Phillies Deal for Ty Wigginton

While Philadelphians were getting ready to watch Sunday Night Football between the Eagles and Giants, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. continued to add to the 2012 roster by trading for utilityman Ty Wigginton from the Colorado Rockies. Wigginton is entering the second year of a two-year, $8 million deal signed prior to last season, providing a cheap plug at the various holes the Phillies still have, particularly at first base and left field, as well as their need for a capable back-up infielder.

The Phillies had previously been linked with free agent Michael Cuddyer, formerly of the Minnesota Twins. Signs seem to indicate that Cuddyer is seeking a contract similar to the one the Phillies gave to Raul Ibanez prior to the 2009 season (three years, $31.5 million). By comparison, the Wigginton trade allows the Phillies to accomplish nearly as much while spending very little — various reports said the Phillies would be sending either a player to be named later or cash. Buster Olney reports that the Phillies are eating half of Wigginton’s remaining salary for the 2012 season. Wigginton also has an option for 2013 worth $4 million with a $500,000 buy-out. Essentially, the Phillies can get two years out of Wigginton if he produces, and if he doesn’t, they have a very cheap escape route.

On the surface, the Wigginton trade seems quite good, but there are a couple of red flags. The first is his defense. No matter what metrics you use, or even if you use your eyes only, there is just no way to speak highly of his defense. Versatile as he is, he does not play above-average defense at any position, infield or outfield. If you buy into UZR, he has been worth -77.3 defensive runs since 2002, or roughly -7.5 wins. His career WAR is 6.6. Essentially, if he had simply played average defense, he would be more than twice as valuable as he is currently. Even rWAR (Baseball Reference) speaks poorly of his glove work, putting him at four wins below replacement over the last three years, speaking solely about his defense.

Additionally, Wigginton’s offense has been nothing to write home about recently. Wigginton posted a .370 wOBA in 2008 with the Houston Astros which put him on the map. After signing with the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent, his wOBA dropped to .311 in ’09 and .316 in ’10. Wigginton signed with the Colorado Rockies last year, but he didn’t fare any better, posting a .322 wOBA while playing half his games at Coors Field.

The general consensus seems to be that Wigginton will spend some of his playing time — as much as half or more — at first base. If that turns out to be the case, Wigginton will have to improve with the bat to justify his playing time. The average National League first baseman had a .350 wOBA last season. However, even if Wigginton posts a .320 wOBA in 250 PA at first base, he will only be a half-win worse than a league-average first baseman given the same amount of plate appearances. Meanwhile, in 2011 the average third baseman posted a paltry .314 wOBA and the average left fielder was at .332. Wigginton at his worst is about average between the two positions. Depending on where he spends the remainder of his time, he can give the Phillies exactly what they paid for. At the price of $2 million, he only has to produce about a half-win above a replacement-level player to justify his spot on the 25-man roster.

Obviously, versatility is the big draw. It was specifically what drew the Phillies to Cuddyer as well. The Phillies have two items on their itinerary: find a shortstop and figure out Cole Hamels‘ future. With limited payroll flexibility, the Phillies also had to address the less-pressing needs with the roster, but the Wigginton acquisition can kill many birds with one stone. Not only can he play first base, perhaps as part of a two- or three-headed monster, but he can spell Placido Polanco at third base and play in left field. Of course, a Plan B in the event of an injury is also nice to have, so Wigginton is not a bad back-up plan in the event things head south the way they have in each of the past two seasons.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the trade is that it saves the Phillies from signing Cuddyer to a very ill-advised multi-year contract. As mentioned, the prevailing thought is that Cuddyer is seeking a contract similar to the one Ibanez got several years ago, which is too much money for an aging, one-dimensional (even if versatile) player. Wigginton is not as potent with the bat as Cuddyer, but the difference between being on the hook for $2 million for one year (potentially $6 million for two years) is a lot better than $30 million over three years.

Compared to other realistic options for the Phillies, the Wigginton acquisition looks good. He will not contend for the NL MVP award, but his cost relative to his production will be better than anything else the Phillies could have done. Chalk one up for Smuggy.