Who’s On Second?

Entering the 2013 offseason there seemed to be something of a consensus among Jays fans regarding positions that would have to be addressed in order for the team to field a competitive roster in 2014. The team’s starting pitching ranked 26th in fWAR (6.9) and 29th in ERA (4.81) last year, while their catchers (-1.1) ranked 29th in fWAR and second basemen (-2.1) ranked dead last. These three areas thus represented an obvious starting point for a team looking to add wins to the roster for 2014.

Not surprisingly, general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been open about his plans to address the starting rotation, with the team linked to arms like Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija and free agent Ricky Nolascobefore he signed with the Twins yesterday. The team has also been linked to free agent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Looking at Steamer’s 2014 projections (which, as Chris Carruthers points out, have the Jays at about 87 wins next season), this seems like a reasonable offseason trajectory. Their projections, broken down by position, are as follows:

Position
Projected fWAR
C1.9
1B/DH5.6
2B0.4
3B3.7
SS3.5
LF1.6
RF4.7
CF3.3
SP11.1
RP3.4

Based on these projections, Alex Anthopolous has correctly identified the starting rotation as a position of need. An 11.1 starters’ fWAR would rank in the bottom half of the league next year.  Adding an above-average starter could bump the team’s projected win total up close to 90 from 87. What about the catcher position? If you put much stock into Steamer’s projections, this is actually not an area where Alex Anthopoulos should be investing significant resources this offseason. The catchers remaining on the market – A.J. Pierzynski, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Dioner Navarro being the best remaining targets – are not good bets to significantly exceed the projected production of in-house options J.P. Arencibia and Josh Thole. Where then should Alex Anthopoulos be looking to add wins once the rotation has been addressed? The answer is fairly obvious if you take a look at the Steamer projections; second base.

Maicer Izturis and Ryan Goins are expected to get the lion’s share of time at second, and neither is projected to do a very good job, projected to post a combined 0.4 fWAR. Acquiring just an average player at the position could mean a two-win improvement next year, and would have the added benefit of bumping Goins to AAA where his remaining option years make him a useful depth piece to be called up in case of injury – a particularly important role given that Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie have had issues staying in the lineup. So who’s available to fill the Blue Jays‘ biggest position of need? There are a few options that I think could be acquired efficiently and improve the team in 2014.

Omar Infante

Infante and Cabrera

Omar Infante Celebrating with Miguel Cabrera

There’s nothing exceptional about Omar Infante. Over his career he’s been a bit below-average offensively, a bit above-average defensively, and average on the bases. That said, Infante is coming off a 3.1 fWAR age-31 season with the Detroit Tigers, and has been at least an average player for four consecutive seasons. Steamer thinks more of the same is in store for Infante next year, projecting 2.2 fWAR over 118 games. This should suit Toronto just fine though. As we saw earlier, an average second baseman looks like a possible two-win improvement next year.

Fangraphs readers like him for a 3-year $27 million contract this offseason, which seems like a steal given that projections based on standard aging curves will  have Infante contributing 5-6 fWAR over the next three seasons. This translates to an investment of just $4.5-5.5 million per projected win, which would be a very shrewd addition in a market that seems to be paying in the vicinity of $7.5 million per win via free agency. Using this valuation, the Jays could go to 3 years and $40 million and be satisfied that they aren’t overpaying for the wins they’re purchasing.

Mark Ellis

Shortly after the world series ended, the Dodgers declined their $5.75 million team option on the veteran second baseman, opting instead to give him a $1 million buyout. Much like Infante, Mark Ellis contributes despite not being blessed with any exceptional tools. At this stage in his career he’ll provide a below-average bat and excellent defense while not doing much of anything on the bases. That package was worth 4.5 fWAR to the Dodgers over the last two years, and Steamer projects another 1.5 in 2014. Given his likely modest salary demands (Fangraphs crowdsourcing predicts a 2-year $11 million deal), he’d be a cheap stop-gap with a high probability of outproducing Goins and Izturis.

Brandon Phillips

With Shin-Soo Choo possibly leaving via free agency this offseason, followed by Homer Bailey after 2014 and Mat Latos after 2015, the Reds are widely rumoured to be shopping the 4 years and $50 million remaining on Brandon Phillips’ contract. The 32-year old Phillips may no longer be a real threat for a 4-5 WAR season, but he’s still a productive player, putting up 2.6 fWAR last year for Cincinnati. The $50 million price tag is a bit hefty for a declining player hovering just a bit above league-average, but I don’t think it’s prohibitive. If you like Steamer’s 2.4 fWAR 2014 projection, 6-7 fWAR is a reasonable projection for Phillips over the next four seasons. At $50 million, Phillips represents an investment in the vicinity of $7-8 million per projected WAR, which is a reasonable investment under the assumption that a win currently costs $7.5 million on the free agent market.

Brandon-Phillipsx-large

Brandon Phillips

The obvious concern regarding Phillips is that we’ll see a repeat of last year’s Miami debacle in which the Jays were persuaded to give up valuable players while taking on expensive contracts that offered little potential for surplus value. Phillips’ contract is palatable for a team looking for help at second base, but there is no projected surplus value there. If the Reds are asking for real value in return for Phillips, the Blue Jays would be wise to look elsewhere for a second baseman.

Here’s an overview of the 2B options (you can scroll horizontally):

Player
Team
Age in 2014
2013 fWAR
Projected 2014 fWAR
Contract Years
Contract AAV
Omar InfanteFree Agent323.12.23 (proj.)$9.2 million (proj.)
Mark EllisFree Agent371.81.52 (proj.)$5.5 million (proj.)
Brandon PhillipsCincinatti332.62.44$12.5 million

Each of the above players would add 1-2 wins to the team’s projected total for 2014, which represents a pretty significant addition given that the team’s true talent might already be in the middle-to-upper 80s. If the opportunity exists to acquire any of the three at fair market value, the team should make the addition. Earmarking resources for upgrades to the rotation or catcher position could cost the team an opportunity to efficiently add a win or two by upgrading second base. Remember Alex, a win is a win is a win.

Prospect Showdown: American League West
Offseason Power Rankings - Nov. 27

Author: Chris Brassard

Chris has been a die-hard Rays fan since 2012 and a casual Jays fan since time immemorial. He likes science, Jamie Moyer, and walks on the beach. He dislikes the Philadelphia Philles.

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15 Comments

  1. There is, of course, the more expensive option #4: Robinson Cano.

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    • Angelo Bastardo Jr is working on that Frag, great read Chris B. Much appreciated.

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    • Cano would vault the team up into 90+ win territory according to projections. Sexy for 2014, probably reckless long-term.

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      • Probably reckless, but at the right price could be the one to vault this team to contention status next year (knocks on wood).

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        • It’s reckless, but I think this team is not even close to being a WS contender, so they might as well put the money up to be one, or blow it all up.

          Our rotation right now is brutal, that needs to be fixed, 2B needs to be filled, and we need a catcher. If you don’t fill those holes, there’s no way we’re coming close the playoffs. We’ll need more than an average Dickey.

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      • If that really is the case, then we need to factor in that wins 90-92 have a higher nominal value than wins 87-89.

        With the astronomical cost of the contracts being offered, I really think Cano’s contract might end up almost being justifiable – even from an egg-headed analytical perspective. It’ll be interesting to see what he ends up getting but I think a reasonable argument could be made for 210/8.

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        • The team can probably justify a 210/8 deal for Cano if they believe they’re putting themselves over 90 wins in 2014. A front-loaded deal and fond memories of a 2014 playoff run would make the last few years of the deal easier to digest. The team seems pretty averse to risk on that kind of scale though. I’d be surprised if they’ve given Cano any serious thought.

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    • What are the projection numbers for Cano over the next 8 years? I know it is silly to project that far, but if we assume a 30M (or 32M) AAV contract over some stupid term like 8-10 years… would he be positive value anyway over the next 3,4, 5 years?

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      • His Steamer projection is 5.4, so even if you think that’s a little high, he should be well worth whatever AAV he gets for the next ~5 years or so.

        At $7.5M per WAR with 6% yearly inflation on that figure, a $30M AAV contract for Cano wouldn’t flip into the negative value picture until year #6, 2019. And the entire contract wouldn’t even be THAT negative. Only negative ~$12M over a ten year term. This is if he starts at 5.4 wins in 2014 and goes down by 0.5 per season.

        He could age better or worse than that, or the $/WAR could change drastically. A lot can happen in 10 years. The risk is still huge though; if everything goes right, you break even, if everything goes wrong and Cano falls of a cliff immediately, then you’re absolutely fucked. So it’s not the type of thing where you can really just say, “well, he projects to be about worth it so… sign ’em up!”.

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  2. Infante is a no brainer. 9th in WAR for 2B since 2010. He’s a steady performer. Consistently average vs LH and RHP. Good defender.

    Yanks probably get him though.

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  3. Infante seems the best choice here. Certainly makes Maicer an expensive utility guy. I can see him getting most of the AB’s there.

    I’d certainly like an Infante upgrade.

    Cano is a pipe dream. At 300 million, it’s reckless. Alex doesn’t go past 5 year term anyways, does he? If the cost comes down, do it. But there are some serious albatross contracts out there.

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    • I don’t think Maicer would be an expensive utility guy, $3m isn’t that much. Brendan Ryan just signed for like $2m. I’m with you though, Infante would be awesome.

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  4. At this point I am apathetic to the recklessness of it all, and past caring about whether any move AA makes is wise or not.

    All in for Cano! It’s Rogers money, not ours. If they can shell out 5.2B for some peasant hockey tv rights (sarcasm), the least they can do is toss 250M in the direction of Robinson Cano.

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  5. While I agree that an upgrade is needed I have resigned myself to the fact Izzy and Goins will man 2nd

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