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The Case for Piazza

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If you thought I was a little off my rocker yesterday, suggesting Nomar would look good in the new Sunday-only ball-and-glove cap, you're probably wondering if you mistakenly clicked on SB Nation's Twins blog today.  But yes, I think that Mike Piazza would fit well into the Brewers 2006 plans.

Well, sort of.

Here are a few things to think about when projecting the bottom of the order for next year:

  1. Damian Miller started 104 games for the Crew last year.  That left 58 for Chad ".257 OBP" Moeller.  
  2. The Brewers will play 12 interleague games in '07, needing a DH half the time.
  3. If Branyan is traded and Bill Hall is the starting third baseman, the first PH off the bench (or DH in interleague games) is...uh...Jeff Cirillo?  Corey Hart?  Frankly, nobody I'd be afraid to see if I were, say, Jason Isringhausen.
Now, I know Piazza isn't about to sign a 1-year deal to be a backup catcher.  But, if Ned Yost changed his philosophy not one bit and simply replaced Chad Moeller with Mike Piazza and DH'd Piazza in IL games, that's 64 starts for Mike--say 4 ABs a game--and another 60-70 pinch-hit ABs.  So, about 320 ABs for someone who would almost certainly put up a SLG of .440 or better, and could well, in limited action, push back at .480 - .500.  That's like having Russ Branyan (with a better batting average) as your backup catcher.  

Let's push that scenario a bit further.  If Ned Yost had Mike Piazza around, do you think Damian Miller would start over 100 games?  I don't, either.  I don't think Mike would start 100 games, but he'd come close than Moeller would.  Try this version: Let Piazza start 90-100 games (plus DH the IL games).  But every time the Brewers are up by, say, 2 runs or more in the 6th inning or later, bring in Miller to catch.  We all know that defense isn't Piazza's strong suit, so in this scenario you sacrifice some D for a solid #5 or 6 hitter the first two or three times around the lineup, but as soon as the bullpen comes in to nail down the victory, you've got a superior defender behind the plate.

In that scenario, with Piazza as the first PH off the bench, you could probably get him 400 ABs, which--hey, look!--is more than he got last year.  That would cut into Miller's playing time, but not substantially.  And the odds that this exact scenario would play out are very low--both Miller and Piazza are not ironmen behind the plate, so you could expect each of them to be unavailable for, say, 12-20 games of the season.  If Piazza was hot and Prince Fielder was slumping, Mike could play the occasional game at first, too.  (Maybe.  I'd imagine Mike might have something to say about that.)

Then, what to do about Chad?  I was somewhat disappointed when the Brewers resigned him for $700,000--he's probably not a great deal better than, say, Julio Mosquera, who'd be $380,000 cheaper.  (I know, I'm nitpicking, but if you're the Brewers, every dollar counts!)  On the other hand, the market for backup catchers is slim this year.  If the Brewers signed Piazza, you could make a case to use a bench spot on Moeller anyway.  If Miller or Piazza is the first or second PH off the bench in some situations, a manager like Yost probably wouldn't want to gamble by leaving his bench catcher-less.  Despite making double the league minimum, Moeller is still relatively inexpensive insurance against that.  And with the very versatile Bill Hall and Corey Hart on the team, that 25th spot on the roster wouldn't be very costly.  (Remember how much Durrington played when he was around?)

If the Crew wanted to take a bit more risky approach, there might be a trade market for Moeller--I'll bet the Red Sox would give up a B- prospect for him, for instance--and someone like Zach Sorenson (possibly on the roster in a Durrington-like role) could spend Spring Training learning the rudiments of catching, becoming the emergency option.  

Up to this point, I realize I haven't considered Piazza's price, or his willingness to take a limited role, when the Twins or Athletics may offer him a deal to become their DH.  And it's impossible for little ol' me to know what kind of money (or, heaven forbid, years) you'd have to come up with to sign him, but I suspect Piazza will get something like $5 or $6 million for a one-year contract with the Twins, A's, or Angels.  In today's free-agent market, a good rule of thumb is that each marginal win (that is, each win you'd get by signing this guy instead of sticking with what you've got) is worth about $3 mil.  Do you think 400 ABs of Mike Piazza (instead of Chad Moeller behind the plate, instead of Corey Hart off the bench in the late innings) would be worth 2 more wins to the crew?  I think so.  

I've made my case this weekend for Piazza or Nomar.  I don't think either has a good chance of happening, though I wouldn't be shocked by a Nomar signing.  (On the other hand, the Blue Jays have reportedly offered Garciaparra a two-year deal, which might push him out of the Brewers' sights.)  But either one is unlikely to break the budget, and since the team is close to set as-is, if either guy gets hurt and misses 3/4 of the season, it won't force Melvin to make a move out of desperation.  And there's upside, too: if some of the young Brewers disappoint, so the Crew is under .500 in July with a hot Piazza or Nomar on their hands, that's worth a solid prospect or two that will only strengthen the Crew's chance of making the long-awaited run from 2007-09.

Tell me what you think...