Phillies Sign Placido Polanco

The Phillies have signed Placido Polanco, 34 years old, to a three-year, $18 million deal with a mutual option for a fourth year. Last off-season, on December 12, GM Ruben Amaro signed Raul Ibanez (then 36 years old) to a three-year $32.5 million contract. We are starting to see a trend.

The free agent market for third basemen isn’t exactly thin — Polanco, Adrian Beltre, Chone Figgins, Mark DeRosa, and Joe Crede are just a few examples of players who could have manned the hot corner for the Phillies. Money, of course, was the main factor in determining which of those athletes would get the honor of playing for a team that has appeared in back-to-back World Series.

The Phillies had a payroll of about $130 million in 2009, and currently have about $110 million on the books already for 2010. However, given the recent run of success, the organization did remarkably well at the box office as 3.6 million fans bought tickets to Phillies games at Citizens Bank Park last year. 90% of the home games (73 of 81) were sold out. There should be some room for an increase in payroll given their financial success even despite the state of the U.S. economy.

The signing of Polanco, given the apparent desire to pennypinch, is confusing because Amaro did not give the market a chance to play out, much like last season with Ibanez. The only reason one should jump out so quickly to sign a player is if he is going to be pursued heavily by many other teams or if the player can be signed cheaply. Polanco doesn’t fall under either criteria; he is simply a mediocre infielder who hasn’t played third base since 2005, and hasn’t played 200 innings at the position since 2002.

As for his production, Polanco has regressed offensively since 2007. His wOBA has gone from .371 to .339 to .321. For comparison, in ’09, Justin Morneau had a .371 wOBA, Erick Aybar was at .339, and Kurt Suzuki finished at .321. As his wOBA has fallen, so has his walk rate, and his strikeout rate has risen. His OBP fell over 50 points from ’07, which should be an alarming trend considering they did not sign Polanco for his power.

Defensively, Polanco is good… at second base. He won Gold Gloves at second base in ’07 and ’09, matching up with his UZR/150 of 12.0 and 11.0 respectively. However, the Phillies signed him to play third base, a position he hasn’t played since ’05. The only season in which there is a large sample of innings and UZR data, 2002, Polanco had a UZR/150 of 7.8, which isn’t bad. A lot changes in eight years, though. It’s unlikely Polanco still has the range, agility, and arm strength he had eight years ago.

The Phillies are a good base running team under the tutelage of Davey Lopes. Fortunately, Polanco is still a productive runner despite his age, and was on an incline up until last year.

Taken altogether, Polanco was worth a bit over three wins the past two seasons. FanGraphs valued him at about $14 million in each year. For a one year deal at $6 million, the Polanco signing would have been acceptable. However, the Phillies have married themselves for at least three seasons to a 34-year-old whose bat is on the decline and hasn’t played third base in four years.

There are many reasons why Phillies fans should be unhappy with Ruben Amaro right now, but we can’t go back and undo what has happened. Now, we just have to hope that Amaro and the various eyes and ears around him saw something that we bloggers and fans did not see, as with Ibanez. For a team that can easily make a third consecutive appearance in the World Series in 2010, adding Polanco is not the kind of move that will help them surpass the Yankees.

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  1. JRVJ

    December 03, 2009 06:04 PM

    First time poster!

    Let me try to understand something.

    You say that (as per FanGraphs) Polanco was worth $14MM per year in 2008 and 2009. Where does it follow that he is only worth $6MM in 2010?

    I realize that a position change from 2B to 3B would probably decrease his value in 2010, but it seems to me that in order to get Polanco to sign for only $6MM per year, you have to buy out the latter years of his contract.

    Phrased differently, if Polanco is worth (for example) $8MM a year at 3B in 2010, then you’re only paying him $5MM per year for each of 2011 and 2012.

  2. PhillyFriar

    December 03, 2009 06:04 PM

    I noted in our dicussion over at TGP that I think there’s reason to be optimistic about Polanco as a fielder. Cliff’s Notes: his arm may be a little short, but he should profile nicely otherwise. Maybe not Feliz-esque, but I’m hard-pressed to see him being below average.

    But your points on his offense and the length of contract are dead on. He’ll need his BABIP to rebound towards his career level of .314 for him to truly be effective, and with a 34-year old, that’s a helluva gamble to making at the downside of $18 million.

  3. Rich Baxter

    December 03, 2009 07:51 PM

    I agree with you on this Bill, I wouldn’t have given Polanco the three year deal, his numbers are in decline and he is no spring chicken.

    This was as it seems now a bad deal. It was rushed and now we have Placido and his $18 million contract for 3 years.

    I would have wanted to stay with Feliz at one more year at $5 million for this and see what would have developed. Why commit to Polanco, he just hasn’t been that good.

    This could be the first of many blunders that Amaro makes, the Mets sign Coste, we could have had him back but they bring in Brian Schneider and pay him 2.75 million for 2 years? Why? He was abysmal last year.

  4. Matt

    December 03, 2009 08:12 PM

    One thing i think people are missing about Polanco (and this isn’t to say that i like the signing) is that i think it was very largely motivated by the fact that he was not offered arbitration, meaning we keep a draft pick. What i hope this means is that the Phils have decided their money is better spent trying to lock up either Lee and Werth long term.

  5. Bill Baer

    December 03, 2009 08:37 PM

    JRVJ, the average annual value (AAV) of his contract (three years, $18 million) is $6 million.

    Friar, none of us can really say he’ll be good or bad, since he hasn’t played third base in a long time. While he’s been good at second base, that doesn’t transfer over to third base — it’s a whole ‘nother ball game, as they say.

    Rich, I agree: I prefer Feliz on a one-year deal over Polanco on a three-year deal, but there’s also the benefit of not having to worry about third base every season. There is something to be said about that, I guess.

    Matt, I’m still flabbergasted that he was a Type A free agent. The Tigers didn’t offer him arbitration, though, so the Phillies wouldn’t have lost their first round and a supplementary pick anyway.

  6. JRVJ

    December 03, 2009 09:49 PM

    Bill, I understand the concept of AAV.

    I was getting at another point, however. What I was trying to say is that the Phils may end up getting rather better than $6MM’s worth of production in 2010 from Polanco, which should compensate for lesser production in 2011 and 2012.

    I mentioned this because you referred to FanGraphs and how they scored Polanco’s value in 2008 and 2009 – if you are going to use one line of reasoning (i.e., that Polanco was worth $14MM for each of 2008 and 2009 as per FanGraphs), you should use the same reasoning for Polanco’s upcoming stint with the Phillies.

    Using that rationale, I don’t this is that bad a deal.

  7. Bill Baer

    December 03, 2009 10:12 PM

    I don’t think there’s any doubt that Polanco will be worth $18 million over the next three seasons, even if he is on a decline. However, the Phillies could have spent a little more to get more production at third base with a player that’s a better fit for the team.

    The Phillies have contact guys that are suited for the #1, 2, or 7 spots in the lineup. What they needed was a right-handed third baseman with power potential and a decent glove. Adrian Beltre and Joe Crede are examples of such players (I’m not advocating that the Phillies should have been looking at Crede).

    Chone Figgins doesn’t fit that role but if he takes the role Jimmy Rollins had (lead-off hitter with speed), that allows Rollins to move to the #7 spot and swing from the fences from both sides of the plate, something he does already (mistakenly, as a lead-off guy).

    The Polanco signing isn’t a horrible move, I just think it’s ill-advised given that A) they jumped quickly; B) did not get the best guy out there; C) Polanco hadn’t regularly played third base since 2005; and D) could have gotten much more for slightly more money.

    For instance, Figgins would have cost $8-12 million annually for four years (probably), and he’s younger and more versatile. Last month, I had Figgins at 7 WAR. Even if we regress him significantly, he’s still 5-6 WAR, or about twice as much as Polanco.

    Beltre has a slightly higher ceiling, has more power, has been undervalued because he’s been hitting in a pitcher’s park, is younger, and has actually been playing at third base his entire career. He probably will be signed for ~$8-10 million annually for two or three years (similar to Polanco’s contract, there may be an option for a fourth year).

  8. JRVJ

    December 03, 2009 10:39 PM

    Well, it’s been rumored that Beltre will take arbitration, which would take him out of the picture (the Phillies probably know this, too).

    As to Figgins, I would have liked him a lot more if he hadn’t been offered arbitration.

    Since he was offered arbitration, signing Polanco has a silver lining: the Phillies will not lose their 1st round pick in next year’s draft.

  9. Bill Baer

    December 03, 2009 10:54 PM

    That’s certainly an important factor, but it’s much less important for a team like the Phillies, clearly in win-now mode after reaching the World Series in consecutive years.

  10. Matt

    December 04, 2009 12:04 AM

    I agree entirely with your responses in the comments, i was merely pointing out that the Phillies only seemed to really focus in on Polanco once he was not offered arbitration, obviously showing that they set a high value on their first round pick this year (perhaps becuase they didnt have one last year). but i agree i don’t think it is a bad signing i just hoped they would do better.

  11. hk

    December 04, 2009 08:08 PM

    What’s Ruben’s rush to be first to sign guys at positions where supply seems to be > demand? It’s Ibanez all over again. I also didn’t see the rush to sign Juan Castro and now I fear he’s going to overpay for Brandon Lyon (in years and dollars) when Brandon Lyon’s are practically falling off trees. And, finally, to compound the set-up man mistake, he didn’t offer arb to Chan Ho Park. If Park accepted, one year of Park is much better than 2 or more of Lyon. If Park signed elsewhere, we would have gotten draft choices. Ruben still has a chance to fix the bullpen and salvage what has been a brutal offseason so far, but he has to exhibit some patience.

    FWIW, Dave Cameron posted a good piece on Fan Graphs today in which he explained their $ values and in the comments section Tom Tango posted a link to another piece that helped explain the concept.

  12. BS

    December 04, 2009 08:16 PM

    With the news that Beltre’s looking for no less than $10M/yr and even DeRosa’s looking for 3/$27, I think Polanco’s $6/yr seems much more reasonable. I’d much rather have Polanco at $6/yr versus Derosa at his demands, or Beltre at $10+/yr.

    Also, 2B is supposedly a higher difficulty position vs. 3B. I don’t have any concerns about Polanco’s range or agility at the hot corner, although we are trading off some arm strength.

    On a separate note, I wonder how much of a push we could’ve made for Chone Figgins who surprsingly seems to be about to sign a 4/$36 deal with Seattle, which is pretty darn reasonable.

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