Juan Pierre is baseball’s best fourth outfielder.
The problem is that Juan Pierre plays like—and is being paid like—a starting outfielder.
Pierre, 32, has two more years and $18.5 million remaining on the five-year, $44 million pact he signed with Los Angeles prior to the 2007 season.
When he signed with the Dodgers, Pierre was slated to be the club’s starting center fielder for the foreseeable future, yet in his relatively short time with the club he has been bumped from center fielder to left fielder to fourth outfielder.
He was initially ousted from center field when the club signed Andruw Jones to a two-year deal prior to the 2008 season. Jones quickly proved unfit for—well—everything but pie eating contests and cashing paychecks in between DL-stints.
Pierre, however, didn’t regain the starting gig in center field thanks to the emergence of Matt Kemp. Instead Pierre moved to left field where his noodle-like arm proved to be less of a liability.
It didn’t take long before Pierre was getting bumped again, this time for defensive albatross Manny Ramirez, after the enigmatic slugger was acquired in a trade deadline deal with the Pirates and Red Sox.
Since the Ramirez trade—and subsequent re-signing—Pierre has spent the majority of his time riding the pine as a fourth outfielder and late game option off the bench.
Last offseason, Pierre expressed his dissatisfaction with this situation, stating that he just wanted to play every day.
Personally, I find it hard not to respect a ballplayer who just wants to be in the lineup, especially one as talented and deserving as Pierre.
When a trade couldn’t be arranged last offseason, Pierre kept his chin up and returned to the bench without complaint.
After Ramirez received his 50-game suspension earlier this season, Pierre regained his starting role and made the most of it.
During Ramirez’s suspension Pierre hit .318/.381/.411 with 21 stolen bases, 17 extra-base hits and 32 runs scored in 240 at-bats.
Despite that performance, Pierre returned to a part-time role when the suspension ended.
With the announcement that Ramirez is exercising his $20 million player option to stay in Los Angeles, Pierre is again a man without a position.
Dodgers’ general manager Ned Colletti figures to make an attempt to move Pierre this offseason and plenty of teams should be interested in the speedy outfielder.
Pierre has a career .301 batting average and is one of baseball’s premier table-setters with a .348 career on-base percentage.
Additionally, he averages 52 stolen bases per 162 games played, not too shabby for a fourth outfielder.
Prior to his relegation to the bench in 2008, he’d shown incredible durability by playing in all 162 games in each of the previous five seasons.
He is owed $10 million in 2010 and $8.5 million in 2011, those figures are steep, but not completely out of line given his particular skill set.
Chone Figgins, a player with similar career numbers, figures to cash-in this offseason with a deal similar to the one Pierre signed. Figgins, however, offers more position flexibility as he has spent time at third base, second base, and the outfield in recent seasons.
Teams that are in the market more for Figgins’ bat than his glove could look to the Dodgers as a potential trade partner.
All signs point to Colletti working with a reduced payroll in 2010 as a result of the McCourt’s divorce proceedings.
As such, keeping an outfielder on the bench who is making $10 million doesn’t seem like a fit for the Dodgers in 2010.
With any luck, by Spring Training Juan Pierre will no longer be baseball’s best—and most overpaid—fourth outfielder.
Rather, he’ll be given what he wants—a chance to play.