CHICAGO - MAY 14: Lastings Milledge #85 of the Pittsburgh Pirates is surrounded by seagulls in left field in the 9th inning of a game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on May 14, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Pirates defeated the Cubs 10-6. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
With Brent Lillibridge, Mark Teahen, Alejandro De Aza and Stefan Gartrell as their reserve outfielder options for next season, the White Sox presumably weren't in love with their options. They did a little something to address that situation today, announcing that they've signed Lastings Milledge to the minor league deal. And I really like this move for the White Sox, to be honest. Chicago just landed a younger version of Jeff Francoeur for a fraction of the price.
Like with pretty much any minor league contract, the risk here is practically non-existent. Yeah, the White Sox just landed a solid fourth outfielder option, but they could end up getting a lot more than simply one year of solid bench production from the former Pirate. Rarely do teams get the opportunity to acquire a solid fourth outfielder on a minor league contract, but it's particularly rare for that guy to be a 26-year-old former top prospect that won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season. But I think that might have happened here.
People look at Milledge like he's a bust, but that implication of uselessness isn't really fair to him. After a rough start to last season, Milledge adjusted and batted .291/.346/.405 in his final 322 plate appearances from May 1 through the end of the season. He hits southpaws much better than right-handers, but so does Jeff Francoeur and he got $2.5 million in guaranteed money on a Major League deal. Look at a quick comp of Frenchy and Lastings:
Francoeur: Age 27, .346 wOBA vs. LHP, .305 wOBA vs. RHP
Milledge: Age 26, .350 wOBA vs. LHP, .303 wOBA vs. RHP
Those are remarkably similar. Francoeur has a reputation of being a quality defender in right field, but he's declined in recent years and Milledge isn't exactly Manny Ramirez in the outfield. On a general level, these two guys are really, really similar in terms of what they bring to the table.
And yet, they were exposed to very different markets. Francoeur was seen as quality platoon option by many and ended up getting $2.5 million from Kansas City. Milledge is younger and teams can control him cheaply beyond 2011, but you almost never heard anything about his ability to hit left-handed pitching. I don't want to bring up race, but a part of me wonders if that factors into how each player is viewed within the industry.Frenchy is viewed as a gritty "gamer" while Milledge is generally considered to be immature and unfocused. Are those fair descriptions? Probably, on some level. But I think it's a lot easier to believe those labels when Francoeur is white and Milledge isn't. I'd like to think that we're past the point of racial stereotypes in sports, but instances like this one leave me asking questions.
Because if teams were looking at these guys solely from a production-based perspective, the gap in interest between the two players wouldn't be nearly as substantial.