Raul Ibanez and Ruben Amaro: On Notice

Scott Lauber reported yesterday, after the Phillies had signed Placido Polanco, that recent signee and left fielder Raul Ibanez helped to recruit The Forehead for the former WFC’s. Polanco got a three-year, $18 million deal that will end when he’s nearly 38 years old.

Meanwhile, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports is reporting that the Seattle Mariners and Chone Figgins are very close to agreeing on a four-year, $36 million deal. Ken-Ro adds, “The contact will include a $9 million vesting option for 2013, bringing the potential value of the package to $45 million.”

As I explained yesterday, the Polanco signing was misguided for a number of reasons, among them was the alacrity with which Rube opened his checkbook for a mediocre, aging second baseman third baseman. There are two main reasons why a GM would want to be so quick to sign a player, and that’s if he’s A) being heavily pursued by other teams and/or B) if he’s signing for significantly under market value.

About a month ago, I evaluated all of the free agent third basemen likely to pique the Phillies’ interest (at that point, Polanco was but a small blip on the radar). I concluded that, in 2009, Figgins was worth nearly 7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), covering all of offense, defense, and base running. And yesterday, we learned that Polanco is worth about 3 WAR. In dollar amounts, Polanco is worth about $14 million, which isn’t bad. However, Figgins was worth about $30.5 million last season.

So, we have a simple calculation to determine the better investment. The Phillies could have paid Figgins $9 million annually for nearly $31 million of production (3.4 times their investment) or Polanco $6 million annually for $14 million of production (2.3 times their investment). We, of course, assume Figgins will produce at his 2009 level, which isn’t the most likely scenario. Let’s lop off a full win. He’s still worth nearly three times the $9 million investment at 5.8 WAR and 2.5 times at 5.0 WAR.

This is exactly why I said two weeks ago that we cannot abstain from being critical of Ruben Amaro, even though he made some head-scratching maneuvers for the 2009 team that did not backfire. There are plenty of third basemen for everyone: Figgins, Polanco, Adrian Beltre, Mark DeRosa, Joe Crede, Pedro Feliz again. Inquiries about Mark Teahen of the Kansas City Royals could have been made. No need to be a quick draw with the wallet — it’s a buyer’s market.

Let’s recap Amaro’s off-season so far:

  • Paid $700,000 for one year of Juan Castro, who turns 38 on June 20. He has a career OPS+ of 57, possesses no base running skills. His calling card is defensive versatility in the infield. Sound like someone familiar? He’s an older version of Eric Bruntlett (career 64 OPS+) with worse legs.
  • Signed Brian Schneider to a two-year, $2.75 million deal. That was three days ago, so some factors may have changed, but that certainly doesn’t seem favorable now that Gregg Zaun has signed with the Milwaukee Brewers on a one-year deal with a base salary of $1.4 million and incentives that could bring it to $2.25 million. Another example of why acting quickly in the off-season is poor strategy. I was, however, a supporter of the signing at the time.
  • Signed Placido Polanco to a three-year, $18 million deal with a mutual option for a fourth year.

We use retrospect here because it demonstrates how Ruben Amaro could have signed a better back-up infielder (Adam Everett, anyone?), back-up catcher (Zaun), and starting third baseman (Figgins) for only slightly more — about $5 million — than he spent on Castro, Schneider, and Polanco if he had simply not acted like a kid in a candy store. The Phillies have had an incredible showing at the turnstiles for two straight seasons, so the payroll should not be regressing.

Like his predecessor Pat Gillick, Amaro’s best work appears to come during the season. That is unfortunate because it costs the Phillies more than simply money and draft pick lottery tickets.

That’s why I am now putting Amaro and Ibanez (who recruited Polanco) on notice. Any more slip-ups and they’ll be Dead to Me.

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15 comments

  1. PhillyFriar

    December 04, 2009 11:37 PM

    In fairness re: Zaun, he’s signing with Milwaukee to be the starter there.

    Other than that, though, pretty much agreed. The $3 million saved on Polanco will go, err, straight to Brandon Lyon and his career 5.8 K/9. Which, obviously, is a seriously better option than offering minimum deals to guys like Brendan Donnelly and Joaquin Benoit (sarcasm font).

  2. mistertug

    December 05, 2009 09:58 AM

    “…for the former WFCs…”

    That stings.

  3. Brian Quinn

    December 05, 2009 10:20 AM

    Agree with you. Even though I don’t agree with the signings I do appreciate the fact that Amaro decides what he wants and goes out and gets it.

  4. hk

    December 05, 2009 10:31 AM

    PhillyFriar, I wholeheartedly share your fear that Brandon Lyon is next.

    Brian Quinn, Omar Minaya decides what he wants and goes out and gets it, too. How’s that working out in Flushing? If anything, the Mets are a perfect example of how quickly things can fall apart with a couple of bad moves and a little bad luck. The Phillies under Gillick were able to overcome bad signings like Eaton and Jenkins. I fear that our window can close very quickly if we keep giving out contracts that are too long and too costly. Maybe Darren Daulton’s advising Ruben and telling him that we really don’t have to worry about our window beyond the next two seasons.

  5. Peter

    December 05, 2009 02:39 PM

    The Phillies could have paid Figgins $9 million annually for nearly $31 million of production (3.4 times their investment) or Polanco $6 million annually for $14 million of production (2.3 times their investment). We, of course, assume Figgins will produce at his 2009 level, which isn’t the most likely scenario. Let’s lop off a full win. He’s still worth nearly three times the $9 million investment at 5.8 WAR and 2.5 times at 5.0 WAR.

    Even the most liberal estimates of Figgins’ 2010 production are around 4.0 WAR. It isn’t reasonable to expect anything more. Say teams pay $4.2 M, $4.5 M, $4.7 M, and $5.0 M per Win in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013, respectively. Also, I think with the positional adjustments and aging, Polanco is probably a 2.5 win player. Maybe something like 3.0, 2.5, 2.0. Under his current contract terms and our assumptions about his value and the price of wins, he generates, on average, $5 M in excess value per season.

    If Figgins is a 3.1 win player every year for the life of his contract, his contract in our universe is worth $5.3 M in excess value per season. There’s a fairly good chance that Figgins will be more valuable than a 3.1 win player for the rest of his contract, so there’s a fairly good chance that Figgins will have the more valuable contract when it’s all said and done. But, really, it’s not as obvious as you’re making it seem. Figgins is probably more than a 3.1 win player, but not that much. After all, he’s averaged 2.9 wins over his 6 years as a full-timer and he did have a season in which he was completely worthless, hitting .267/.336/.373 with -17.3 fielding runs. He’s 32 years old, and given the state of the active roster, I understand not wanting to go 4-years.

    For a team like the Phillies, a really good one, it makes a more sense to get the better player and pay more, and Figgins’ contract is probably more favorable anyway, so overall I don’t really disagree with your assertion that Figgins would’ve been the better fit. Perhaps the $3 million could be put to better use, either on the active roster or elsewhere, though.

    Spending an extra $3 million in the draft, for instance, nets you a lot more value than whatever excess value Figgins’ contract provides, in the long run. And spending $3 million on a bullpen arm or putting it towards a starter would probably do the Phillies more good than adding more offense.

  6. Bill Baer

    December 05, 2009 04:56 PM

    Peter,

    – Figgins’ walk rate has increased every season since he came into the Majors
    – He has a naturally high BABIP; 2007 was the only season in which he benefited from an unnaturally high BABIP
    – The curve ball was the only pitch he significantly struggled against last season
    – Related to his walk rate, he has fantastic plate discipline: he swung at 10% fewer pitches outside the strike zone than the league average, yet made contact with about 5% more pitches inside the strike zone and 7.5% outside

    It’s absolutely warranted to regress Figgins’ production last season. I completely understand he won’t be a 7-win player next season. However, to say he’ll only be a 3-win player is based on what trends? There is no evidence that he is getting worse.

    From what I understand, Figgins’ contract is also front-loaded which makes it even better, although I don’t think the Phillies could have afforded to have paid $12 million for his 2009 season. I believe the Mariners will only be paying $6 million for the fourth year of the deal. Plus, Figgins will be 35 when the contract ends; Polanco will be 35 at the end of the first year of his contract.

  7. Peter

    December 05, 2009 06:34 PM

    It’s absolutely warranted to regress Figgins’ production last season. I completely understand he won’t be a 7-win player next season. However, to say he’ll only be a 3-win player is based on what trends? There is no evidence that he is getting worse.

    1) He’s 32 years old. It’s not necessary to point to trends, players in their 30’s generally get worse.
    2) He’s averaged being a 3-win player for the past 6 years. And a 6-year sample size is only a WHEE bit more reliable than 1 year.

  8. Bill Baer

    December 05, 2009 06:40 PM

    1) I’m not saying Figgins won’t get worse, but 2-3 wins is awfully pessimistic especially when none of his peripherals point to any kind of an offensive regression other than to the mean.

    2) Players can’t improve? Like I said, none of Figgins’ success in 2009 was due to abnormal luck or flash-in-the-pan success. He’s got incredible plate discipline, has a naturally high BABIP, and plays superb defense.

    You can’t just point to age and say that a player is going to be bad. There is no evidence that Figgins is as bad as you’re making him seem.

  9. hk

    December 05, 2009 10:44 PM

    I’d like to add two points about Figgins and his WAR, one positive and one negative. The positive one is that, when including baserunning, his WAR was 6.8 last year according to Erik Manning at Fan Graphs. If we assume that the 0.7 baserunning addition to his WAR will remain for the next couple of years, it’s hard to see him being anything but a 3.5 WAR player and probably more like a 4.5 WAR player for the next couple of years.

    The negative about Figgins and his value – although it is irrelevant to the Figgins vs. Polanco for the Phillies argument – is that he may not play 3B for the Mariners next year if Adrian Beltre accepts arbitration, which is what I think will happen. In that case, Figgins will play 2B (with Jose Lopez moving to 1B or out of Seattle via trade), LF or be used in a Tony Phillips-like way, starting everyday at a different position. In any case except Figgins at 3B, he loses value because 3B is the only position at which he has a positive UZR/150. Granted, 3B is also the position where he’s played by far the most games in his career and his defense at 2B or in the OF might improve with more innings there. Again, this is irrelevant to the issue of whether the Phillies should have signed him because he would have played 3B here.

  10. Aaron H

    December 06, 2009 11:11 AM

    I think we’re also forgetting to include the value of the first round pick the Phils save by signing Polanco instead of Figgins. Here are the Phils’ first round picks of the 2000’s:
    Chase
    Gavin Floyd
    Cole
    Greg Golson
    Kyle Drabek
    Joe Savery
    Anthony Hewitt

    Out of those seven picks, Utley and Hamels brings a combined WAR of 10 or so, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Drabek would add 3 WAR himself down the road (slightly worse pitcher than Cole). That’s an average of more than 2 WAR per first round pick. Even if we halve that, to account for less future value than present value, we still have Polanco (call it 2.5 WAR each year over the course of the contract), plus 1st round pick X, with 1 WAR, against Figgins and his (perhaps optimistic) 5 WAR. When you look at the rough numbers like that and factor in the saved draft pick, I don’t think the gap between Figgins and Polanco’s values is all that glaring.

  11. Bill Baer

    December 06, 2009 11:32 AM

    Aaron, I wouldn’t quite look at it that way. Since the Phillies have been very successful the past few years, their draft pick comes late in the first round. Of the players you listed, only Hewitt and Golson were picked outside of the top-20.

    Matt Swartz performed a study on the draft at Baseball Prospectus. He found:

    In total, 51% of first and second rounds picks make the majors.

    [...]

    The other thing that is clear is that fewer and fewer first round draft picks ever end up making the major leagues.

    He also found that off draft picks between 1 and 40 overall, the 26-30 bucket (which the Phillies have) is the worst.

    Additionally, Victor Wang also performed a study on the draft at The Hardball Times.

    I feel that the most reasonable projection for the value of Type A draft picks would be something between $3-5 million.

    Obviously, since the Phillies have a pick at the back end of the first round, it’s much closer to $3 million than $5 million.

    For a team like the Phillies, who are clearly in win-now mode, sacrificing a draft pick — a player that has a 50% shot at making the Majors and a much lower probability of making any kind of positive contribution (especially in the Phillies’ slot) — is a very minuscule sacrifice for an addition that helps the team move closer to another championship.

  12. hk

    December 06, 2009 11:40 AM

    Aaron H, while I agree with the points that you make and I’ll add that you omitted Floyd’s WAR (2.4 in ’08 and 4.5 in ’09), I’d also counter that Arbuckle deserves credit for most of the picks and he’s no longer with the organization.

  13. Peter

    December 06, 2009 01:06 PM

    Bill,
    I didn’t ever estimate Figgins is a 3-win player. I said: “If Figgins is a 3.1 win player every year for the life of his contract, his contract in our universe is worth $5.3 M in excess value per season. There’s a fairly good chance that Figgins will be more valuable than a 3.1 win player for the rest of his contract, so there’s a fairly good chance that Figgins will have the more valuable contract when it’s all said and done.”

  14. Bill Baer

    December 06, 2009 08:25 PM

    Peter,

    My apologies. I made an assumption based on your statement, “Figgins is probably more than a 3.1 win player, but not that much.”

    I figured you meant 3-3.5 WAR as opposed to a more generous assessment.

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