Toronto Blue Jays: What the Cliff Pennington Happened to Danny Valencia?
Of all the recent moves made by the Toronto Blue Jays, these are the two that made the least sense. Danny Valencia got put on waivers– claimed by the Oakland Athletics– and Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos traded for Cliff Pennington from Arizona directly after.
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Valencia at least turned a few heads of Blue Jays’ fans back to him as he swatted a home run off R.A. Dickey in last Wednesday’s contest. Sure, it was a meaningless homer, but Dickey has been all that lately (I’m trying my hardest not to insert a D-joke here…).
I don’t wanna be the one to rain on the Jays parade (I’ve written three pro-Jays articles in the past week or so, so if your conclusion is that I’m the negative one, you’re WRONG!). Besides, as if one little article questioning the Jays’ backup (or even third-string) second-baseman or similarly-strung shortstop is really going to undo all the positivity surrounding this team anyway.
Pennington is a backup infielder though, primarily a shortstop – whereas Valencia is prominently a third-baseman as well as left-fielder (with some second-base, first-base, and right-field sprinkled in as well). In left field, he wasn’t great, but he had to be better than Chris Colabello (who has proved he is a better hitter than both, so he is safe).
Left field, you ask? Now occupied by newly acquired Ben Revere.
Regardless, it appears as if Pennington replaced Valencia. To me, this is a head-scratcher.
Aug 13, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Cliff Pennington (9) throws to first for a double play after forcing out Oakland Athletics second baseman Brett Lawrie (15) in the sixth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
I know the Jays have an abundance of hitters who seemingly have 20 bombs each and Valencia was primarily used because of his hitting, but still… He was a commodity the Jays had enough of, sure– but some would say too much hitting is never enough.
So what does this Pennington bring to the table that made him worthy of an acquisition? Of course, this also means worthy enough to dump Valencia.
Pennington is not what Valencia is… which is to say he’s not much of a hitter. A seven-year veteran, he is about a .250 career hitter according to Baseball Reference.
Pennington showed his worth– and some pizazz– in the field during last Thursday’s game, as he rebounded his position on a ball hit up the middle, that deflected off pitcher Mark Buehrle‘s hand. He had to adjust to barehand the ground ball to save the inning, stranding the bases loaded in the first.
So maybe Valencia is not what Pennington is– a good fielder (Pennington has a .974 fielding percentage). Baseball America describes him as “surehanded” while Valencia is definitely not.
But whoa, let’s look up Valencia. He has just one error this season, and none from the infield (22 GP).
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Pennington’s not a huge upgrade from the stats perspective, but he does win the eye test. He looks more comfortable and probably makes more plays.
Regardless, how much of a contrast are the hitting abilities? Valencia has better than a .900 OPS, which is really good (almost anti waiverish). He hit out of his mind for the first few months of the season– I seem to recall his average hovering around .358… and that was well after the start of the season.
I did feel like Valencia was falling back and lacking a big hit lately for the Jays. His average has fallen back to the median some, but it is still north of .300 . He’s hit 10 home runs this season and recycled 35 RBIs.
Getting back to the point, I mean, if we wanted another middle infielder– since starting second baseman Devon Travis is hampered by an injury with an inconclusive timetable of returning– what was wrong with folk-hero Munenori Kawasaki?
Everybody loves him… and he’s serviceable. He’s a great fielder. AND EVERYBODY LOVES KAWASAKI!
Oh, maybe Pennington’s a playoff whiz and he’ll bring a wealth of playoff experience to a squad that doesn’t have much– if any, really– to speak of. Looking more into this– feeling like this must be it– and here’s what I found on Pennington’s postseason numbers:
ONE POSTSEASON SERIES!! That’s it (and they lost). Four hits. 14 at-bats. No extra-base hits. Four strikeouts. You know who has just one less postseason hit in fewer games? DANNY VALENCIA.
So I got thinking that maybe it was all about money. Clearing Valencia’s cap hit could not possibly come close to making up the difference for acquiring David Price – which is one-year, $19.75 – but I thought, it may help.
However, after some further research via MLB Trade Rumors, they estimate Valencia to be at $1.7MM while Pennington is at $3.3MM. The salary dump? Yeah, there goes that idea…
Peering deeper into the contracts, Baseball Reference reports Valencia’s contract status as “Signed thru 2015 at 1 yr/$1.68M. Earliest Arbitration Eligible: 2016, Earliest Free Agent: 2018”. Admittedly, I don’t understand this.
If Valencia’s signed through this year, how can the earliest he become a free agent be 2018? Mysterious… SB Nation says: “It’s unusual that a player like Valencia is in a trade him or lose him situation like this one.” I’d say…
And, to make this feel even stranger, in the deal to acquire Pennington, AA had to give up Dawel Lugo, a 20-year old prospect. No one needs to be reminded that we gave away many of our prospects in order to acquire Price and Troy Tulowitzki– not that we regret those moves, but we do need some farm team.
When tweaking a roster to go for a pennant, a move like squeezing out a decent platoon utility player may have to happen – I do understand. Unfortunately, Valencia is a casualty of Toronto getting really good really fast.
Fortunately for the Jays, they are so good lately that this could all be irrelevant– and maybe it is. And then the only unfortunate thing is for the other teams.