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Don't write off Pat Burrell just yet

6/4/2010

It's easy to dismiss the Pat Burrell signing by the San Francisco Giants as an act of desperation that is doomed to be irrelevant, but I don't buy it. I have hope for the veteran DH/outfielder, despite the fact that he batted only .216 over a season-plus with the Tampa Bay Rays leading up to his release a few weeks ago. He hit a total of 16 home runs (one for each million dollars he earned!) in 496 at-bats with the American League club, none of them against left-handed pitching. He's a below-average left fielder, at best, and if he's going to help the Giants or fantasy owners, he'll have to use his glove.

This is definitely someone to watch in NL-only formats because, simply put, anyone with a track record like Burrell's and some chance to regain his slugger status becomes interesting. The latest hot rumor is that Burrell will be recalled by the Giants for this weekend's series at Pittsburgh, and I'll certainly be paying attention to him in my deep leagues and NL-only formats.

I know, I know, Pat the Bat has shown next to nothing with the lumber since leaving the Philadelphia Phillies after the 2008 season, so why would he have any more success leaving the fourth highest-scoring team in baseball (in terms of runs scored) to head to the Giants, who rank 25th in the majors in runs, play in the more pitcher-friendly league and play home games at a pitchers' ballpark? Well, if you choose to ask that question, there's really not much I can say in Burrell's defense. After all, there is ample evidence Burrell will not become ownable in ESPN standard (10-team) mixed leagues any time soon. However, I'm not expecting Burrell to be a 33-homer guy, as he was in 2008. I just expect relevance. You know, 2008 was really not that long ago.

I don't think the Giants would have signed Burrell to a minor league contract -- and furthermore, promoted him this quickly, after roughly a week at Triple-A Fresno -- without giving him a legitimate chance to contribute to the team. Let's face it, it's not like the Giants have the most productive set of corner outfielders around. In fact, Giants left fielders have hit just .236 this season with five home runs, and the right fielders have been even worse. At neither position do the Giants feature an OPS better than .717. Burrell can help this fledgling offense.

While I can't explain why things went so poorly in Tampa Bay -- maybe it was the change of leagues or facing new pitchers, or maybe he just missed playing the field? -- Burrell has a career .834 OPS, and his OPS was .890 over his last four years in Philadelphia. He took walks, and he hit for power. That Burrell is a serious upgrade for the Giants, but even half of that will help and would make him ownable for us in deeper leagues.

Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres, Mark DeRosa, John Bowker and Eugenio Velez comprise the group of players the Giants have used in left field. Add Nate Schierholtz to the right-field mix, and it adds up to a startling lack of production. Schierholtz has played regularly and slugged just .391, which is awful. Bowker, who hit for power and average in the minor leagues, just hasn't hit in the majors. The injured DeRosa seems done, and some combination of the productive Huff and tantalizing Torres can play right field, with Huff also spelling Buster Posey at first base. This team needs offense, and I think promoting Burrell is a smart move. He can't be as bad as he was in Tampa Bay, and I would instantly compare him to Scott Hairston, Jeff Francoeur and Laynce Nix, as well as teammates Huff and Aaron Rowand, players who have some degree of power but also can hurt a batting average (although Huff currently is not). I wouldn't take Burrell over the guy who replaced him in Philly just yet, but let's just say I could see him performing like Raul Ibanez. It wouldn't take more than a .250 batting average and a few home runs per month to achieve that.

I don't believe Burrell's skills have eroded as quickly as it appears they have. He has never produced in the designated hitter role, even when the Phillies dumped him there in road interleague games (.208 batting average in 158 games), and that has to be a factor. I can't argue that his NL numbers weren't buoyed in some way by the favorable Philly ballpark, but the fact is his home/road splits are just about even for his career. In 30 career games in San Francisco, for instance, he has hit .312 with a 1.010 OPS, and that was facing, at least for the past few seasons, decent Giants pitching. Maybe it's not a huge sample size, but I feel like Burrell, a popular "three-outcomes" player (walk, strikeout or home run) can still hit, no matter the venue. Well, I guess except for in Tampa Bay.

Don't blindly sign Burrell to any and all fantasy teams in anticipation of greatness, but do keep an open mind here, because as maligned as this player was even in his final Phillies seasons, he remained productive and was certainly a fantasy factor. I was surprised at how the Burrell era failed in Tampa Bay, but I will not be surprised if he becomes relevant again in San Francisco.