Phillies Send Wilson Valdez to Cincinnati

Per CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury:

So long to good guy Wilson Valdez, traded to Cincy for LHP Jeremy Horst, Phillies announce.

While not much with the bat, Valdez provided good value to the Phillies as insurance. The Phillies saw each part of the infield succumb to injury over the past two seasons: third baseman Placido Polanco missed 60 games, Jimmy Rollins missed 92 games, and Chase Utley missed 97 games. As a result, Valdez made 24 starts at third base, 70 at shortstop, and 68 at second base. He wasn’t much with the bat (.285 wOBA), but played average defense and ran the bases well — he was the second-best runner on the team behind Shane Victorino, according to EQBRR from Baseball Prospectus.

At Phillies Nation, Pat Gallen lists some possible candidates to fill the vacant spot left by Valdez:

This certainly opens things up for the Phillies when it comes to the roster. They can go out and sign another utility guy or scour the minor league level for someone of that ilk. Some middle infielder names still available are Aaron Miles, Bill Hall, Jeff Keppinger, Ryan Theriot, Edgar Renteria, Miguel Tejada, and Felipe Lopez, among others.

It will be interesting to see how the Phillies approach this, whether by relying on Michael Martinez or going outside of the organization for one of the few remaining free agents.

Meanwhile, Horst is a 26-year-old lefty reliever coming off of his rookie season. In 15 and one-third innings with the Reds last year, he struck out nine and walked six. However, over his five-year Minor League career, he has a career K/9 and BB/9 at 8.5 and 2.9, respectively — not too shabby.

Horst’s fastball sits in the high-80’s. Behind that, he uses a slider and change-up that both register in the low-80’s. He comes in as the Phillies’ third lefty reliever and will compete for a spot in the back of the Phillies’ bullpen.

Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer has some interesting quotes from Ruben Amaro, who explains his thought process in dealing Valdez. The utility infielder will turn 34 in May, and for as much as fans loved him, he is the definition of a replacement-level player. Getting anything of value in return for Valdez has to be considered a win and they did so with a potential diamond in the rough in Horst.

First Basemen and Outrageous Contracts

Prince Fielder shocked the baseball world yesterday when he agreed to a nine-year, $214 million contract with the Detroit Tigers. This excitement comes in the doldrums of a rather boring time in the off-season, when replacement-level players find new homes and spring training is on the horizon. Phillies fans watched from the sidelines, simply glad that yet another top-tier player moved from the National League to the American League.

However, as Fielder just signed his mega-deal and used to be considered in the same stratosphere as Howard (the two have since gone in opposite directions), comparisons were made and questions were asked. Is the Fielder deal worse than Ryan Howard‘s five-year, $125 million contract? Ruben Amaro actually feels quite content, believe it or not. Per Rich Hofmann of the Philadelphia Daily News:

“I’m kind of happy,” [Amaro] said. “Really happy. Because if I would have had to put an 8- or 9-year deal on Howard’s deal right now, that would be a little disconcerting. Right now, we have Howard for the next 5 years. I kind of like that idea rather than having to do an 8- or 9- or 10-year deal.

“You can say what you want about Ryan Howard and how he stacks up against those guys, but there’s not too many people who, over the last several years, have had this kind of production – and he’s right there in the mix with those guys.”

Obviously, a deal that is nearly twice as long and twice as rich comes with exponentially more risk, but there are three big factors at play here:

  • Fielder is currently 27 years old; Howard is currently 32 years old, both entering the first year of their respective deals
  • Fielder has outproduced Howard by  more than 30 points in wOBA over the last three seasons (.403 to .372) and more than doubled his fWAR (15.3 to 7.6)
  • Fielder is expected to outproduce Howard in each and every season going forward

Because of Fielder’s young age, he can still be expected to improve slightly. The ten-year forecast from Baseball Prospectus saw Fielder posting a 5.0 WARP last year (he actually produced 5.3) and improving to 5.1 in 2012 and 5.3 in 2013 before dropping down to 5.2 in the next two seasons. Howard was expected to hit the slopes years ago; Prospectus projected 4.0 WARP last year (Howard posted 1.6 in reality) and expects gradually less with each coming season.

As details of Fielder’s contract have not been published yet, we will have to assume an average annual value of $24 million per season. Over the length of Howard’s contract, Fielder will make only $4 million more in the first two years. From 2014-16, Howard will earn $1 million more than Fielder. Should the Phillies pick up Howard’s $23 million option in 2017, Howard will make $1 million less than Fielder.

The following are two tables depicting the players’ projected WARP along with their salary, and how much their respective teams will pay for 1 WARP every season. Generally speaking, 1 WARP costs about $5 million in free agency.

Prince Fielder
Year Age PA WARP Salary $/WARP
2012 28 783 5.1 $24.0M $4.7M
2013 29 789 5.3 $24.0M $4.5M
2014 30 787 5.2 $24.0M $4.6M
2015 31 783 5.2 $24.0M $4.6M
2016 32 768 5.0 $24.0M $4.8M
2017 33 760 4.9 $24.0M $4.9M
2018 34 744 4.6 $24.0M $5.2M
2019 35 734 4.5 $24.0M $5.3M
2020 36 723 4.3 $24.0M $5.6M
Ryan Howard
Year Age PA WARP Salary $/WARP
2012 32 666 3.7 $20.0M $5.4M
2013 33 654 3.6 $20.0M $5.6M
2014 34 637 3.3 $25.0M $7.6M
2015 35 628 3.3 $25.0M $7.6M
2016 36 614 3.0 $25.0M $8.3M
2017 37 595 2.9 $23.0M $7.9M
2018 38 579 2.5
2019 39 563 2.5
2020 40 543 1.9

Here is a pretty chart that illustrates the difference:

Depending on the distribution of the $214 million in Fielder’s contract, his blue line can move up or down at either end (here is a hastily-thought-of example). Because the Phillies backloaded Howard’s contract and he is projected to decline precipitously into his late-30’s, the Phillies are paying significantly more per WARP than the Tigers will pay on average. An additional caveat is that Howard’s projections are likely optimistic as his 2011 was well below expectations and Prospectus has not updated their projections as of yet (as far as I know, anyway).

Yesterday, I saw some responses to the Fielder contract from Phillies fans that viewed the exorbitant price as a justification for the Howard contract. They were saying that the Howard contract looks less silly in comparison, but that isn’t the case. Spike Eskin put it best on Twitter yesterday:

If you buy an overpriced car, and someone else also buys an overpriced car, you still have an overpriced car.

The Fielder contract not only fails to justify the Howard contract, it makes it look even more silly. The Tigers bought a Mercedes-Benz for the sticker price; the Phillies bought a used Camry for a Mercedes-Benz sticker price.