Before I begin analyzing these two signings, I just want to say that Wilson Ramos‘s rescue is easily the best news of the week in sports. Ramos is a promising young player, and I detailed his 2011 season in October. I can only imagine what was going through the minds of his family members, and the relief they must be feeling after this horrible incident. Although the likelihood of Ramos being seriously injured or killed was low, you can never tell in a kidnapping situation. Anyway, two other important events transpired in the MLB, and they were the signings of Jonathan Papelbon and Jamey Carroll.
Let’s take care of the less interesting signing first, and it involved Terry Ryan’s first move in his second stint as the Twins’ GM. The Twins gave utility infielder Jamey Carroll a very inexpensive deal worth seven million over two years. Although he is a decent offensive player (104 wRC+) who provides value on the bases, asking him to be your everyday shortstop isn’t the greatest thing for a groundball staff. Carroll is one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball, even though he may be a productive hitter- to a certain degree. This lack of defensive ability doesn’t bode well for an already subpar pitching staff. The good news is that Carroll is a patient hitter who makes contact (.359 OBP) and is an upgrade over what they had. However, Carroll has absolutely no power, and this shows in his 104 wRC+ that would certainly be higher- he’s a shortstop who gets on base- if his ISO was at least .100.
Using a simple Marcel System projection, his expected 2012 WAR is 2.2, and this the same as his 2011 WAR. His market value is a little under ten million per season, which means that the Twins got a bargain at 3.5 million dollars per season. Although he considerably weakens their defense (-5 DRS in 2011 at shortstop), he does have positional flexibility and is a relatively productive offensive piece for a team that isn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut. Carroll can’t play at second base either (-9 DRS) so his positional value isn’t value per se as it is flexibility. This basically means that he can spell players who need a rest at various positions, but he won’t play any of them well (at all, I might add). But at 38, our projection of a 2.2 WAR seems too nice. If we go by regression, he should post a 2 WAR season and a 1.6 WAR season. This gives him an approximate value of 15 million over those two seasons, so he should comfortably outperform his contract. Carroll is consistently league-average, so there shouldn’t really be a disastrous decline.
Of course, the more interesting move involves one of the best closers in the Majors. The keyword, however, isn’t “best”; it’s “closers”. The Philadelphia Phillies decided not to re-sign Ryan Madson- or so we theorize- and have chosen to overpay Jonathan Papelbon. My harsh word choice is understandable to most, because giving any reliever a four year contract worth 50 million is far too risky and far too much money. However, Papelbon is one of the few relievers out there who won’t make this contract look risky. However, I find it extremely difficult to believe that Papelbon ends up being worth 50 million over four seasons- and a suggested fifth, but we’ll ignore that for now.
So I will once again use a very simple Marcel projection to predict Papelbon’s 2012 value and go on from there. At the age of 30, it is reasonable to expect a decline of some sort once he hits 33 (the third year of his contract). I expect Paps to be worth about 2.3 WAR during the first two years of his contract, and then he will have a 1.5 and 1.2 WAR season during the last two years of his contract. I do expect a steep decline, but I want to note that relievers are inherently worth less than hitters due to the lack of innings they pitch. I just wanted to mention that, so nobody starts raging over why I have him posting around the same overall value as Jamey Carroll. However, the projected WAR totals are quite impressive for a reliever, and it’s no surprise given that Paps is one of the elite closers in the game.
There is always a huge risk in giving a 30 year old reliever a lucrative four year contract, and this risk is accounted for in my projections. Thus, Papelbon will be worth around 35 million over those four years, which means that it looks like the Phillies overpaid for him at first glance. The problem is that it is difficult to project Papelbon’s value, because he is one of those pitchers who could go out and have an incredible season (3 WAR in 2011) or a poor one by their standards (1.2 in 2010).
The Phillies were poised to overpay for Ryan Madson, as they were very close to giving him a four year deal worth 44 million. I would rather overpay for Jonathan Papelbon, because he is a safer player to bet on, and he is frankly a better closer. That’s not saying that this was a good deal by any measure, because I do have him underperforming his contract. There is a chance that this move makes me look stupid, and not the Phillies, but I would rather spend 50 million dollars on somebody who could help their subpar offense when it is all said and done. I get that they are in “win now” mode, but that’s not really a legitimate excuse for giving a reliever a four year contract. Obviously we have to wait and see, but I don’t know anybody who likes waiting four years to wait and see.