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Free Agent Bargain: Joe Crede

So, this time, I swear, the free agent bargain is actually a free agent.

Much like with Juan Rivera, this potential bargain was a tremendous player in 2006 – he hit .283/.323/.506, good for a 0.71 WPA/LI in 586 plate appearances. The power overcame the low on base rate, and he was a somewhat above average hitter. Meanwhile, John Dewan’s +/- system had him at +31 plays at his position, a staggering total that profiled him as an elite defender. As a third baseman, the combination of above average bat and remarkably awesome glove made him one of the game’s under-appeciated stars.

I’m guessing that practically no one has figured out that I’m talking about Joe Crede, because he certainly didn’t get much publicity for his outstanding 2006 at the time. As defensive performances get more notoriety, however, we can look back at that season and recognize it as one of the best under-the-radar seasons in recent history.

However, in 2007, Crede’s balky balk finally went out, and he had to undergo season ending back surgery. Those back problems cut his 2008 season short as well, and over the last two years, he’s been limited to just 551 plate appearances while playing through pain. His reliability is a real question, and the White Sox are expected to go another direction in their quest for a full time third baseman.

Now, I’m not a doctor, so don’t take this as any kind of endorsement of his future health. For all I know, his back problems could be career ending. However, if they’re not, and the medical people can figure out how to keep him on the field, his 2008 performance should assure potential GMs that Crede can still play.

The power is still there – he had a .212 ISO, built on 36 extra base hits in just 335 at-bats. His contact rate was identical to his 2006 performance, so it doesn’t appear he had to adjust his swing to compensate for the pain. Contact and power are the building blocks of a good hitter, and Crede’s abilities in those areas didn’t seem to suffer when he was on the field.

Defensively, it’s pretty much the same story. He’s played just over 1,200 innings at third base the last two years, basically a full season’s worth of games, and +/- has him at +24 plays over that time. Even as a step down from his +31 in 2006, it’s a great rating. You could conservatively drop his true talent level to +15, accounting for more aging, and he’d still be among the very best hot corner defenders around.

In terms of on field skills, Crede projects as something close to a league average hitter with defense that’s worth +1.5 to +2.0 wins above an average third baseman. Over a full season, that would make Crede a +3.5 to +4 win player. If he was completely healthy, we’d expect him to get something like $15 million a year in a long term deal.

But he’s not healthy, and so he’s not going to get anything close to that. It’d be shocking if he got anything beyond a one year offer with a team option for 2010. But if he can stay on the field, even for 100-120 games a year, he’s got the abilities to play at an all-star level. Right now, he’s Milton Bradley with less attitude problems, and there are probably quite a few teams who wish they would have taken a chance on Bradley last winter.

It all depends on his health, because there shouldn’t be too many questions about Joe Crede‘s abilities to help a winning team when he’s on the field.