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Nov 17

Free Agent Fun with Comps: the Left Fielders

Melky Cabrera

This is part 6 of an ongoing series featuring a breakdown of the current free agent players at each position. Positions completed so far: catchers, first base, second base, shortstop, and third base.

As mentioned in my earlier posts, I’m assessing the current free agent players seeking their respective paydays by comparing each player with his historical comp. Then, after painstakingly looking over the numbers, I determine if I’d bet on the current free agent to perform better over the next few years or go with the comp.

It’s that simple.

All comparisons are pulled using the Similarity Score by age from Baseball-Reference and all free agents were borrowed from the listing at MLB Trade Rumors.

Today, I discuss the left fielders.

LEFT FIELDERS

Alfonso Soriano has already announced his retirement, mercifully bringing an end to the 8-year/136 million dollar contract he signed in 2007. Even at the time Soriano signed, I remember it being widely panned, but in retrospect, I wonder just how bad the deal was. When he signed that deal, he was a five-time All Star, four-time Silver Slugger recipient, and finished third for the 2002 AL MVP and sixth for the 2006 NL MVP. He was legitimately a great player, and great players get paid big bucks.

Post signing, he hit 30+ home runs three times, 20+ another four, and had just two seasons where his OPS+ was below 100. Even his reputation for high volume strikeouts looks downright charming compared to today’s players. Striking out 25% of the time doesn’t seem so abnormal now, does it?

Then again, if we look at the cost of a win in today’s game, that might give us a little better insight. Using Matt Swartz’s breakdown of dollars per WAR over the years, here’s how the deal played out:

Season $ / fWAR Soriano’s fWAR Soriano’s Salary + / – %
2007 5.6 6.6 10,000,000 +269.6
2008 6.2 3.8 14,000,000 +68.29
2009 6.4 -0.2 17,000,000 -107.53
2010 6 2.8 19,000,000 -11.53
2011 7.6 1.0 19,000,000 -60
2012 6.5 3.7 19,000,000 +26.58
2013 7.4 3.0 19,000,000 +16.84
2014 7.7 -1.1 19,000,000 -144.58
Overall 6.675 19.6 136,000,000 -3.8

Soriano Contract Value

I used a conservative 4% increase in win value for 2014 since Swartz’s article dated back to late March, but it works for this quick breakdown. In that ugly, convoluted way, the contract that came to define his career doesn’t look that bad.

Happy trails, Soriano. I’m going to miss you.

Also in the retirement category is Josh Willingham. Prior to the last two seasons where Willingham has dealt with damage to cartilage in his left knee and a wrist fracture that sidelined him through April into May, Willingham was a career .261/.362/.483 hitter with 167 home runs and an uncanny ability to get hit by pitches. His 89 HBP has him ranked 13th in the Majors at that time, but if you break that down by games played, he jumps up to 10th by getting beaned once in every 10.6 games. Why is that important? Getting on base is a skill, and Willingham had that skill.

Willingham was traded to the Royals in August, so he was part of one of the best postseasons I can recall in a long time. He also made this barista happy. If he changes his mind about retiring, he can still hit.

And get hit.

With that long introduction out of the way, I’m going to do something a little different for this group. There are 18 players listed as left fielders, three of whom have been covered elsewhere or recently retired, but that still leaves 15 that I could try to write nice/snarky things about while boring you to tears.

No thanks. I’m going to touch upon just a few, separating them into tiers, and discussing some of them as a group.

All players listed below are sorted by career bWAR

Current Player Age Closest Comp Favorite Comp Pick
Melky Cabrera 30 Mark Kotsay Gregg Jefferies Cabrera
Nelson Cruz 34 Gus Zernial Wally Post Cruz
Ryan Ludwick 36 Jim Lemon Casey Blake Lemon
Chris Denorfia 34 Brady Clark Deion Sanders Denorfia
Reed Johnson 38 Tom Paciorek Jay Payton Paciorek
Nyjer Morgan 34 Frenchy Bordagaray Bordagaray Bordagaray
Scott Hairston 35 Craig Paquette Paquette Paquette
Tony Gwynn, Jr 32 Ty Cline John Cangelosi Gwynn
Mike Morse 33 Geronimo Berroa Raul Ibanez Morse
Endy Chavez 37 Myril Hoag Dave Roberts Chavez
Jonny Gomes 34 Paul Sorrento Henry Rodriguez Gomes
Jason Kubel 33 Marty Cordova Jayson Werth Cordova
Delmon Young 29 Al Oliver Darin Erstad Oliver
Mike Carp 29 Scott Stahoviak Steve Bilko Stahoviak
Tyler Colvin 29 Laynce Nix Ricky Ledee Nix
Cole Gillespie 30

Left Fielders by Comps

POTENTIAL ALL STARS

Melky Cabrera and Nelson Cruz are about as close to a sure thing as you’re going to find in this group, and calling Cruz a left fielder is charitable. He’s primarily a DH, making a start in right or left when the need arises (or Showalter wants to throw the world a curve), and forcing him to spend too much time in the field isn’t something a team ever wants to do. That likely limits his options to the AL, but 40 home runs will bring suitors.

Both Cabrera and Cruz received the qualifying offer from their respective Eastern division team, and both rejected it. I doubt if it really matters. Both are good enough to warrant the forfeiture of a draft pick, and both will be paid well as they’ve reestablished their values with one or more seasons beyond PED shame.

1.  Melky Cabrera – The last time Cabrera played a full season was in 2011, and after missing nearly half of 2013 with a bothersome left knee, he saw his ’14 ended abruptly after fracturing his right pinky finger while on the bases. He was enjoying his finest season since 2012, proving to all that he could survive on talent alone.

He’s not exactly the defensive wizard that’s been circulating around the internet these days, but he’ll make heady plays and has a good arm (exhibits A, B, and C). His 13 assists were tied for second in the AL, behind only Yoenis Cespedes’ 16.

Once turning 30, Mark Kotsay fought a never ending battle with a balky lower back and lost his mojo. Melky wins this one.

2.  Nelson Cruz – The clip below sort of sums up Cruz’s season:

Just when you think Cruz is finished, he’s given about all he can, he returns with a vengeance to put a hurting on you. He hit 40 home runs last season, 13 in the month of May, and you wonder if he could have done more damage if he hadn’t basically punted the months of June through August by hitting .214/.283/.389 with 15 homers in 80 games. Talk about a seasonal dichotomy of two extremes.

He has power to all fields (the playoffs proved that) and will crush baseballs if given the opportunity. What else is there to say?

Gus Zernial reminds me of someone who make a cameo in the Brady Bunch. That was really Don Drysdale in that episode, but whatever. Zernial crushed baseballs at 34, then he stopped one year later. Cruz will not.

ONE-YEAR RENTALS

Everyone else. Technically, this is the truth. All of the remaining players are largely interchangeable, some offering the possibility as late inning defensive subs and others to be used strictly in platoons. Out of the remaining 17 players, there are only a few that could be considered starters under the right circumstances, though not a one of these gentlemen comes without questions.

A wise GM would present a one-year deal to Delmon Young, Chris Denorfia, or Nyjer Morgan and be terrified about offering anything more extensive.

Delmon Young3.  Delmon Young – Young entered the league in 2006 at the age of 20 and will be 29 in 2015. He’s been traded twice, signed to a series of one-year deals since ’13, and will probably exist year-to-year like this until retirement. The talent that made him the first pick in the 2003 amateur draft still shows itself with his bat. Last season, in a half season with Baltimore, he hit .302/.337/.442 with seven home runs, and his pinch hit double in Game 2 of the ALDS was key for helping the O’s come from behind against Detroit. He won’t ever be mistaken for a fielder, but he can DH and make an occasional pit stop in the long grass.

Al Oliver was a five-time All Star for three different teams once turning 29 and lived as a down ballot MVP candidate. There’s really no contest.

4.  Chris Denorfia – Denorfia won’t exactly wow you in any one category, but prior to 2014 he was a solid outfielder for San Diego who did a little bit of everything to help the team win. From 2010-13, Denorfia’s lowest season of OPS+ was 104 and he never once dropped below .335 for OBP. In the field, he could also make plays like this.

He struggled last year, and after the Pads traded him to Seattle, where he was asked to platoon, he struggled even more.

At 34, you wonder if this is a sign of a decline.

Brady Clark at 34 was through as a Major League starter and played 54 games total across two seasons with the Dodgers, Padres, and Mets. I’ll go with Denorfia.

5.  Nyjer Morgan – Nyjer Morgan doesn’t walk, isn’t particularly gifted at stealing bases, and hasn’t been a Major League starter since 2011. In this group, that makes him a legitimate buy low candidate. After spending 2012 largely floating around the various Milwaukee outfield spots and as a pinch hitter, he went to Japan to play for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars. He returned to play 15 games for Cleveland in ’14 before spraining his PCL and missing the remainder of the season. Maybe the player that made this leaping grab still exists. I wouldn’t bet more than a one-year deal to see if Beast Mode is legit.

Frenchy Bordagaray has an even cooler name than Nyjer and really could hit a little but couldn’t play defense all that well apparently. He made an appearance in the ’41 Series for the Yankees, winning a ring with DiMaggio and the boys.

By those standards, I’m going with Frenchy.

OLD & INJURED

All of the remaining groupings should be a subheading under one-year rentals, but I’ll break them apart, discussing a few of the players more than others.

6.  Ryan Ludwick – Last season Ludwick returned from a torn labrum to hit about at Ludwickian levels, .244/.308/.375, with nine home runs. The lefty swinging outfielder has moments of brilliance with the bat, notably in 2012 and his All Star campaign in 2008 with the Cardinals, but over the years he’s settled into the productive if unspectacular range of .240 to .250 with low double digit homers.

Asking Ludwick to give a full season of innings is asking too much, and at this stage in his career he’s probably good for 120 games. His defense isn’t all that great, so his value comes largely with the bat.

Jim Lemon was out of baseball after 35. Ludwick has one season, 2012, above replacement level since 2010. I’m going with Lemon.

BENCH / 4th OUTFIELDERS

This is the spot where everyone else in this group resides. I won’t spend a great amount of time discussing them. Some of the players, such as Jonny Gomes and Jason Kubel, are worth adding as platoon splits. Heck, sign both of them and you’d have the perfect pairing to handle both lefties and righties.

Endy Chavez once did this:

Yadier Molina then did this and brought eight years of famine to Flushing, but I still love you Endy for the moment.

Chavez isn’t the same player. I want him to hang around. I want him to be that guy. He can’t get after the ball like he used to, but he still does enough with the bat to be a spot starter and a reminder of those bittersweet days.

I also really like Scott Hairston, but wow does that 2012 season with the Mets look like a complete anomaly. As a fourth outfielder, pinch hitter with the Nationals last season, Hairston faired okay. This walk-off sac fly might have been the highlight of his ‘14, but that was an exciting game.

Running count of players appearing most in similarity lists:

Player Count Position
Mike Macfarlane 3 Catchers
Scott Servais 3 Catchers
Ben Oglivie 3 1B
Robby Thompson 2 2B
Johnny Berardino 2 SS
All unique 1 3B
Josh Willingham 3 LF
Jim Lemon 3 LF

Similar Players by Count

Next, I discuss the remaining outfielders.

Melky Cabrera and Delmon Young photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

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