Eckstein Marks the Spot

Let me just say up front that I’m a fan of guys who get the most of our their ability. If you aren’t gifted with overwhelming tools and still find a way to succeed, unless you’re a complete jerk, I’m behind you.

With that disclaimer out of the way, it should come as no surprise that I like the David Eckstein signing. Why? Well, because Eckstein has good on-base skills (career .351 OBP), he’s cheap ($850,000 for 1 year), and he buys Matt Antonelli a little more time.

I like Antonelli’s long-term chances, but he hit .215 in the PCL last year. It would be nice to see him put up some numbers at Triple-A before bringing him up to the big club. I want to see him stick once he gets the call, and not bounce back and forth between San Diego and Portland. The Padres didn’t rush Chase Headley last year, and I think it served player and team well; hopefully the same will hold true for Antonelli.

Getting back to Eckstein, the Padres haven’t had a middle infielder break a .320 OBP since 2005, when Mark Loretta played here. If nothing else, there will be a certain novelty in having a second baseman who doesn’t hack at everything.

Eckstein is sort of like Dave Roberts. When he’s on the other team, you hate him because it doesn’t seem like he should have any success with that skill set. When he’s on your team, though, you appreciate that he must be driving the opposition crazy.

Its probably a stretch to blame John Sickels for my infatuation with Eckstein, but I’d be lying if I said Sickels didn’t influence me at all. From his 2000 Minor League Scouting Notebook (page 77, same as Adam Dunn and Adam Eaton):

Most scouts don’t like David Eckstein because he isn’t a great athlete. There are two specific criticisms. His range around the bag at second is very limited and his bat won’t hold up at higher levels. The second objection is, in my opinion, invalid. [Ed note: Eckstein had a career .308/.429/.411 line through better than 1200 minor-league at-bats to this point.] … he doesn’t look like he has much range if you watch him play, but his range factors always have been good and he turns the double play well. The trouble is, range factors can be deceptive for minor league players, and measuring range statistically is very difficult. So what we have is a player who can hit, who hustles, who’s sound fundamentally and who’s very reliable defensively. The problem boils down to whether or not he has the range to play second base and, frankly, I don’t know if he does. But I’d sure be willing to try and find out.

And from Sickels’ 2001 Minor League Scouting Notebook:

I love this guy, and I can’t believe the Red Sox let him go on waivers… Eckstein got off to a slow start in 2000, which he attributes to the fact that the Red Sox altered his swing. Why on earth they would mess with his swing, considering how well he hit in previous seasons, is beyond me… He has superb strike-zone judgment, surprising pop for a player his size, and he steals bases. Oh yes, he also led the Triple-A International League in fielding percentage at second base. Anyone who has seen him play can testify to his hustle and determination.

Sickels gave Eckstein a grade of B-minus both years. I’ve always appreciated Sickels’ interest in skills rather than tools, because it helps him identify guys that old-school scouts might miss based strictly on observation.

Eckstein wasn’t considered a legitimate second-base prospect and he went on to have a successful career as a shortstop despite not reaching the big leagues until age 26. Sorry, but that’s an awesome story.

Yeah, he’s lost some of the speed. And he doesn’t seem to be a shortstop anymore, but the Padres aren’t asking him to be one, so that’s fine.

As a stopgap, Eckstein is pretty much ideal. He’s useful but expendable. If he plays well (and the Padres aren’t in contention), maybe he gets flipped once Antonelli is deemed ready. If Eckstein sucks, hey, at least he cost less than Marcus Giles and Tadahito Iguchi.

Honestly, I’m not seeing a lot of downside here.

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17 Responses »

  1. Can Eckstein play SS if needed? If L-Rod is batting .215 in mid-May and Antonelli is back to his old self (2007) in AAA, is there the possibility of moving Eckstein to SS? Or if Denker has a ST similar to Barfield’s in 2006, is there any way Eckstein can hold down the SS spot?

  2. I like the signing too. Hopefully, Edgar Gonzalez can still stay with the team in a utility role. The Padres might as well sign Vizquel. Luis Rodriguez isn’t much of a hitter anyway.

  3. From John Sickels:

    Sawyer Carroll, OF, San Diego Padres
    Bats: L Throws: R HT: 6-4 WT: 210 DOB: May 9, 1986

    The Padres drafted Carroll in the supplemental third round last year, from the University of Kentucky. He was very successful in college, and he continued to hit well in the Northwest League after signing (OPS +33 percent). However, his strikeout rate at Eugene was rather high, and a late trial in the Midwest League resulted in poor numbers. People who like Carroll say he is a polished hitter with good strike zone judgment and at least decent power, who is fundamentally sound and makes the most out of average tools. People who don’t like Carroll say he’s an aluminum bat hitter who will struggle against better pitching, and that Midwest League pitchers exposed his lack of genuinely good bat speed. The jury is still out on this, given the sample size, but he’s shown the ability to make adjustments before. Grade C for now.


    Erik Davis, RHP, San Diego Padres

    Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-4 WT: 200 DOB: October 8, 1986

    San Diego drafted Erik Davis in the 13th round last year, out of Stanford. He pitched excellently in his pro debut, showing sharp command of his 89-92 MPH sinking fastball, solid curveball and very good changeup. He never quite lived up to expectations in college, but scouts like his emotional fortitude: he was hit in the face by a line drive in the 2006 Cape Cod League, almost losing an eye and requiring reconstructive surgery. Davis will have to prove himself at higher levels, but he’s earned the opportunity, and I think he is a sleeper. Grade C.

  4. Yeah, first, I don’t get all the doom & gloom about the Padres (in general) and specifically, I don’t get people who see this signing as a sign that the Padres can’t compete. This is an awesome signing. We didn’t have to commit TOO much money and we didn’t have to get a player who we’re HOPING has a rebound. This is a GREAT signing.

  5. I’d be fine with the Eckstein signing if he was going to be playing SS. I’d also be fine with the Eckstein signing if the Padres only had Antonelli behind him. But the Padres don’t have just Antonelli — they have 2 legitimate, almost (if not entirely) major league ready second base prospects in Antonelli and Travis Denker. So what happens when Eckstein gets named the starter out of Spring Training? Unless they plan on moving Antonelli back to 3rd, or to CF, I would assume that only one of those two will go back to Portland. Denker doesn’t need to spend more time in AA. Why not let one of those guys try and prove themselves to start the year, instead of setting back their development?

  6. #5@Nick: I believe they would have to put Denker on waivers to send him back to the minors and I don’t think he would make it through without getting picked up.

  7. All I know is that my wife is mad about the pickup. She thinks that he looks like an angry elf when he bats and it creeps her out. :)

  8. #7@DM: But without angry elves, is it really baseball? ;-)

  9. #8@Geoff Young: But seriously, I am surprised that people seem okay with this move as Eckstein, by name, is often used as the poster boy for “grit” over results.

    Personally looking at his stats I am surprised that we didn’t pick him up earlier. He looks a lot like what we were trying to get with both the NOG and the Iguchi deals. Let’s just hope that he doesn’t fall on his face like the previous players.

  10. I think he adds a nice element of speed and OBP to the top of the order with a guy like Jody Gerut. You have two guys who can get on base and run with Giles at #3 to knock them in. There’s some potential in this lineup.

  11. Eckstein’s OBP still doesn’t push him to even an average hitter, which he hasn’t been since 2005. Last year he had an OPS+ of 84. We’re not HOPING he rebounds from that? I sure am. That’s substantially worse than Egon’s 96. Even if Eck’s defense makes up the gap, and even if Egon was a fluke (which seems likely), Eck doesn’t make us much, if any, better than what he had. He should be better than what we got from Iguchi, but the latter had outperformed Eckstein recently and he still fell on his face. It could happen to the new guy, too.

    The Padre offense came in at a 98 OPS+ last year, so there’s room for improvement, and Ecks may help a tiny bit. But the pitching hurt us the most last year, and all we’ve done there is buy a couple of low-paying lottery tickets like Correia and Ryu.

  12. #9@DM: I think the “grit” angle has been a bit overplayed by many. He’s been a useful player for much of his career.

    #12@Tom Waits: Eckstein is in about the same position as Dave Roberts was when he arrived. It’s unreasonable to expect a guy that age to suddenly find himself, as Roberts did, but for the price, I can live with it.

    E-Gon completely fell apart on his second trip around the league. My guess is that the younger, more talented Denker fills E-Gon’s role in ’09.

    And yeah, the pitching continues to be a problem. On the bright side, at least Shawn Estes is gone. This, of course, raises the question of why he was here in the first place…

  13. #13@Geoff Young: Agree that relying on Egon would have been dangerous, but if we’re looking at improving over 2008 (which maybe we’re not), Eckstein vs Iguchi+Egon isn’t likely to do much. He may help with the marketing a bit. He could go off for a career year, like anybody, but that’s luck and not a plan.

    Shawn Estes, currently bamboozling the Dodgers. Never have a pulse and a left arm led to so many chances.

  14. #13@Geoff Young: If Headley keeps maturing, Gerut continues to be productive and Kouz can figure out a way to get on base more, then the Padres would actually have a pretty good lineup… it’s kind of ironic though that when the Padres finally get a somewhat stable lineup their once league leading pitching staff falls apart (especially if they trade Jake).

  15. Did Edgar really “completely fall apart” offensively in the 2nd half or 2nd go around ? I thought that he did a decent job swinging the bat for the duration but his defensive skills are absolutely brutal. Maybe a team can carry a big bat off the bench, one who can hit a late innings long ball, but can you carry a “Dr. Stranglove” like singles hitting middle infielder who strikes out a lot and can’t play ‘little ball” ?

  16. #14@Tom Waits: To be clear, Eckstein isn’t great. I mainly like that, as stopgaps go, he’s a lot cheaper than Giles and Iguchi. Not only is that good for the budget, but the Padres also might be more willing to cut bait if he stinks and they want to see what Antonelli can do.

    #16@JP: E-Gon’s rookie numbers:

    5/12 – 7/22: 204 PA, .328/.373/.466
    7/23 – 9/27: 149 PA, .199/.268/.272

    I’m cherry picking the dates, but yeah, his bat disappeared mid-July and never returned.