Lastings Milledge and Graham Crackers


It’s 11:35 pm as I start this article. I’ve just consumed a disturbing amount of graham crackers and chugged a bottle of Lipton raspberry white tea. Based on the conflux of those events it seems only natural to write about Lastings Milledge.

If you are thinking that doesn’t make sense, you are probably right, but that’s okay. I’m not sure why I ate all those graham crackers in the first place.

This afternoon word came down that Lastings Milledge and the Chicago White Sox agreed to terms on a minor league deal. If/when he plays in the majors this season he will earn a base salary of $500,000, but thanks to the absence of incentives in the deal that is the max value of the contract.

This deal is much like the graham crackers that are starting to feel like a lead weight in my stomach. I’m surprised by the result, but I probably shouldn’t be.

Milledge is one of those guys that I had on my off-season “someone should take a chance on this guy” list. I have been waiting to see which team would step up and figured it would take at least a major league deal to secure his services for the 2011 season. The brawl he instigated (probably not the best word there) in the Venezuelan Winter League most likely didn’t help his cause along those lines, but talented soon-to-be 26-year old outfielders are not often found at such a bargain price.

In addition to the brawl, his value was also likely depressed by the fact that the Pittsburgh Pirates of all teams chose to non-tender him instead of paying him $1 million to play for them in 2011. Then again the Pirates haven’t exactly been a shining beacon of light when it comes to making intelligent decisions with their major league roster.

I know there are the dreaded “character” issues involved here and he has yet to live up to his considerable potential, but this is a guy that was the 12th overall pick in the 2003 draft by the Mets. A player that was ranked as the 86th best prospect in all of baseball heading into the 2004 season. Prior to 2005 he was ranked as the 11th best prospect and in 2006 he was ranked as the 9th best prospect in baseball. The young man has talent, and considering the organizations he’s played for (Mets, Nationals and Pirates) you have to wonder if playing on a good team in a stable organization might reveal an entirely different player.

Lastings certainly hasn’t produced at the level you’d expect from such a highly touted player but he hasn’t been a complete bust either. In parts of 5 seasons Milledge has hit 0.269/.328/.394 with 33 HR and 40 SB in 1,655 PA. In 2008 with the Nationals – the one season he played regularly – he hit 0.268/.330/.402 with 14 HR and 24 SB in 138 games. Those certainly aren’t great numbers, but they are good enough to merit another long term look in my opinion.

On the defensive side of things, he’s far from stellar with the glove sporting a career -8.0 UZR/150 in the outfield. But in 2010 with Pittsburgh he was slightly above average in LF (0.6 UZR/150) and was above average at that position in 2009 as well. His UZR/150 in RF last season was -4.1, but that was a significant improvement from the -17.8 UZR/150 in RF that he “earned” during the 2007 season. It seems reasonable that given the chance to play one of the corners on a regular basis that he could at least be an average fielder.

Among the AL Central teams, I knew from the moment he became available that he was not in the cards for the Minnesota Twins. That partnership made very little sense on a number of levels and it’s not like the Twins are lacking for OF talent in the farm system. I was hoping that the Royals would take a flier on Milledge, but they elected to go the Melky Cabrera/Jeff Francoeur route. Incidentally, Frenchy sports the same 91 career OPS+ as Lastings, while Melky’s 85 OPS+ comes in a distant 3rd. I thought the Indians were another potential landing place but they chose to bring back Austin Kearns to play along side Choo and Sizemore, and they have a number of mediocre 4th OF options in play as well.

Like the Twins I never even considered the Tigers or White Sox as potential destinations for Milledge, but as a 4th outfielder in Chicago he makes a lot of sense.

Given the terms of his deal Ken Williams and Ozzie Guillen are playing with house money and that scares me. This is the type of under-the-radar move that could wind up shifting the balance of power in the division when all is said and done. Since the White Sox are my least favorite AL Central team – and 2nd least favorite MLB team overall – the fact that they signed Milledge for basically nothing really bothers me. Of course that won’t stop him from finding his way on to the roster of my fantasy team this year … just like he does every season.

I can’t explain why I still believe in Milledge’s potential, just like I can’t explain why I ate all those damn graham crackers. Some things just defy explanation, but I do know that the White Sox are better today than they were yesterday and that’s a bad thing for the Minnesota Twins.