Yesterday, I suggested that the most baffling things that baseball front offices do is go out of their way to attain replacement or barely above replacement level talent when similar production can likely be found not only within their own system, but also for free or little cost on the free agent market. As the Minnesota Twins near a three year pact with Josh Willingham that will pay the left fielder $21 million over the life of the contract, I wonder if this should be amended.
When I look at recently signed free agent contracts, the first thing I attempt to do is put myself in the shoes of the general manager who made the deal with the player. What is the team’s expectation for production from the player that they’re signing? Then, based on FanGraphs’ calculation that every win above replacement on the free agent market is currently worth something close to $5 million, I calculate if the expected production matches the money being paid, including potential inflation increases.
It’s far from a perfect model, but it gives me a rough idea of what the team is expecting from a player that they just signed. If that expectation is reasonable, I’ll label it an even deal. If it underestimates the player, I’ll label it a good deal. And if it overestimates the player, I’ll label it a bad deal.
According to this model for evaluation, the Twins have probably signed a good deal with Josh Willingham. He’ll have to provide less than four wins above replacement over the length of the contract for the Twins to get their money’s worth. Yes, Willingham will turn 33 years old later this winter, but considering that he’s earned almost eight wins above replacement for the Washington Nationals and Oakland Athletics over the last three seasons, four WAR more shouldn’t be a problem.
The problem, or perhaps better put, the question is: Why? Why would the Minnesota Twins need Josh Willingham? Sure, the team hit the fewest home runs in the American League last season and Willingham did hit almost 30 dingers last season.
Aside: Although it will be interesting to see how his pull swing plays in Minnesota where the dimensions are a bit deeper than in Oakland, but there also isn’t air off the Pacific Ocean keeping balls in the park. Here are Willingham’s home runs (blue) and fly outs (orange) at Oakland Coliseum as if they occurred at Target Field.
My bigger concern for the Twins is that with Willingham, their payroll projection rises to almost $100 million for 2012. That’s a lot of money for a similar team to the one they fielded in 2011 when the Twins accumulated almost 100 losses and finished last in the weakest division in baseball.
Yes, you can point to the time that Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau spent on the Disabled List and suggest that they won’t miss nearly as much time this season. However, you can also point to the departure of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel. While neither player is a superstar, they still provided more production to this team that Willingham alone won’t be able to match.
With the Tigers being the Tigers, the Indians getting better and the young Royals team with largely improved pitching and more experience, how likely is Minnesota to make up the 32 games that they were behind Detroit last season?
So, that’s why I question the purpose of signing a 33 year old to a three year deal worth $21 million, that despite my questions, will undoubtedly provide good value to the Twins.
And The Rest
Today in you might want to sit down for this: The New York Mets aren’t sure if Johan Santana will be healthy enough to start the season with the team. [ESPN]
There’s now a mystery team involved in the Jimmy Rollins free agent sweepstakes. I don’t know what city they’re from, but their nickname should be the Masochists. [Twitter]
Hold on to your butts, the Blue Jays, Rockies and Cardinals are all interested in Carlos Beltran. [CBS Sports]
Scott Boras created a 73 page binder for prospective suitors of Prince Fielder. [ESPN]
Jeff Jacobs has a Hall of Fame vote and you do not. [Hartford Courant]
Aramis Ramirez took a back loaded contract with the Milwaukee Brewers to help out with current financial crunch. [Twitter]
Ken Rosenthal sees big deals on the horizon with both the Oakland Athletics and Atlanta Braves holding multiple assets to trade away. [FOX Sports Yard Barker]
The Oakland A’s avoided arbitration with Dallas Braden. [Twitter]
Finally, it can be a confusing time for young baseball players. [NotGraphs]
— CaseyKelly (@CaseyKelly23) December 13, 2011