The free agent market seems kinda crazy

The free agent market seems kinda crazy
Jamey Carroll, next to a fellow power-starved middle infielder of lesser grindiness // Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune

Previously, we explored the concept that Kenny Williams’ free agency ventures of recent have been less than fruitful.  If you count the Rios waiver claim–and when you absorb 4 1/3 years and $55 million, why wouldn’t you?–it’s been $54 million for 2.8 fWAR for all new signings since the close of the 2008 season.

The image those numbers inspire…they inspire, oh, the image of a freight train tearing through my apartment and crashing through my home entertainment system.  Both TVs.  Ka-blammo.  Nooo!…stupid train.

Now, with a couple early signings out of the way, there at least seems to be some idea of what the market is for middle-tier players–not even whatever insane contract the Fielder, Pujols, Reyes triumvirate is going to get–and it looks kinda scary.  Reasonably disconcerting, at least.

When the free agent crop for this season was first released, there was a lot crowing about “Ugh, what a shallow crop!” and “I hate this stupid crop!”

I haven’t been covering this league for too long, but I kinda wondered what the hell everyone’s problem was.  There were three mondo-huge free agents, a couple of very-good players after that, and a significant complement of capable starting-caliber contributors after that.  What did people want?  Perhaps teams had wised up, and realized that letting their players hit the market and making their own outside free agent signings can be a perilous exercise.

1. No, they have not

2. I totally get what everyone was talking about now!

While Jonathan Papelbon got a 4-year, $50 million deal with a $10 million vesting option, and that was nutso-birdnest-eating-crazy, that could at least be written off as the large-market Phillies and their aggressive GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. throwing money around at top-shelf talent because “they can” and “this money isn’t going to burn itself, dammit”.

The Chicago White Sox were never going to exist in that world, at least not this year.  They’re more interested in the veterans-coming-off-of-down-years-with-depressed-market-value world.  The Andruw-Jones-will-totally-take-this-1-year-$500K-flier-oh-please-thank-you-for-the-hot-meal-and-a-blanket?!-yes,-a-blanket-oh-god-thank-you-so-much-for-this-blanket-you’re-so-kind-to-take-pity-on-me world.  That world.

On the surface, the Juan Rivera 1-year, $4.5 million deal signed with the Dodgers at the outset of free agency seemed to fit this mold.  Single year, below the cost of a marginal win.  There’s a significant issue of him being a 33 year-old strictly corner outfielder who’s posted back-to-back below-average seasons with the bat, but he hit well enough after a mid-season trade, so, oh well.  Rivera provided the charm, and off went the pants….boom!  Contract!

John McDonald getting 2 years from Arizona to be a glove man at the age of 37 is also a little odd, but it was at Omar Vizquel-level salary, so whatever, right?

But it did establish the premise of veterans with very questionable chances of performing above-average getting multiple-year commitments.  Below-average veterans at middle infield positions, and in their mid-30s; a time when middle infield becomes a position that is groin-pullingly difficult to field.  In other words, they’re exactly the type of players the White Sox might be tempted to make a small move for, because God forbid they entrust some unproven farmhand to assume an ancillary role.

First, Willie Bloomquist was signed for 2 years, $3.8 million by Arizona, which is a tolerable rate, but is a two-year deal for a player who is both dreadful, and whose ability to be dreadful at almost any position is pretty redundant on the Diamondbacks roster, unless their actual starting shortstop Stephen Drew never returns from his ankle injury.

Next, Jamey Carroll was signed for 2 years, $7 million by the Twins.  The uptick in contract cost is notable, but his role is more telling about the scarcity of the market.  Carroll is career back-up, who broke into the majors at age 28, and will now be asked to start full-time for the first time at the age of 38–possibly at shortstop.  He’s had two straight good years of getting on-base, but will be 38 years-old.  He’s also only regarded as decent defensively at second base, and will be 38 years old.

It’s not actually a bad deal for the Twins, who can’t really get worse production at short than they did last season.  It’s odd that they have to commit to the age 39-season of Carroll when his range may already be in steep decline, but it still makes more sense than the contracts doled out to Aaron Hill (2 years, $11 million) and Mark Ellis (2 years, $8.75 million) by the Diamondbacks and Dodgers respectively.

Hill and Ellis are both coming off bad years.  Objectively poor years.  Ellis posted a Beckham-ish 73 wRc+, and Hill went on a tear to finish at 82 wRC+.

They’re both pretty strictly confined to second base, which is a valuable position, and Ellis is considered a very skilled defender.  That’s good for him to have, since he’s 35 and had the more outlandishly poor offensive year.  His walk-rate collapsed to Delmon Young-levels with piddling power, and he doesn’t really have BABIP to blame.  Hill is younger (30), but has stacked together back-to-back poor hitting seasons (2011 was actually an upgrade) with average defense.

They’re rebound candidates.  Teams signing these two are taking advantage of their cruddy years to sign them at reduced salaries, with the hopes that they’ll return to the good times of yesteryear–because you sure as hell wouldn’t lock up either of these guys if you expected them to maintain status quo.  In Hill’s case, he has a torrid month in Arizona to influence his suitors, but still…rebound candidate.

And yet, they’re being handed multi-year deals and nearly-guaranteed starting roles.  If the White Sox were to look for reserve infielder, they could either expect to pay the same heavy premium, or pursue a candidates with even lesser credentials and even less worth the effort.

It’s not just a run on middle infielders, either.

Besides the preposterous Papelbon contract, the Giants gave 2 years and $8.5 million to Javier Lopez to be their second lefty reliever, and Ryan Doumit just turned down a $3 million offer from the Dodgers.  1 year for $3 million isn’t a huge bounty, but when you consider that Doumit is a league-average bat who would have defensive value as a catcher if he wasn’t so effin’ terrible at it, and you wonder where the hell the market is that he can so picky.

This market has also ballooned the cost for Mark Buehrle, producing pessimistic language from Kenny Williams about his return.  Kenny also doesn’t seem to like the trade market for John Danks, so the White Sox may be standing pat a little more than anticipated.  Still, if trades for Quentin or any relievers go down, as U-God suggested in his off-season plan, the Sox will very likely be looking for a cheap, buy-low veteran to fill any existing roster void.  UG, suggested David Dejesus–he of the solid track-record and inexplicably poor 2011 season.

If the initial indications are any sign, someone with Dejesus’ track record will be getting a much warmer reception than a sub-par contract year would seem to merit.

Everybody’s having a down year, but they’re still going to get paid.

So, uh, maybe play it cool, Kenny?


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  • Beckham was worth 73 wRC+? That's dirt-crap-Royce Clayton-awful!

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    But man, he had one-hell of a BABIP-fueled, fluky-as-hell May!

  • In reply to James Fegan:

    .404. Wow. Maybe it wasn't all luck. In May the White Sox played series against the Blue Jays, Mariners, As, Indians, and Orioles: clubs with the 5 worst team UZR in the AL. I luuuuuuv fangraphs.

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    He had 23 hits that month, 18 of which were singles, good for a .118 ISO. I have no doubt he was seeing the ball well during that period, but that it was only good enough to transform him into "Omar Vizquel in his hey-day" was particularly discouraging.

  • Not sure if James or the WSO faithful caught this from Jeffery Gross, HBT:

    White Sox 2012? Prognosis Negative:

    "The Sox only have two viable choices: Go all in for 2012, or hold a 50-75 percent off Macy's Spring Day Sale, hope to save some money and start the rebuilding process sooner than later by targeting very young prospects in low levels in the minors. I doubt Williams will opt for the latter strategy, especially not after all the White Sox have tried to do to rebuild the fan base over the past decade. As a result, we may see Williams try to spin a few trades and short-term-risk signings to shore up the 2012 roster. If the Sox are in contention by the All-Star break, I would not be surprised to see Viciedo on the move. An underperforming team would likely see Danks and Quentin depart early.

    At some point, the White Sox are going to have to start reloading for the future, and they'll have to start from square one. At the moment, they do not have a nucleus core of players who are relatively young and figure to be productive for a long time. Ramirez, Rios and Dunn will be around the longest, and they're all in their 30s. Beckham's fallen off the map since 2009—those second-half flashes of hope in 2010 seem lost in a putrid 2011 campaign. Tyler Flowers projects as potentially a slightly above average major leaguer, but he's no core-nucleus to build around.

    The future is ugly for the White Sox. But hey, at least Ozzie Guillen is gone and 2012 should be fun to watch. The White Sox are approximately in the same boat as the Cubs were heading into 2009, only with a lot fewer projected wins."

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    Well, for me, this could be fun. It's kinda fun to write about a bad team. No need to measure anything you say, every zany or mean-spirited, or completely nuts idea you have for a post that shirks the responsibility of performing actual analysis, you can just run with it because no one really cares if you analyze the previous night's 18-1 loss to the Indians.

    So it's exciting. Exciting in the way one gets excited to drink an entire bottle of gin ("This will be so baaad! But think of the stories!")

  • Hold on - we can get Andruw Jones for $500K and a blanket? Unless you're talking about Michael Jackson's kid, heck yeah.

    Jones is worth more than that in ticket sales alone, he would put butts in the seats from people who are so ADD they still think the Sox are relevant

    Unless y'all are just playing with me, as usual.

    The Sox have realized (not Kenny, but like, us fans and all) that they have to go with the youth movement now...but Jones can certainly ride the pine as well as Rios and um who's that other guy? That other one who can't bat his way out of a paper bag?

    I think there is a secret witches' circle where Kenny finds guys as old as he is. In fact, Kenny should suit up and play.

    Hire a midget...yeah that's the ticket.

    Sox fans are incredibly patient. Cubs fans are reliably dim, and will spend regardless, but honestly, will someone tell Kenny (and Jerry) that it's time to rebuild the farm system and roll the dice? You could build a high school team that could beat the Sox the way this ship is sinking.

    Except the young guys. They have several legitimate players like Lillibridge and De Aza and hell if they can move Carlos MOVE CARLOS.

    It's not like they're going to win anyhow.

    Get with the math, Kenny - you blew the budget, admit it, suck it up.

    You're running this team like you're the GOP.

    All spending, no cuts.

  • In reply to Charlemagne:

    I think you misinterpreted me a bit. Back before the start of 2010, the Sox got Andruw Jones on a 1-year, $500K, and he was pretty much grateful just to get it. He had two nightmarish and unhealthy years with the Dodgers, and a mediocre, injury-shortened year with Texas where he looked a bit more like his old self. He was a rebound candidate with high potential, but very reduced value due to his recent struggles. The market was strong enough for Jones to be treated like a charity case.

    This year, guys like Mark Ellis and Hill, both coming off mostly disastrous seasons with little upside, are landing multi-million, multi-year deals with nearly guaranteed starting spots. In a free agent market like this, it would seem like someone with even just the potential Jones had coming into 2010, could be allowed to be very choosy, rather than going along with the first team to show him pity.

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