The Freddy Sanchez Extension – Eight Months Later

About eight months ago — April 1st — the Giants extended Freddy Sanchez through 2012 for $6MM. The timing of the move was a bit peculiar, but it ultimately seemed like a prudent deal. The 2B free agent market would be somewhat thin in the upcoming offseason, and the Giants were looking ahead to ensure that second base would not be a void for them entering 2012. Sanchez had proven to be a bit injury-prone (appearing in 111 games in each of 2009 and 2010), but when he was on the field, he was producing at a rate of roughly 2 WAR/600 PAs. 2012 would be his age 34-season, but it wasn’t much of a stretch at all to think he could be put up $6MM-worth of production.

2011 wasn’t exactly Freddy’s year, as he appeared in just 60 games before incurring a season-ending injury (that would eventually require surgery). Nevertheless, when he was playing, he was the player anybody would’ve reasonably expected him to be. He hit .289/.332/.397 (99 wRC+), almost perfectly in line with his career numbers, and he was okay with the glove as well (though his skills in the field do appear to be gradually fading).

In the context of this offseason, given how the market’s shaped up, how does the extension look? Not too good, really. His skills are eroding, quite obviously. He’s 34 years old, and the reasonable expectation is that he’ll see a decline in his numbers at the plate this season. In addition, his defense, as mentioned, is gradually getting worse. He’s probably good for only league-average defense at this point — or perhaps even worse. Taking into account his lack of durability, the deal doesn’t look so solid anymore.

Let’s examine how this extension compares to two of the middle-infield deals this offseason: Jamey Carroll (two years, $6.75MM) and Mark Ellis (two years, $8.75MM).

Carroll, entering his age-38 season, is obviously a bit older than Freddy, but he’s got an edge in terms of health. Despite his age, he’s not nearly as injury-prone as Freddy — in fact, only once in his career has he hit the 15-day DL, and he’s lost just three days to injuries over the past two seasons. In terms of defense, Carroll is quite possibly the better of the two; at the very least, he’s as good as Freddy with the glove. The Minnesota Twins, of course, think enough of Carroll’s range to make him their everyday shortstop in 2012. With the bat, Carroll has not been quite as good as Freddy over his career (90 wRC+ v. 96 wRC+), mainly due to an utter lack of power. Freddy himself doesn’t hit the ball with much authority, but he has four times as many career home runs as Carroll. Anyway, Carroll has — in recent seasons — caught up to Freddy in terms of hitting. He posted respective OBPs of .379 and .359 in 2010 and 2011, enabling him to be a slightly above-average force on offense.

Funny how this all works out: Bill James projects Sanchez and Carroll to have identical wOBAs in 2012: .307.

So Carroll’s better than Freddy Sanchez (though you could argue otherwise), and his contract is more friendly as well. He’s guaranteed $6.75MM (with a $2MM team option for 2014), and he’ll be in a Twins uniform for an extra year (at least). Think of it like this: the Twins are paying $750K more to get an extra year of Carroll. Their plans for Carroll (he’s their everyday shortstop, at age 38) are questionable, but the contract is quite good and in comparison, the Sanchez deal simply isn’t.

Mark Ellis’ deal isn’t quite as friendly as Carroll’s; in fact, Ellis is worse than Carroll, but he’ll make more money (guaranteed $8.75MM). Ellis is even less durable than Sanchez, having spent three separate stints on each of the 15-day DL and 60-day DL throughout his career, and the last time he accrued 500+ plate appearances in a season was 2008. He’s about a year older than Sanchez, but his defense is considerably better (I’d estimate a difference of five to ten runs). Additionally, he’s been the same quality hitter as Freddy over his career: .266/.331/.397 (95 wRC+). His offense has dropped off in recent years, and as such, Bill James projects him for a .299 wOBA. Pretty mediocre, but it’s not much worse than Sanchez’s projection — and the defense certainly makes up for it.

So the Dodgers are paying an extra $2.75MM guaranteed for an extra year of Ellis (who — when he’s healthy — is just as good as Sanchez). It’s a worse contract than the Sanchez extension, especially considering Ellis’ health (or lack thereof), but it’s really not all that much worse.

The middle infield market has been a little odd this offseason, with mediocre players getting decent cuts of money. Freddy most certainly would have gotten 2+ years on the open market, but instead the Giants pay him $6MM through 2012. It may not seem like much, but that’s a higher average annual value than Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll, Mark Ellis, Aaron Hill, et al. The Freddy deal just doesn’t hold up well to these other signings. Not a terrible extension, but it seems evident that the Giants are paying him more than he’s worth — even in light of how well guys are getting paid this offseason. What looked like a solid deal eight months ago is now just “meh.”

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.