Every year there's a player on the free agent market that gets overpaid drastically for attributes that may or may not exist. Last off-season it was Juan Pierre, not surprisingly the Los Angeles media - the same that ran Paul DePodesta off - wrote endless articles on how despite his lack of ability to draw a walk he was perfect for the team and brought everything that the Dodgers needed. Here we sit nearly a year later and not only are the Dodgers looking for another outfielder, they'll likely slide Pierre to left rather than allowing Matt Kemp to start over him in left field and admitting their mistake.
This year, there are two players who without doubt will draw the eye of a general manager and manager in lust with their hustle or grittiness. In fact both are being pursued by the Chicago White Sox; David Eckstein and Aaron Rowand. Kenny Williams has spoken about adding toughness to his team, Ozzie Guillen is pulling out all the stops, even threatening to bunt when it isn't called for. In other words, this team that couldn't score any runs last year will improve in grittiness, but probably not much else.
Juan Uribe was recently re-signed by the Sox, so it's possible that the Eckstein love will either end or reincarnate in the form of Uribe sliding to second, being traded, or having Eckstein slide to second - something he seems hesitant to do and for good reason, it lowers his value. Rowand on the other hand is likely the top target despite his high asking price; around 84 million across six years.
Either way the team's win now attitude, justified by lack of youth in the starting lineup, will likely heed the replacement of Danny Richar at second base who showed power but little else in 187 at-bats last season. Eckstein had his worst defensive season in quite a while and posted a Range Zone Rating of .783, considerably lower than the .841 and .844 ratings that put him near the top for all shortstops in 2006 and 2005. Offensively Eckstein doesn't walk or strikeout much, and relies a bit too much on his speed for comfort - 7% of his hits were of the infield variety. At 32 the speed is likely to go soon and with that in mind the question must be raised; was 2007 a anomaly lead by a new ballpark's grass and for the most part awful pitching, or is Eckstein further down his downward slope than you'd expect?
While part of the attraction of Eckstein will be his World Series rings and Most Valuable Player title, Aaron Rowand and his nose fracturing collision with the wall and numerous diving catches will be remembered more so than his frightfully similar season in 2007 to that of 2004. Rowand's line drive rate went down from 22% to 19.8, in 2004 it was 19.5. His walk rate 6.1 was higher than the 4.3 and 5.2 posted, and his BABIP went from .297 and .318 to .348, again close to 2004 and .341. With that line drive rate he's expected to have a BABIP of .318, it's reasonable to expect his .309 batting average to slip back below that line and into the .260-.280 range.
Let me say that while I think both can be valuable to a team at a certain price, I feel they'll be paid more than they're worth, and on certain teams that makes them bad buys. With that being said I fully expect Kenny Williams to overspend for both of these players and hopefully the Chicago media won't be as oblivious to why the team failed rather than how next year.