In the first significant signing of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer era in Chicago, the Cubs brought in David DeJesus on a two-year, $10 million deal with a club option for the 2014 season that could bring his total earnings to $15 million.
DeJesus is coming off a down season in Oakland (a .240 average, a .323 OBP and a .376 slugging percentage in 506 plate appearances), and the 32-year-old comes with concerns about his health and a dip in contact rate with the A's. But DeJesus gives the Cubs -- eighth in the NL team Ultimate Zone Rating and 15th in walks last year -- a rangy right fielder with decent plate discipline who allows prospect Brett Jackson to get more Triple-A at-bats.
Over the last three years, DeJesus has saved 26 runs more than an average corner outfielder, according to Fangraphs' UZR. Brett Gardner, Nyjer Morgan, Carl Crawford and Jay Bruce are the corner fly catchers to add more value on defense. And offensively, DeJesus' average should get out of the sub-.250 doldrums. His batting average on balls in play dipped to .274 in Oakland, way below his .331 BABIP the previous three seasons. And it wasn't as though he swung at a bunch of bad pitches -- DeJesus' 24 percent chase rate was well under 28 percent league average. Excluding pitchers, the Cubs collectively went after 31 percent of pitches thrown out of the strike zone.
That's not to say DeJesus should get a complete free pass for his bad 2011, though. His strikeout rate increased from the 12-13 percent range in recent years to 17 percent. Most of that was due to a dip in contact rate against "soft" stuff -- curveballs, sliders and changeups. DeJesus missed those pitches about 20 percent of the time that he swung in recent years, but that spiked to 28 percent in 2011. Those extra whiffs came mostly on soft stuff thrown at the knees and away:
It's hard to say if there was a connection, but DeJesus did have season-ending thumb surgery in 2010. DeJesus' batted ball profile also shifted somewhat, as he hit more fly balls (38 percent) than years past (31 percent). That's not necessarily a great thing for a hitter with modest power who had to take lots of swings in the Coliseum, Safeco and Angel Stadium, though it should play better in Wrigley.
With some worries about his performance against slower stuff and possible residual effects of his thumb injury, DeJesus isn't a slam-dunk signing. But even if he's beginning his decline phase, he should provide quality D in right field and be passable at the plate (Bill James projects a .270/.350/.400-type line).
The financial commitment Epstein and Hoyer made isn't huge, and now Brett Jackson can work on making more contact at Triple-A. Jackson, 23, hit a combined .274/.379/.490 between Double-A Tennessee and Iowa last year, but he did punch out 25 percent in the Southern League and 30 percent in the PCL. With DeJesus holding down right field, Jackson gets a chance to develop further without burning a full year of service time. And when he's ready, Chicago could shop center fielder Marlon Byrd and what's left of his $6.5 million salary for the 2012 season.