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.

BDD: Braves Ink Wagner

At Baseball Daily Digest, I analyze the Atlanta Braves’ signing of free agent Billy Wagner.

FanGraphs has not valued Wagner at $7 million since ‘06. This seems like a risky signing for the Braves. Not only are they signing an injury-prone one-inning pitcher to a $7 million deal that can potentially vest into a second year, but they have also offered arbitration to two other high-profile relievers.

Starting December with a Bang

Brian SchneiderI interrupt your Tiger Woods coverage with some breaking news: The Phillies have signed veteran catcher Brian Schneider to a two-year, $2.75 million deal. Schneider will back up Carlos Ruiz, and should be expected to start 40-50 games in 2010. His left-handedness will allow Ruiz to sit when a tough right-hander, such as Jair Jurrjens, is on the mound.

Schneider played in only 59 games for the Mets last season and produced a meager slash line of .218/.292/.335. However, in his 194 plate appearances, he had only a .233 BABIP when it’s normally in the area of .270. His 2009 ISO was actually slightly higher than it was in ’08. While his walk rate dropped by 1.5%, so did his strikeout rate by 3.5%. Don’t expect Schneider to be .278 wOBA bad; expect him to be .290-.300 wOBA mediocre.

Although his playing time has been shrinking since 2007, he has still been throwing out runners at an above-average clip. With the Mets in ’08 and ’09, he threw out 33% and 34% of base runners respectively. Carlos Ruiz, on the other hand, has only thrown out 24% and 27% in those same years.

FanGraphs, without including his defense as a catcher, valued Schneider at $1.5 million last year. If we expect a slight rebound in 2010 and factor in catcher defense (good luck with that), Schneider should be a bit of a bargain. Even better, the Phillies’ new back-up catcher is very familiar with the NL East and has a reputation for being a good handler of his pitchers.

I was hoping for a Gregg Zaun signing, mostly because he has the best website on the Internet, but Schneider passes the smell test.

In other catcher-related news, the New York Mets signed former Phillie Chris Coste, and the Tampa Bay Rays traded a player to be named later to the Cleveland Indians for Kelly Shoppach.