Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ray Durham Was a Good Idea--How about We Make a Serious Offer?

Unless you're the Phillies, second base is a pretty weak spot in just about every line-up in the NL. When Felipe Lopez gets handed a starting job and $3.5 million with a winning team that should tell you something.

The Nationals are no different. In fact, there's a pretty good chance that we're going to struggle to get replacement level production out of the position.

Ron Belliard gave us a really nice little season at the plate in 2008. His .372 OBP and .473 SLG made 2008 the very best year of his career in fact, an unlikely development that people forgot in all the woe-is-me obsessing about the injuries and the rest. But the odds of that repeating itself are pretty slim, and at this point Belliard is a just plain terrible defender. BP's Rate2 had Belliard allowing 15 runs per 150 games worse than average as a second baseman, and Ultimate Zone Rating had him at a whopping 27 runs below average.

If you assume, as most of the projection systems do, that Belliard will in 2008 produce something pretty similar to his career averages of .340 OBP and .416 SLG, and if you further assume that the truth of his defense is halfway between Rate2 and UZR, and he's a -21 fielding runs above average defender, that adds up to pretty much exactly replacement level overall performance.

As for Anderson Hernandez, I know some people are getting all excited about his .333 2008 batting average and his hot winter league performance with the Licey Tigers, but I'm a skeptic to say the least. If he's above the Mendoza line after 150 ABs, I wouldn't complain too much. At least he can catch the ball.

Which brings us to rumors this week that the Nationals offered a deal to Ray Durham. Even at his advanced age, he would almost surely have been an upgrade, and for a one-year deal that wouldn't have cost a draft pick, I would have been happy to see him here.

Most metrics have Durham as a touch below average as a defender, but nothing crippling like Belliard. Offensively, he bounced back nicely last year from a freakishly bad 2007 season, when a lot of people understandably wrote him off as over the hill. But even in that '07 year, the stats that most correlate with batter skill were ok. His walk rate of 10.3% was right on his career average, and his ISO power (SLG minus BA) was down a touch to .125 from .158 career but nothing to explain a hideous .218 / .295 / .343 line. For that, you have to look at his .238 BABIP.

In 2008 his ISO power climbed back to .143 and his walk rate improved to a career-best 12.5% while his BABIP overcorrected to .348. (Adding 110 points of BABIP will cure what ails ya every time.) All that added up to a .380 OBP / .432 SLG line that made him probably the fourth most valuable 2B in the NL, after Chase Utley, Mark DeRosa, and Dan Uggla and ahead of Orlando Hudson.

I wouldn't count on him to repeat that performance, but he'd be an upgrade, and if he played well he could have become trade bait at the deadline or maybe even a draft pick if he signed with another team in 2010.

The reason we didn't get Durham is because we low-balled him with a laughable minor-league contract. Look, I understand the market is down, but if you're going to go after a proud vet like Durham coming off a very good year, don't do that. He's a pro, and if you want to lure him out of retirement to play for a miserable team, you're going to have to offer him at least fair market value.

If Jim's still thinking about this one, I would encourage him to go back to Stan and Mark and argue for a real offer of at least a what FLop got.


Nate said...

Ronnie Belliard was a proud vet, coming off being the starting second baseman for the Series-winning Cardinals, when he took a minor league deal worth $750K. I'd say that's worked out pretty well for both sides. The idea of giving Ray Durham $3.5M guaranteed, when by all reports the Nats were the first team to even offer him a contract, is just nuts.

You wanna offer Bobby Abreu $15M too? I'm sure he's chock full of veteran pride.

An Briosca Mor said...

Okay, if they give Durham a major league deal, who do they remove from the 40-man roster to make room for him? We're not talking Orlando Hudson here, where you're expecting several years of solid production in exchange for whoever you lop off the 40-man. We're talking having to move someone else in order to make room for a guy who might not be good enough to make the team this year. That's why you offer him a minor league deal. Let him prove that he's worth having on the team at the expense of some other asset. Don't just hand him a pile of money and hope for the best.

Steven said...

The point is that the guy seems happy to retire. To lure him out of retirement will take a meaningful offer.

I like Ronnie, but he's never been half the player Ray Durham was and is. That's just not a very favorable comp.

I'm a little puzzled about how fans are viewing what's a fair or smart deal in the current marketplace. Last year, we would have been delighted to sign a player of this caliber for 3.5 mil. I realize the market is down, but doesn't that mean we should just buy low? Why do we have to be on the lowest edge of a bear market?

Steven said...

I would drop AHern in a heartbeat.

Hendo said...

I would far rather take a chance this season on AH 360 extending the success he enjoyed in the DR than on the Nats being able to trade Ray Durham into a soft market before the deadline.

That draft pick is a pipe dream. Didn't the man say he's as much as ready to retire?

Steven said...

@Hendo--It's not an unreasonable position to want to go with AHern. I'm usually the one wanting to give the young 'uns a shot. I just don't believe in him. Not a philosophical diff, just a different eval.

I don't know why a mid-season trade or type B FA is so unliekly to you. He was traded at the deadline last year and really delivered for Milw. Obviously if he hits the wall this year, that'll make it all moot.

But he just missed type B this year, and with a good year, he should make it.

As for his retirement, I get the sense that he's negotiating. He's looking to drive up his price by making teams spend to lure him out of retirement. If he really was done, he'd just quit.

Will said...

Steven, let's say we sign Durham and he then qualifies as a Type B player. We only get that compensation pick if we offer Durham arbitration at the end of the season, and then he turns it down.
The Nats track record in arbitration hearings is not the greatest, so likely what would happen through this scenario is we'd essentially be stuck with Durham to a 2 year/7+ million deal ('09-'10) and no draft pick. The compensation pick route isn't very sensible. However, I can't argue with trying to trade him at the deadline.