I’m talking to you, MLB GMs. Just sitting around not signing David Eckstein when he’s a free agent, and probably not even asking for that much money. Have you looked at your teams? You think you have anyone on your roster who has gotten hit by 140 pitches in a ten year span? Don’t bother looking it up – if you’re not the Kansas City Royals, you don’t have one. But you could, and his name is David Eckstein*. Seriously. What are you thinking? You think he’s too old? He turned 36 last month. Don Baylor got hit by another 99 pitches after he turned 36, and Craig Biggio got hit by 88 more. If they can do it, it’s a good bet Eckstein can too. And it’s a bet that won’t even cost you much – he worked for $1mil last year, and $850k the year before that. You think you can find another former World Series MVP at that rate? Good luck. And you know you won’t find one with 143 career HBPs and a career plunk rate better than one every 40 plate appearances. And he’ll probably get hit by even more pitches once he gets out of San Diego – a team with a historic lack of commitment to the HBP. How many guys do you think there are in the league with 10 years experience and a world series ring in 20% of his major league seasons? I’ll tell you – among batters there are 5. Two are Yankees, and your not getting them (well, unless you’re the Yankees). The others are Aaron Rowand, David Eckstein and Juan Uribe. (Actually Mike Lowell would qualify too, but he retired). Something those guys have in common? Jeter – 152 career HBPs. Posada has 72, Rowand has 117, Eckstein has 143, and Uribe… well Uribe only has 30… I don’t know how to explain that except to treat the 2010 World Series as a historic oddity. But anyway, those guys all win a lot of World Series rings, and they get hit by a lot of pitches. SO there must be a connection. As long as you don’t go looking for it, because then you’ll get distracted by Jason Kendall. The point is, David Eckstein is looking for a Major League job, and you will almost certainly win more games if you sign him than if you don’t.
A lot of you don’t exactly have impressive all-star infields out there – don’t make me name names.
All right, you made me. Houston? Oh sure – you’re all set with Clint Barmes and Bill Hall in the middle of your infield. A couple of 32 year olds with 46 career plunks between them both. Sounds like a plan. You wouldn’t rather have David Eckstein take up Craig Biggo’s old position? Maybe somebody who could be the first 2nd basemen since Biggio to get hit by more than 9 plunks. 9 plunks is the TOTAL of all your 2nd baseman’s HBPs since Biggio left, not a season high. That’s just sad. Yeah fine – just go with Bill Hall – you’re right, he’s only 31 so clearly my analysis is wrong. You’ll definitely get your $7million worth out of him for the next two years, even though you could have had Eckstein for a third of that. I’m sure it’s part of a brilliant long term plan.
How about you, Brian Cashman? I know you’ve already got a short stop with a lot of rings and a lot of HBPs, but you’re the Yankees, wouldn’t you rather have 2 of them? I know you’re turned off by the idea that a player might sign for a mere million dollars, and if it makes you feel better, fine – you can pay him $15 million a year. I don’t think he’ll mind. Nope, nevermind – I like David Eckstein, and I don’t want to see him in a Yankee uniform.
Cardinals? You’re pretty sure Skip Shumaker is going to bounce back from last years numbers? Have you looked at his career HBP numbers? Or should I say Number, since it’s 6? Not to mention that you haven’t won a World Series since Eckstein left – that goes for you too Angels.
What about the Rays? If you’re only signing former Red Sox this year, keep in mind that Eckstein was in the Red Sox farm system for a while – does that make you more interested? You’re that excited about the promising young Sean Rodriguez and his .296 OBP from last year? Let me give you a little tip that’s related to someone you’re familiar with. Remember your old shortstop Jason Bartlett? When he was coming up with Minnesota, they signed Juan Castro to start ahead of him in 2005 when everyone thought it was time for Bartlett to be given the full time job. The only way that made sense was to motivate Bartlett – make him say “wow – they think THAT guy is better than me?”. And it worked, Bartlett made a big improvement next year. Obviously Eckstein is a 143 times better player than Juan Castro (143 plunks to 1), but he’s 5’7 and tends to get underestimated, so you could still have the winning of David Eckstein with the motivation for your young 2nd baseman of feeling like the team brought in this little guy to start ahead of him. Trust me, the Castro Gambit will work.
Here’s another idea – the Milwaukee Brewers. I know you’re not excited about Yuniesky Betancourt – just because you took him to make the Zach Grienke trade happen doesn’t mean you actually have to let him play. I’m pretty sure Grienke won’t care. Sign Eckstein for small money, let him play short stop – and this is the best part – put out an Eckstein, Weeks, Fielder infield that could go for the record of most plunks by an infield. Last year the Brewers were the first team in 99 years to have two players with over 20 HBPs (though the White Sox also did that last year), but with Eckstein at short they could become the first team EVER with three 20 plunk players. I know Eckstein hasn’t had a 20 hbp year since 2002, but he has the skills to get that done if he’s given the chance. You’re telling me that wouldn’t pack in the fans?
Okay, I get it – David Eckstein isn’t exactly a proven box office draw, but that’s just because most fans haven’t gotten the message that the HBP is the most important stat in the game. You know what draws as many fans as a big name player? Winning. Only Jason Kendall has been hit by more pitches than Eckstein since 2001, and he only got 7 more (150 to 143). When Eckstein has been hit by pitches, his team has won the game 80 times. Only Jason Giambi has more wins in games with a plunk since 2001. That doesn’t sound like it could help your team? Looking around the league at who’s expected to start in major league infields, there are some less than impressive players keeping jobs while David Eckstein is still out there looking for work. And for that matter, he’d make a great backup. He can still probably put up a dozen plunks in a platoon or utility role, and also be a mentor to young infielders, teaching them the craft of how to get hit by more pitches. Grittiness isn’t always an inherent trait in players – it can be taught.
In summary, somebody sign David Eckstein. Do it. Do it now. Maybe somebody in the AL West, so he can get hit by the Angels and join the “plunked by every major league team” club, along with Jason Kendall and Rondell White? That’d be nice. You’re all going to feel stupid if he ends up going to play in Japan and puts up fantastic numbers over there.
*-or Carlos Delgado, if you want to get technical, but he seems more retired than Eckstein. Only 12 players in MLB history have gotten hit by 140 pitches in the span of 10 seasons. Delgado, Eckstein, Jason Kendall, Fernando Vina, Craig Biggio, Don Baylor, Ron Hunt, Minnie Minoso, Dan McGann, Tommy Tucker, Curt Welch and Hughie Jennings.
PS, if this is the year that Eckstein is supposed to be sent back in time to 1898 to become Kid Elberfeld, and this is all part of your plan to perfect time travel for player movement purposes, than I’m okay with that, I guess. If that’s what has to happen for you to have the technology to send Albert Pujols back to 2001 from the 23rd century when he was (will be?) born, than I guess that’s okay… if that’s how you got Albert Pujols here from the 23rd century. But, if you used this technology to bring Alex Rodriguez back from the future, than this is a terrible crime against nature and you need to stop your cross-time player management now. If Eckstein goes back to become Elberfeld this year, and I can ever prove that they’re the same person, he would be the career HBP record holder with 308 (165 as Elberfeld and 143 as Eckstein).