Friday, February 1, 2008

Sean! Sean! Come back, Sean!

I'll say one thing for Huntington: He hasn't been shy about allowing our failed prospects to ride off into the sunset (or about picking through other people's garbage, for that matter). The Bucs just made the sixth waiver claim of Huntington's brief tenure, grabbing shortstop Ray Olmedo on waivers. To create a spot on the 40-man roster, they designated long-suffering lefty starter Sean Burnett for assignment. If he slips through waivers, the team can either give him an outright assignment to Indy or cut him loose entirely. If he's claimed, they have ten days to work out a trade with the claiming team(s), and if they haven't made a deal at the end of that time, he's assigned to the team with the highest waiver priority.

There's probably going to be a lot of hand-wringing about the transaction among the sports talk radio set, since Burnett was a big part of the Littlefield regime's spin about the hopeful future, but at this point he's just a 25-year-old lefty with subpar stuff and multiple arm surgeries, who hasn't had a good season at any level since 2003. I wish him well (I wish nearly all ex-Bucs well), but I don't think his (probable) loss is particularly likely to come back and bite us on the butt. Before the injuries, he was always a guy whose bread and butter were his impeccable command and freakish ability to keep the ball in the park, and he hasn't shown either one in quite some time now. He walked seven batters in eleven spring training innings, pitched a fit about not making the team over Gorzelanny, and then walked 39 batters in 70 minor league innings (against only 31 strikeouts). He had put up a 2.45 ERA in 25 innings in the Venezuelan winter League this offseason, but his K/BB was still an uninspiring 11/8, and the level of competition wasn't all that impressive (check the names on their roster). The fairly reliable ZiPS projection system predicted a 6.14 ML ERA for him for 2008. He was also out of options, and as such would've needed to go on waivers if he didn't make the 25-man roster out of spring training. At this point, it's probably best for both sides to go their separate ways.

Olmedo, meanwhile, is a former Reds prospect who has spent parts of the last four seasons in the majors. He's reported to be a very good fielder, and he has spent a fair bit of time at both shortstop and second base. Offensively, he's significantly weaker. He has a career .228/.276/.293 batting line in 403 ML ABs, and a career .284/.340/.371 line in 1088 career AB at AAA. He's got pretty good speed, and his hit chart suggests that he's taking the optimal approach for a player of his skill set: using the whole field to put balls on the ground and run like hell. Like most players with that approach, he doesn't have much power at all, minimizing the chances of an age-related breakout. He's a switch hitter, but isn't notably stronger from one side than the other, and ZiPS projected him as likely being good for a .244/.296/.311 line in 2008.

Olmedo isn't hugely exciting, but I can understand why Huntington wanted to add him. We have fairly little middle infield depth, and Olmedo will provide competition for Brian Bixler and Josh Wilson as utility infield candidates in spring training, with the losers likely ticketed for regular duty at AAA. Bixler is at a double disadvantage there, in that he has an option remaining while the others do not, and that he has some mechanical flaws to his swing that might benefit from additional instruction and regular play in the minors.

To properly leverage a guy like Olmedo, who has basically the same skill set as Abe Nunez, you need to try to maximize his defensive innings and baserunning opportunities, while minimizing his trips to the plate. Ideally, that means pairing him with a good-hitting utility infielder with a weaker glove (probably portrayed here by Chris Gomez). It'll be a good early test for Russell to see how well he implements that plan; Lloyd McClendon failed his test with Noonie, serving notice that game management would be a serious issue on his watch.


SteeleRED said...

Geez, wish I was excited about Olmedo's addition as you seem to be. ;) But I agree that Burnett had to go, and I won't be anxious to see him re-sign.

WilliamJPellas said...

Olmedo is perfectly fine as a utility man for the middle infield. The Nunez comparison, I think, is fairly accurate, though Olmedo has more speed and Nunez a somewhat better bat.

None of this bodes well for Bixler, and I'm not sure what to make of that. When I saw Bixler play in person last season, he showed an excellent glove and an accurate though not overwhelmingly strong arm. His hitting was respectable for a AAA shortstop. I was down on Bixler originally, but he seems to me like one of those guys who just keeps working and who somehow always seems to get a little bit better every season, one way or another.

So, what to do with Brian? I am against bringing him to Pittsburgh as a utility infielder, because the limited and sporadic playing time he'd get in that role would almost certainly be bad for him at this stage of his career. It seems to me that his only real future here is as a "let's take a long look at him", rest-of-the-season replacement if and when we trade either Jack Wilson or, preferably, Freddy Sanchez.

richiehebner said...

Exactly right on leveraging him. You want him in to help protect a lead, and hopefully you manage that without allowing him so much as a swing. I have no problem whatsover with the Burnett decision.