The Indians didn’t make any deals during the Winter Meetings, but the offseason isn’t over for the front office: the Baltimore Sun‘s Dan Connolly reports that the Cleveland has agreed to terms on a deal with free agent outfielder Felix Pie.
Pie, 27 in February, hit .220/.264/.280 and came in at an astounding -2.1 fWAR in just 85 games (and only 175 PAs) with the Orioles in 2011. For his career he’s hit .249/.298/.374 and come in at just under replacement level.
It’s reportedly a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training, and Pie can earn up to $1 million in incentives. So obviously it’s a low risk signing—Pie is organizational depth in case something goes wrong with one or more of Michael Brantley, Grady Sizemore, or Shin-Soo Choo. But how high is the potential reward?
Using Bill James’ 2012 projections for Pie and our Simple WAR Calculator, I have him at somewhere between -0.3 and 0.9 WAR in James’ projected 77 games and 176 PAs, depending on whether he’d play left or center field and how well he’d do it (fielding metrics generally considered Pie to be slightly above average defensively, but hated his glove in 2011). Given the small amount of playing time we assumed (he’d be on pace to go as high as 2.1 WAR over 150 games and 600 PAs), the upper end of that range is pretty good for a minor-league signing.
But there’s also the real (though perhaps unlikely) possibility that Pie will significantly outperform those projections. Pie has the dubious distinction of having been named to Baseball America‘s Top 100 prospects list five years in a row from 2003 to 2007, peaking at No. 27 in 2006. He’s never been able to realize his true potential in the majors, but his ceiling is still higher than that of most bench players or minor-league free agents, and at just 26 he’s not too old to learn some new tricks.
The signing isn’t huge news and even if he makes the team Pie is unlikely to alter the course of the Tribe’s 2011 season too dramatically. But it’s an extremely low-risk signing (Pie can and likely would opt out if he doesn’t make the Opening day roster) and it’s one that’s likely to at least pay moderate dividends. Good move by Chris Antonetti & co. to buy low on a potentially useful player.