Why sign a major league veteran to a minor league contract? Apparently, it's so they don't have to clear a roster spot for that man, and can send him to the minors if need be without passing him through waivers first. I didn't know that until tonight.
Back in October Fangraphs' R.J. Anderson took a look at the 2009 pinch hitters, displaying values for the average leverage index of their pinch hit appearances, the number of pinch hit appearances they had, and their OPS in those appearances. I've re-printed the graphic here:
Of the 20 players with the most pinch hit appearances, Stairs was 4th in OPS. He was also 13th in leverage index, meaning he appeared in less stressful/critical/crucial at bats to the outcome of the game than most of this list. I don't think that necessarily means anything, other than Charlie Manuel may not have picked Stairs as the first bat off the bench late in a tight game. Means nothing as to how Bud Black will use him.
One comment from the SDUT article struck me as odd, though:
Stairs, who turns 42 next month, gives Bud Black the left-handed bat off the bench the manager has sought. Stairs also gives a young club a needed veteran presence (emphasis mine).
'Needed veteran presence'? What? Dave Eckstein has led the league in grit for 10 years, and Chris Young and Gonzo have been in the majors for five, most of that with the Padres. After all the platitudes last year about Eckstein's clubhouse leadership, why would the Padres have a need for a veteran presence? How much difference does 4 veterans make over 3? Is the difference between 16% of the roster being 'veteran' and 12 percent that critical? Is that 4 percent what separates the playoff team from the also-ran?
Bill Center could just have stated the Padres needed a left-handed bat off the bench, and we all would have nodded appreciatively. Seems odd he felt the need to add that throw-away line.