Arbitration Eligible: Andres Torres

There’s no doubt that Andres Torres‘ 2011 was disappointing. It’s something I’ve reviewed in detail, and I seem to have become somewhat of a Torres apologist. In essence, he fits the mold for the prototypical underrated player: stellar defense, an above-average walk rate, elite baserunning skills, and up-the-middle positional value. Torres enters his second year of arbitration this offseason, and the Giants, faced with their set payroll restrictions, will have to decide whether he’s worth retaining. Though he’s 33, and posted an underwhelming slash line of .221/.312/.330, I believe (quite adamantly) that the Giants should tender him a contract — or find some other way to bring him back for next season.

First and foremost, Torres will not be expensive. He made $2.2MM last offseason, and because of the substantial dropoff in performance, he’s not exactly due for much of a raise. MLB Trade Rumors projects him for a bump of ~$300K in salary, which sounds about right. Considering that he’s been worth an estimated ~$35MM+ over the past two seasons, that’s not such a steep price to pay, eh?

I’m sure the Giants would be hesitant to place Torres in a regular role at the beginning of next season, and that’s perfectly understandable. But as a bench player, Torres has a lot of value. In fact, at worst, he represents the ideal fourth outfielder. He can play every outfield position — and quite well. He’s got plus speed on the basepaths, and — though he does make his fair share of ridiculous baserunning gaffes — he’s a skilled baserunner (particularly when it comes to advancing on batted balls). Lastly, he’s a switch-hitting bat off the bench; he was quite mediocre at the plate this year, but he has hit .252/.332/.436 over the last three seasons as a whole.

In my mind, it’s a no-brainer. Though he looks like a non-tender candidate, the Giants would be foolish not to bring him back next year.

Arbitration Eligible: Jeff Keppinger

Yesterday, I looked at Mike Fontenot, who’s entering his third year of arbitration eligibility this offseason. Now we’ll examine Jeff Keppinger – one of a few Giants infielders up for arbitration this year. Like Fontenot, Keppinger is up for his third year of arbitration eligibility (though this is also Keppinger’s final year; Fontenot, on the other hand, is a Super Two). Oddly enough, the two have been similarly productive at the plate over their careers (both share a 92 OPS+).

In any event, Keppinger was acquired midseason in exchange for Henry Sosa and Jason Stoffel, and while the Giants didn’t give up a whole lot in the trade, the move didn’t exactly pan out. Keppinger, who lacks both patience and power at the plate, hit .255/.285/.333 in 230 plate appearances with the Giants (56 games), and .277/.300/.377 on the season as a whole. His hitting was quite underwhelming, and his defense was just as bad. He showed an incredible lack of range at second base in those 56 games, and actually managed a major-league worst -12 defensive runs saved in 791 innings in 2011.

Keppinger made $1.15MM a couple offseasons ago, and that amount doubled in his second go-around of arb-eligiblity. He’s set to again earn a pay increase — he’ll probably make nearly $3MM — which makes him a legitimate non-tender candidate; Brian Sabean has even referred to Keppinger as “maybe a luxury item.” Given that he’s not much of a hitter — the prototypical empty batting average guy — and that he’s not versatile defensively (even his defense at second base leaves a lot to be desired), the Giants are probably best off non-tendering him. Or there’s another option…

Middle infielders are getting paid this offseason — guys like Mark Ellis, John McDonald, Aaron Hill, etc. are signing for good money. As Josh has speculated, the way the market’s shaping up, the Giants might be able to trade Keppinger for a decent return. As a high-contact hitter — career 6.2% K rate — it’s easy to see how he could generate some interest on the trade market.

Anyway, Keppinger’s not really a good fit for the 2012 San Francisco Giants (even as Freddy Sanchez insurance), and whether it’s via trade or non-tender, the organization should part ways with him.

Arbitration Eligible: Mike Fontenot

After hitting .227/.304/.377 in 252 plate appearances (85 games) this season, Mike Fontenot enters his third year of arbitration eligibility. Though the numbers — particularly the low batting average — don’t exactly jump off the page, he was quietly a solid producer at the plate. His walk rate (9.9%) was a notch above league average, and though he’s not much of a power hitter, he hit the ball with astonishing authority (44% of his hits going for extra bases). Despite missing 40+ games due to a groin strain and otherwise receiving limited playing time, Fontenot was good for roughly one win above replacement (by both rWAR and fWAR).

Oddly enough, Fontenot — primarily a second baseman — spent the majority of his time at shortstop this season. He’s nothing special defensively — whether at second, short, or third, but he did demonstrate that he’s serviceable at both middle-infield positions (and even third base in a grind). Going by FRAA, he’s mostly been an average defender over his career, and it’s reasonable to expect him to more-or-less provide that quality of fielding in the near future (though he’s clearly not an ideal defensive shortstop).

Fontenot signed a one-year $1MM deal in his first year of arbitration-eligibility, and signed for a nearly identical amount last season (one year, $1.05MM). This offseason, he projects to earn a slight increase, though he’ll still — in all likelihood — go for under $2MM. Beyond Brandon Crawford (not yet arb-eligible) and Freddy Sanchez (under contract for 2012), the Giants have little infield depth. As a left-handed hitter, Fontenot complements Sanchez (career .707 OPS v. RHPs) well, and his versatility makes him a useful bench guy.

Though the Giants are probably thinking about non-tendering him, it’s in their best interest to retain him — especially considering the cheap price tag. He’s hit .263/.332/.406 (92 wRC+) over his career, and that kind of production (particularly from a left-handed middle infielder like Fontenot) is inherently valuable.