan C, Wilson Valdez, has 4 hits in his first 11 at bats, but you simply cannot count on a player with a .290 career OBP and 65 OPS+ to continue to make any contributions to your team’s offense. And neither failed former prospect Josh Barfield nor the artist formerly known as Ron Belliard, currently stashed at Reading, is a viable fallback Plan D. Indeed, the best plan would seem to be Plan E. Eckstein, baby!
Facing a similar injury problem to their 3B, where Matt Dominguez and Donnie Murphy have both gotten hurt in the early goings (and Murphy is no great shakes anyway), the Florida Marlins could also use Eckstein to man the keystone, allowing them to slide Omar Infante to 3B. This would help them avoid having to play Emilio Bonifacio or Wes Helms regularly, and help a team that always seems to be on the cusp of contention to improve around the margins.
And even the Dodgers, who are seeing their infield depth crumble, or the Twins, whose middle infield situation is the definition of shaky, or the Angels, who love Eckstein and seem determined to give Howie Kendrick time at 1B while Kendry Morales is out, would be advised to give Hearty McHustlepants a chance to solidify them up the middle. The beauty of Eckstein circa 2011 is that, when players recover from injury or better solutions emerge, he can be shifted into a utility role thanks to his (theoretical) ability to handle SS every so often, and will be a good upgrade in that role for most teams.
Why aren’t we hearing about Eckstein? Maybe his demands, for money or playing time, are crazy. Maybe he’s moved on to other, more important, things. Or maybe teams are just overlooking him because he’s so short. But if he wanted to marginally improve his chance at the playoffs this year, and needed help in the middle infield, The Common Man would have David Eckstein on speed dial, wouldn’t you? And that’s even before we account for Captain Grizzle’s proven winner-tude and Professor X-like ability to make his teammates better via mind-control or something.
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