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Non-tender tango: Garrett Atkins

Image (1) MLB_atkins.jpg for post 2325

December 12th is the deadline for teams to decide whether to tender contracts to unsigned players on their 40-man roster. With that in mind, this is the second in a series (here’s the first one) regarding some of the most likely non-tender candidates and where they may find new homes. Though this assessment is based on some logic, it’s mostly intended to be a fun exercise.

Garrett Atkins- .226/.308/.342 with nine home runs and 48 RBI in 354 at-bats (126 games) in 2009

Why he’s a goner:

Atkins, who turns 30 in December, made $7.05 million in 2009 and the Rockies simply won’t overpay him for a second straight year. Atkins batted just .194/.270/.285 over the first two months last season, losing his grip on the starting third base job to Ian Stewart. He finished with a pathetic .199/.272/.287 slash-line against right-handed pitching, continuing a disturbing tumble in overall production since 2006:

2006: .965 OPS (OPS+ 136)
2007: .853 OPS (OPS+ 113)
2008: .780 OPS (OPS+ 96)
2009: .650 OPS (OPS+ 66)

What’s the cause of his precipitous decline? Well, general manager Dan O’Dowd speculates that Atkins changed his approach at the plate after 2006and has been unable to find his swing since:

“The way the game is set up, the arbitration process pays for power and RBIs, for run production. Maybe he felt this greater need to try to hit more home runs, because he was naturally more of a line drive hitter, and tried to lift the ball and do some different things.”

Perhaps Atkins shouldn’t have spurned O’Dowd’s previous attempts at a multi-year contract? Now that Atkins will reach free agency a year sooner than originally thought, he won’t find a guaranteed starting job waiting for him, but he does boast an .870 career OPS against southpaws, including a respectable .790 OPS against left-handers in 2009. His best bet may be to find a platoon situation that could blossom into a full-time gig.

Possible fits:

Orioles:We already know that team president Andy MacPhaildoesn’t want prospects Brandon Snyder and Josh Bell to start the 2010 season in the majors. While they wait, the Orioles will consider a group of one-year stopgaps, including Troy Glaus, Carlos Delgado and Hank Blalock to address a corner infield spot. The Orioles are rumored to have interest in Atkins, as well, but they’ll take their chances on signing him once he’s cut loose by Colorado.

Rangers:Atkins has never been anything to write home about defensively, so he could fit the bill as a designated hitter/backup infielder-type from the right side of the plate in Texas. He’d be worthwhile insurance for Michael Young, as well.

Mariners:The Mariners are looking at in-house options of Matt Tuiasosopo, Bill Hall, Jack Hannahan or possibly Jose Lopez at third base with Adrian Beltre leaving via free agency.

Phillies:The Phillies could use some righty pop late off the bench, so Atkins would give them a bit of a safety net. The Phillies are expected to look at a group of more notable free agents like Mark DeRosa, Adrian Beltre and Placido Polanco to be the starting third baseman.

Indians:In Sunday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer, Paul Hoyneswrites that the Indians are seeking a right-handed first basemanthat would allow Matt LaPorta to play the outfield against left-handers. Again, Atkins is nothing special with the glove, but he has played 105 games at first base in his career. Though, with LaPorta as the primary first baseman, playing time would be infrequent.

Where he should end up:

Of the teams mentioned above, Baltimore represents Atkins’ best situation to resurrect his career as an everyday player. If signed, he would likely be a given a real chance at a starting job, at least for a little while, until either Snyder or Bell are ready for a promotion. Likewise, the Orioles could use Atkins as a trade chip once they fall out of contention. Signing Adrian Beltre or Chone Figgins would be a nice statement to appease the fans, but even the most die-hard will admit they aren’t close to contention quite yet. Though it won’t sell many tickets, signing Atkins would be a low-risk move that could reap benefits for both sides.