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Durham’s End?

Lost amongst the CC Sabathia frenzy in Milwaukee last season was the under the radar acquisition of Ray Durham. While Durham in no way provided the same spark as Sabathia, he did produce for the BrewCrew and played a part in the team’s Wild Card run. In 41 games while donning the Brewers uniform, Durham hit .280/.369/.477, a .363 wOBA. Combined with his +2-run defense at second base, Durham produced exactly one win for Milwaukee in limited action. On the whole, he played +2.7 win baseball, production worth $12.5 mil on the open market.

It then comes as a surprise that not only has he failed to sign with any team this year, but his name has barely been mentioned. At 37 years old he might not be an everyday player but he still has value. I pegged him as one of the top non-Type A or B free agents available not too long ago but it seems as if Durham may actually more closely resemble something mentioned in an earlier post of Dave’s this offseason about players who were forcibly retired. If you recall, Kenny Lofton was the subject of that post, since he played +3.1 win baseball in 2007 yet couldn’t find a home last season.

Durham’s projections are a tad skewed in my eyes, primarily because they heavily count his 2007 campaign that, when stacked up against the rest of his career, was clearly a fluke among flukes. From 1998-2006, his lowest wOBA was .343, his lowest BABIP was .292, and his lowest OPS was .785. And keep in mind that these are the lows and by no means the averages, which are significantly higher. In 2007, his BABIP plummeted to .238, leading to an abysmal .282 wOBA and .638 OPS.

I would peg Durham as capable of posting a .340 wOBA in 450 PA, with league average defense. Factoring in the adjustments for replacement level and position, Durham would produce exactly +2 wins next season, the definition of league average. Even if that wOBA is a bit too high for your liking, if we make him a league average hitter, keeping everything else constant, he is still a +1.7 win player. The only way Durham’s production doesn’t fall within that general vicinity is if he completely forgets how to play defense, for whatever reason reverts to his fluky 2007, or simply does not accrue enough playing time.

Outside of potential fits for Durham, the issue of money looms large. He has already stated his lack of desire for a non-roster invite or a minor league deal. Durham has hinted at retirement if he cannot garner a respectable deal. I highly doubt he expects to earn the fair market value commanded by +1.5 to +2 win production, but he clearly wants more than say $1-2 mil.

What’s really interesting is that a healthy Orlando Hudson projects to around +2.6 wins next season, which is in no way substantially better than Durham. And, to top it off, since 2002, Durham has produced +19.1 wins to the +15.2 of Hudson. Teams that miss out on Hudson with a need for either a second base platoon or spark off the bench would serve themselves right by signing Durham to a one-year deal. Ray-Ray cannot possibly expect to receive a long-term commitment at this stage in his career, but as a one-year stopgap before a prospect joins the big show, or as a bench player and occasional starter, he does not cost anyone a draft pick, will not cost a ton of money, and still projects to produce between +1.5 and +2 wins.

Should his asking price lower, you better believe a plethora of suitors will line up, but the ball is firmly in Durham’s court. In the current economy, teams just are not willing to take risks assuming those risks involve $4-5 mil given to a 37-yr old part-time player. Ray Durham may join the Lofton ranks as a solid veteran who hung up his cleats due to very odd circumstances.