As has been written before, Royals outfielder David DeJesus is the sort of player who tends to fly under the radar because he does no one thing exceptionally well, but he does a number of things at an average or above-average level. He’s been about a 3 WAR player most of his career, and has accumulated almost that much value already in 2010. DeJesus probably isn’t an average center fielder any more, but runs saved in left or right field count, too. Despite having only average-ish power and being a terrible basestealer, DeJesus has a .344 career wOBA (.290/.361/.429). At 30, DeJesus is having a career year in 2010 offensively, with a .379 wOBA (.329/.397/.466). That probably is not his true talent level, but ZiPS’ rest-of-season projection is bullish nonetheless: .299/.369/.444 (.358 wOBA). One good test to see if a sports journalist has a clue is whether he or she says “David DeJesus is a fourth outfielder on a good team.” By my calculations, those people think that a fourth outfielder is someone whose true talent level over a full season is (conservatively, based on current projections) about 3 WAR. Draw your own conclusions.
Given DeJesus’ subtle combination of skills, it is ironic that the poorly-constructed-but-“official” Elias Rankings might somehow catch on to his value. According to the latest “reverse engineered” Elias Rankings at MLB Trade Rumors, if free agency started today, DeJesus would be Type A, meaning that if the Royals were to offer him arbitration and he turned it down then signed with another team, the Royals would get the signing team’s first round pick in the 2011 draft as well as supplemental pick.
This is particularly interesting because DeJesus is one of the Royals’ best trading chips due both to his value on the field and his team-friendly contract: $4.6 million for all of 2010 with a $6 milllion club option for 2011 (with a $500,000 buyout). Assuming DeJesus is only owed about two million dollars over the rest of the season and (using the conservative 3 WAR full season estimate) is projected to be worth about 1.5 wins at four million dollars per win, that’s four million dollars of surplus value this season. Assuming the team is smart and picks up the option, a half-win decline to 2.5 WAR for 2011 and inflation to about $4.5 million per win, that’s another five million dollars of surplus. Nine million dollars surplus could fetch something like good (if non-elite) prospect and perhaps some filler, and again, that’s based on a conservative estimate of DeJesus’ value.
But if DeJesus ends up a Type A free agent, that potentially adds an interesting wrinkle. In a Kansas City Star article from last month discussing DeJesus, several possible courses of action are mentioned, including trading DeJesus, picking up the 2011 option and keeping him, picking up the 2011 option and trading him in the offseason, and declining the option and then offering him arbitration in hopes he would turn it down and sign with another team, thus netting the Royals draft compensation. This last possibility is what interests me here.
It is an intriging suggestion, but ultimately, it is something the Royals should not do for two reasons. First of all, Victor Wang’s research on Type A compensation (summarized here) values average Type A compensation at about six million dollars. Assuming the Royals could make a fair trade (there is little point in analyzing possible screw-jobs) now at the conservatively-projected above surplus of nine million, the draft pick compensation wouldn’t hold up. Indeed, it is not clear that the draft pick compensation would even be more valuable than picking up DeJesus’ option and trading him in the offseason.
The second reason the arbitration-offer route is a bad idea is that DeJesus would be very likely to accept it. DeJesus is a good player that could help a lot of teams, but he isn’t a top-level talent like Matt Holliday was or Carl Crawford will be. He’s more like Orlando Hudson — a good player, but not good enough that teams are willing to overlook the draft pick they would have to give up to sign him. In each of the last two offseasons, Hudson ended up signing deals below his market value because teams were conscious of giving up the draft pick. DeJesus and his agent have no doubt noticed this, and realize they are likely to get a larger award in arbitration than free agency. If the Royals offer arbitration and DeJesus accepts, they not only don’t get the draft picks, but they would end up paying more in the arbitration award than they would have if they had picked up the option. Moreover, this would further reduce the surplus value (and thus potential return) DeJesus would have on the 2011 trade market.
DeJesus’ Type A status may bring send images of draft picks floating through the heads of Royals fans and officials. But given the likely outcome of that decision combined with the team’s current state, Kansas City should be looking to trade DeJesus now, as his value will never be higher.