Another Transitional Move


At a quarter after four yesterday the last trade was announced, and the deadline fully passed with all the gusto of a muffled fart. There were four trades total leading up to the deadline, with Astros GM Jeff Luhnow turning a waiver pickup into a prospect, and a number 3 starter into three more prospects. The Padres and D’backs made an interesting intra-divisional trade, and the Twins and Royals each ordered a ham sandwich.

With the inclusion of the new Wild Card play-in game, teams are more reluctant to be daring at the trade deadline just because they still think they’re in it, and when every team thinks they still have a chance they’ll all approach trades with the same attitude.

The teams that should be selling at the deadline awkwardly held on to pieces they could capitalize on. The Mariners harbored their veterans, as did the Cubs, White Sox, Marlins, and Mets. And one team, who still feels like it can compete in the toughest division in baseball, did nothing. No adding. No subtracting. I think they bought a fantasy football magazine at the drug store, but that was about it.

The Toronto Blue Jays did absolutely nothing, which is strange because they really could have done something.

Jul 3, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Detroit Tigers second baseman Omar Infante (4) turns a double play in the third inning as Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Emilio Bonifacio (1) slides at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

But there’s still some hope in the air for teams. The August waiver-trade deadline still exists, off in the horizon, as a beacon of hope for teams when they clearly know whether or not they can ride into the playoffs or sit solemnly in a pile of dookie in the barn of non-contention. And the Blue Jays just may be ripe for some deals.

Chris Hannum wrote a wonderful piece the other day about the possibility of adding Emilio Bonifacio to the Tigers, citing him as a better utility guy than Ramon Santiago, and I couldn’t agree more.

Check out a comparison of the two using defensive metrics for shortstop, second base, and third base (which they both can cover) over the 2013 season (although with Bonifacio, the last time he saw any regular playing time at shortstop or third base was in 2011, so I had to use those stats).

By the way, “Ooz” represents plays outside of zone, UZR is runs above average defensively, UZR/150 is the same stat projected over a 150 game season, Rngr is range runs above average, RZR is revised zone rating, and ErrR is error runs above average. (I recommend the glossary at Fangraphs for some pristine definitions for all the goofy sabremetric-ly stats we use on this site and others)

Ooz      UZR     Rngr    RZR     ErrR    UZR/150

Santiago         – SS      6          -0.5      1.1       .774     -1.8      -19.70

– 2b     5          -2.3      -3.4      .761     1.9       -15.3

– 3b     1          1.7       1.4       .875     0.3       18.6

Bonifacio        – SS      26        -5.7      -3.9      .761     -2.0      -15.3

– 2b     16        -0.1      2.7       .839     -3.0      -0.4

– 3b     8          -0.5      -1.0      .680     -.03      -5.4

As the comparison stats between the two attest, these guys aren’t the greatest defenders. That doesn’t matter too much, simply because they are utility guys, role players who come in when needed to do a solid job. What we see here is that Bonifacio, also a switch-hitter and five years younger, is more adequate than Santiago at shortstop and second base, positions that will often get a breather from Jim Leyland. Santiago has the edge at third, but only injury can keep Miguel Cabrera out of the lineup.

Bonifacio also has the ability to play the outfield, where he usually spends his time in leftfield. This would be yet another boon to the Tigers, giving them a guy who can basically play anywhere except pitcher, catcher, and first base. Again, he is far from being considered a good, if not even solid defender, but his ability to come in and field routine plays when needed would be greatly appreciated.

In terms of offense, Santiago is showing his age, and he wasn’t that great to begin with. Bonifacio, of course, is mired in his worst season as a professional; his batting average stinks, his BABIP stinks, his OBP stinks, and his power is Belliardian. His main asset is insane speed, which doesn’t even matter because “you can’t steal first base.”

The speculation is that he’s trying to hit the ball too hard every time up, trying desperately to make something happen so he can stick around in the Blue Jays’ lineup, which is ridiculously crowded. But coming to the Tigers he would be established as a utility guy, and he wouldn’t have to battle for everything and be able to relax and realize he’ll get his at bats regardless, because that’s how Jim Leyland rolls.

And if one is tempted to think, “Okay, fast guy with meager defensive abilities. How would that help in the playoffs?” Well, two words: Dave. Roberts. When Roberts made the Steal in 2004, he changed the momentum of not just the Red Sox’s Game 4 against the Yankees, but also the series itself, propelling that team to a World Series championship and breaking the Curse. Bonifacio, when controlled, is a stolen base assassin. He stole 30 bases in 60 games last year. He can take not just one extra base, but two.

Right now the Tigers seem to be subtly making transitional moves – moves that indicate they are thinking past this season. With the acquisition of Bonifacio at the waiver deadline, they can pursue that path further as Santiago will be a free agent. Bonifacio’s last year of arbitration eligibility is next season, and after a clunker like this Dombrowski could theoretically sign the guy to a multi-year deal for a pretty meager price.  It makes almost too much sense for the Tigers NOT to get Bonifacio right now.