Just when you think that Lyle Overbay bobblehead of yours back from 2005 was nothing more than an antique, the Brewers signed the 37-year-old first baseman to a minor league contract Monday, adding to an already-crowded group of corner infielders.
Just over a week ago, the Brewers had yet to make a free agent signing and a Juan Francisco/Sean Halton platoon seemed to be the team’s plan. Since then they have added Mark Reynolds and, now, Overbay.
Presumably, the Brewers wouldn’t rely on one of those four names mentioned to be the everyday first baseman, as none of them posted memorable 2013 seasons (Reynolds and Francisco held the highest wRC+ with 96 each). Because of this, a left/right platoon seems to be the consensus approach the Brewers will take come opening day.
While it was reported by Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Reynolds was all but assured a spot on the major league roster despite only signing a minor league deal, the Overbay signing creates a level of ambiguity surrounding which left-handed bat will accompany him.
Will that job go to Overbay, who was just recently added to the roster to increase competition, or to Francisco, the recipient of $1.3 million dollars this off-season to avoid arbitration?
I’m going with Juan Francisco, and here’s why.
When Milwaukee traded for Francisco last June, they were taking a low risk on a player that potentially could be of high reward. The pitcher the Brewers gave up, Tom Keeling, struggled in AA with the Braves organization last year. Francisco, meanwhile, was one of the best pure power hitters in all of baseball but needed refining in most other parts of his game. Say what you want about his defense or strikeouts, but he homered once every 20 plate appearances and must have shown the Brewers enough to bring him back for $1.2 million.
At this point in his career, Overbay’s best days are well behind him. Brewers fans may remember his .301 average, 53-double campaign of 2004 or his 2.6-WAR the following season, but his production is nowhere near that level anymore. That said, he was no worse than Francisco last year, posting a 0.0 WAR compared to Francisco’s -0.9 WAR.
But if the Brewers do go with a different option than Francisco, then they never really figured out what they have in the 26-year-old. The $1.3 million dedicated to Francisco this season is by no means a fortune, but it shows that their interest in him still remains. And if he flops? Then a low-risk, high-reward player doesn’t turn out and you move to the next option.
Francisco made some adjustments to his swing in September, as reported by Adam McCalvy, and I detailed them last month. His power is natural and will be there regardless, so the hitting coach Johnny Narron worked on him with eliminating the big leg kick that proceeded his swing. This winter in la Liga de Béisbol Dominicano, Francisco batted .260/.351/.393, an major improvement offensively despite only hitting three home runs. If we replace his slugging from winter ball with his career mark of .432, he finished sixth in the Liga at .825.
Defensively, both players struggle–to say the least. Overbay, a career first baseman, was 7.2 runs below average defensively last season compared to Francisco’s 16.5 runs below average between first and third. The Brewers converted Francisco to a first baseman last season with hopes he can only improve in that area.
While a Lyle Overbay return is an intriguing prospect, we don’t really know how much he can still bring to the table. Like Francisco, he struggles against lefties, but, unlike his counterpart, lacks significant power against right-handers. At this point, he’s a less-promising, smaller-upside version of Francisco.
At this point, it looks like one of these two options will split time in a platoon at first unless someone does the unlikely, which would be taking over the everyday job (my bet would be Mark Reynolds). I don’t want that job being determined by a small sample size against spring training pitching. I’d go with Juan Francisco.