Monday, November 21, 2011

Hot Stove Stance: Middle Infielders Cashing In

We are just a couple weeks into the Hot Stove season and one thing is for certain, MLB teams have money to blow as witnessed by signings of average and aging middle infielders. Average is actually a generous adjective in some cases. The market for middle infielders is admittedly thin so why invest the dollar value in some cases and the length of time in others? Wouldn't it be wise to give one year contracts especially for teams where the player is really a role player or a stop gap? It would give teams the chance to reevaluate the position, the player and their system for the following season.

Here is a list of signings to date:
Apparently Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers felt he needed to shore up his middle infield before anything else this offseason. His primary shortstop Stephen Drew, who is set to earn $7.75 million in 2012, could open the season on the DL after having surgery on a fractured ankle. So, it was understandable to get some backup options. But was it necessary to give two-year deals to BOTH McDonald and Bloomquist for what could amount to a few weeks without Drew?

McDonald is an average fielder but a weak hitter. According to FanGraphs he has accumulated a career 2.2 WAR in eleven seasons with a career triple slash line (BA/OBP/SLG) of .238/.275/.326. Essentially the D'Backs are paying him to play only if absolutely necessary and as an occasional defensive replacement. Should he have gotten a two-year deal?

Bloomquist, who will be 34 in less than a week, has a mind numbing 1.3 career WAR in 10 seasons. Bloomquist does have some speed (he stole 20 bases last season) but his career triple slash reads .264/.317/.337. He is also not a good infielder (0.4 UZR at SS and -0.2 at 2B). He is particularly bad in the outfield (-3.8 UZR) so Towers should not explain Bloomquist having any virtue there either. But, Bloomquist seems to have some sort of magical influence over teams (maybe it is his agent Scott Boras actually). He was apparently offered a two-year deal worth more from the San Francisco Giants before re-signing with the D'Backs. Unbelievable!

Carroll does not scare anyone at the plate. He has a total of 12 homeruns in his ten year career. His slash line is better than the players mentioned above, .278/.356/.348. He gets on base at a good clip and has a little speed with 10 SB in 2011. But at 38 years old once the season starts, you have to wonder if the Twins could have found someone with some upside versus a player who never had an upside for similar money. His age may have been the reason for his fielding decline in 2011 (even at 2B where he has had decent seasons in the field). Carroll, while enjoying the last two seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers primarily starting at second base or shortstop is really a utility man who is being used and paid like a starter.

Another head-scratcher is the Dodgers' deal with Ellis. He turns 35 in June and his best seasons are well behind him. Had he not played the second half of his season in Colorado in 2011, who knows what his stat line would have looked like? He was hitting .214 with a .544 OPS with the Oakland A's prior to the mid-season trade. His career line of .266/.331/.392 with moderate speed places him a step above Carroll with the bat, but he is a much better fielder (5.4 UZR at second base in 2011). It looks like the Dodgers took the bait on what they saw in Colorado and neglected to review his last two seasons in Oakland.

Hill continues to be mentioned in conversations as an above average second baseman. In reality he has had one remarkable season (2009), one above average season (2007) and the other five should be considered average to below average. He did perform well with the Diamondbacks after being traded in 2011. However, for someone who hit 36 homeruns in 2009, he showed little power last season (8 HR total). This should be a concern for a player who will turn 30 at the beginning of the season. Do the Diamondbacks expect the power to come back? He is being paid for the memory of the 4.1 WAR he produced in 2009 and not his most recent seasons of 1.2 & 0.8 WAR in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Tower's made a comment above Hill's defense. Not sure which metrics he is looking at because his 0.7 UZR in 2011 suggests mediocrity with the glove.

Lastly, this afternoon yet another middle infielder, Barmes officially signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates. As of now Barmes becomes the highest paid Pirates player heading into 2012. Barmes put together his finest season in terms of WAR (3.1) in 2011 with the Houston Astros. He is a very good fielding shortstop (7.9 UZR which ranked 5th among all major league SS) which helps his cause. He has some pop but gets on base just over 30% of the time. He'll be 33 once the season begins so he seems to fit the profile of the others in terms of age too.

These deals bode well for some middle infielders left on the free agent list including Kelly Johnson, Yuniesky Betancourt and Rafael Furcal. Each of these players has similar qualifications to the players evaluated and could use these signings as an argument for why they deserve similar contracts. It also places a much higher value on two premier shortstops, Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes. Their performance is so much better than those described that they will get exceptional deals.

By no means are these outlandish salaries but at the same time are they worth it? The fact that each of these players was able to secure two-year deals is baffling. It is possible that teams are taking the risk and hoping the performance comes close to matching the cost of the contract. High hopes. It is another example of veteran players being given the benefit of the doubt instead of testing younger players in the system or in the trade market. Each of the these signings has the potential to fail this year and be a nuisance next season.

*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs.com





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