On November 30th, MLB teams have to make decisions on whether or not they want to tender their arbitration eligible players contracts. Not tendering (or non tendering) a player would make him a free agent available to sign anywhere (though sometimes you can bring them back at a reduced price like the Diamondbacks did with Joe Saunders last off-season).
While it isn’t updated (some of those players are already free agents thanks to the 40 man roster purge recently), MLB Trade Rumors has a list of non tender candidates. In this post, I will look at 5 of those players and discuss whether or not the team should tender them a contract or allow them to become free agents. For Necessary WAR, I am assuming that 1 WAR is worth 5 million as per Fangraphs just for ease (which also has played out early on this off-season). The percentage of payroll is just the arbitration projections versus the team’s 2012 payroll according to Baseball Reference. The Arbitration projections are courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors.
Ryan Roberts: Tampa Bay Rays
Projection: 3 million
Necessary WAR: .6
Percentage of Payroll: 4.71%
Like the next 3 guys, Roberts was traded for in the middle of the season. The Diamondbacks moved the infielder to the Rays for a prospect as the Rays were really hurting for help on the infield. He ended up playing in 60 games for the Rays and mostly delivered, not hitting well (81 OPS +) but playing good rated defense (6 Defensive Runs Saved) at both 2nd and 3rd. The failures of Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez (not to mention the injury to Evan Longoria) made Roberts a somewhat important part of the team in their eventually unsuccessful playoff run. The 32 year old (won’t turn 33 until almost the end of the 2013 regular season) has had two seasons, 2009 and 2011, in which he has played like a decent starter. However, he spent most of 2010 in AAA and scuffled to start the year with the Diamondbacks (playing below average but above replacement). When given playing time, he has been roughly an average player in his career (Baseball Reference has him as worth 9 runs above an average player over his career. However, while the 3 major defensive metrics agree that he is above average, they disagree as to how much he is above average. Baseball Reference’s measure is the most aggressive one, while Baseball Prospectus’, per usual, is the most conservative. Unless the metrics are all erroneous and Roberts is actually a below average defender, it seems reasonable to call him about an average infielder). I believe Reid Brignac (Roberts has enough service time that he cannot be assigned to the minors I believe, as 5 years of service time buys this flexibility for a player) still has one option left, and while Elliot Johnson is out of options, Sean Rodriguez should still have at least one. This gives the Rays a little flexibility, and while Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee recently took up spots on the 40 man, the Rays always have the option of trading one of these players (Roberts included) to make room. If Ben Zobrist can stay at shortstop, a lot of this extra depth will be superfluous (even with 2nd base being an open competition and Evan Longoria’s recent injury history) perhaps necessitating a trade (the Rays have a few holes on the roster, especially in the outfield).
George Kottaras: Oakland Athletics
Projection: 1.1 million
Necessary WAR: .22
Percentage of Payroll: 1.727 %
Kottaras is out of options, but the A’s do not exactly have another catcher knocking on the door (with David Freitas probably not quite ready and everyone above him on the depth chart being hilariously bad). Unless they are planning a trade, they would have to explore free agency to acquire another catcher. That market is not exactly saturated, as David Ross is already off the market, and Dioner Navarro getting a 1.75 million dollar deal from the Cubs. I think most people, I included, would take Kottaras over Navarro, and he is projected to make less money. Most of Kottaras’ value is tied up with his bat, but even if doesn’t hit, he is easily DFA’able as he will not be making much money anyway. Unless they are planning on bringing Yorvit Torrealba in (is he better than Kottaras?), I see no reason for the Athletics to non-tender him.
Nate Schierholtz: Philadelphia Phillies
Projection: 1.6 million
Necessary WAR: .32
Percentage of Payroll: .924 %
With the 3 players that played the majority of games in the outfield for the Phillies in 2012 (Juan Pierre, Shane Victorino, and Hunter Pence) all gone (though Victorino is a free agent and perhaps could be brought back), the Phillies’ projected outfield is some weird combination of Schierholtz, John Mayberry, Domonic Brown, and Laynce Nix, with no one in the minors begging to be called up. This is obviously a mess and will require quite a makeover before the first pitch of 2013. Perhaps on this virtue alone, Schierholtz has to be tendered a contract, as the Phillies cannot afford to lose any more outfielders. In reality, perhaps ideally, the argument could be made that none of those 4 players should be starting (with Brown being the real exception other than his defense still needs a lot of work). They certainly do not have a centerfielder (which is why going after B.J. Upton makes sense for the Phillies), as Schierholtz had played nothing but the corner outfield positions in his 540 career MLB games before the Phillies made him play 7 in centerfield. All of the major defensive metrics agree that he has been below average over the last 3 seasons defensively, and has never been an average starter in his career (always having a negative WAA and never having a WAR or WARP of 2 in any of the 3 systems). He is a slightly below average hitter, and while he didn’t have much as far as platoon splits for most of his career, he has really regressed against left-handed pitching over the last couple of years. The good news is that he has actually gotten better against right-handed pitching. This makes him a decent platoon bat with John Mayberry, perhaps solving the right-fielder problem (though it certainly isn’t a stellar option). I just can’t see the Phillies non-tendering him, it wouldn’t make sense at least (especially with so many teams like the Mariners dying for a left-handed outfielder and the supply of them being extremely thin). Even if the Phillies go in a different direction with their right-field, they should at least trade him for something.
Gaby Sanchez: Pittsburgh Pirates
Projection: 1.8 million
Necessary WAR: .36
Percentage of Payroll: 2.956 %
After a solid 2011 campaign (in which he made massive defensive improvements), regression hit Sanchez like a Black Friday shopper. He watched his BB %, BABIP, and LD % all drop (as well as his already low for a 1st-baseman HR/FB %), as his IFFB % and K % saw jumps upward. However, Sanchez actually hit the ball harder (more correctly, farther) in 2012. In 2011, Sanchez’ average batted ball went 254.691 feet (not very good at all). In 2012, the average batted ball went 259.907 feet. This was boosted by his time with the Pirates, as his average batted ball before the trade deadline was 255.952 feet. I started messing around with his Pitch F/X profile at Baseball Prospectus and noticed something when it came how pitchers were throwing to him:
Pitchers were obviously throwing the ball high lot more. This could be because he hits so many infield fly-balls (which is a reason why his BABIP is below average consistently), as high pitches are more likely to lead to infield fly-balls. When looking at his actual Pitch Type data, it doesn’t appear that Sanchez saw anymore or any less fastballs. It seems that the difference was that pitchers were just throwing the fastballs up higher, finding a flaw in his swing:
This doesn’t quite explain why he bounced back with the Pirates somewhat (or why he was hitting the ball further), but it does seem to give us some kind of window into why he struggled in 2012. Since his value is all in his bat, Sanchez is pretty risky. After being traded to the Pirates, Sanchez did see an uptick in his numbers, but not quite to his 2011 numbers. The move to 1st by Garrett Jones hurts him. Matt Hague (who really struggled in his first MLB stint in the Majors at age 27) and Christian Marrero (who they got in a trade at the deadline) will compete with Sanchez for a job I am sure, but neither are overly attractive options. Unless the Pirates really want to just save the nearly 2 million dollars, it seems Sanchez is probably the best option to be the backup 1st baseman for the Pirates, and they won’t be paying him to be a starter.
John Lannan: Washington Nationals
Projection: 5 million
Necessary WAR: 1.0
Percentage of Payroll: 5.353 %
Lannan was the most expensive minor league player (5 million dollars) this year before he made 6 MLB starts toward the end of the year. The lefty is a traditional soft-tosser, with a fastball that averages about 89 MPH (throwing a ton of moving fastballs), a low strikeout rate, and a high ground-ball rate. He has a 134 starts in the Majors and has been average to slightly below league average. I think he can be a decent back end starter, perhaps even worth 5 million dollars. However, I don’t really see the Nationals tendering him a contract. With the (assumed) loss of Edwin Jackson to free agency, the Nationals really need another starter in the back end of their rotation. They could really regret letting Lannan go.