Sometimes in order to build a successful future you should occasionally look to your past, and this off-season target would accomplish just that. Felipe Lopez would make a great addition to the Blue Jays infield, preferably at third base, he would also be a great add to the top of the batting order. Blue Jays fans may remember Lopez as one of the more hyped up middle infield prospects the Jays have ever had after the switch-hitter was taken 8th overall in the 1998 Amateur draft.
Fast forward eleven years and Lopez could be a very astute addition for new Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos. In 2009 with the Brewers/Diamondbacks Lopez hit a respectable 310/383/427 with a .356 wOBA as Lopez drove the ball hard (career high 22.3% LD rate) and caught a few breaks on balls hit into play (.360 BABIP) but even accounting for a little luck there is reason to believe Lopez can be a valuable commodity going forward. The biggest improvement was made in the patience department where Lopez posted a respectable 10.5% BB rate to go along with a reasonable 16.6% K rate showing he could possibly thrive in a leadoff or two-hole home in a line-up, preferably the Jays line-up.
Lopez was worth 4.6 wins above replacement (WAR) in 2009 based on his outstanding year at the dish and solid play in the field (2B – 7.6 UZR) and with a career 2.0 UZR in 95 games at 3B I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume he could be an above average 3B going forward. Based on about 4.5 million/WAR on the free-agent market, Lopez was worth about 20 million last year (similar to Marco Scutaro – who we will get to later) and although no GM in their right mind would pay Lopez as a 4-5 win player (especially if he switches to 3B) I think Lopez can be valuable at 2 years/20 million. If he could recapture some of his past speed exploits, this could be a real steal.
Now, signing him as a 3B would improve the Blue Jays defense, which I feel has to be refocused on if we hope to have any chance of competing with the Red Sox/Yankees/Rays for the foreseeable future. The reason for most of the Jays success over the past 3-4 seasons has been its stellar play in the field and its ability to convert balls hit in play into outs, ask the Jays pitchers if you don’t believe me, or read my previous post on the JP Ricciardi era. Defense is still being undervalued league wide and with every penny counting for the Blue Jays, continuing to add value on both the offensive side and defensive side is a solid strategy.
There is no sense improving at 3B if we are just going to let Marco Scutaro walk, so I would love to see the Blue Jays be aggressive and bring back Scooter to play another 2-3 years at SS and have Felipe Lopez right beside him at 3B. With the plethora of left-handed starters we are likely to throw at teams in the next 4-5 years this would also sure up a left side of the infield that looked abysmal with the loss of Scott Rolen last year – an obvious bonus.
Having Scutaro bat leadoff all season would be nice too with his patient approach and pendency to take a walk or two, which would be exemplified by a switch hitting (slightly more aggressive) Felipe Lopez hitting behind him in the two hole. With no internal candidates for either position, I would hope an aggressive approach like this would be in the cards for 2010 as we have one season to show Roy Halladay we are serious about turning the Blue Jays back into the model organization, while this is only one move (or two, with resigning Scutaro) I think they would both be smart pickups that would add value all over the field.