Gabe Gross was non-tendered by the Rays this weekend. It’s old hat to write this, but it is a testament to Tampa Bay’s depth that non-tendering a player of Gross’s quality is the correct move for the organization. With Matt Joyce ready to go at least as a platoon partner for the re-signed Gabe Kapler, and Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez perhaps also in line for time in the outfield, there was no point for a team on Tampa Bay’s budget to go to arbitration with yet another outfielder. Gross still has his uses, however.
Gross had a miserable 2009 at the plate, posting a .306 wOBA after two consecutive years of above-average .332. But we shouldn’t get hung up on one season of data. For 2010, CHONE projects Gross as a .243/.342/.393 hitter, exactly average in context-neutral linear weights. ZiPS is very close, projecting Gross for .237/.330/.397, which I translate to two runs below average per 150 games. My own projection for Gross is slightly more optimistic at .246/.346/.409, or +3/150. Taken together, Gross projects as a roughly league-average hitter in 2010.
Being a league-average hitter usually doesn’t bode well for a corner outfielder, but Gross’s calling card isn’t his bat, it’s his glove. Gross has an extremely impressive career +17.6 UZR/150 in right field. Projecting fielding, especially in the outfield, calls for a great deal of regression. Even so, Jeff Zimmerman’s regressed and age-adjusted UZR/150 projection for Gross in RF is +9. CHONE’s Totalzone projection for Gross in the outfield is +4. The 2009 Fans Scouting Report is also positive about Gross’s defense, having him at +6 runs on my translation. Averaging CHONE and Zimmerman’s projections, let’s put Gross at +7 as a fielder.
After adjusting for position, Gross projects as a 2 WAR (roughly league average) player over 150 games. While we should also take into account that his offensive projections are a bit skewed by Gross having been platooned the last few years, keep in mind that (1) splits regress, and (2) Gross’s decreased offensive output if he did have to face lefties would also be offset because (especially taking his glove into account) he wouldn’t necessarily be below replacement level in those situations. Whether he’s platooned or not, then, 1.5-2 WAR seems like a fair and modest projection for Gross. Despite his 2009, it’s hardly out of line with the past, given that Gross put up 2.4 WAR in only 399 PA in 2008 and 2.0 WAR in 252 PA in 2006.
As noted above, the Rays made the right call in non-tendering Gabe Gross. Still, 1.5-2 WAR outfielders don’t grow on trees. It may seem like they do, given the non-tendering of Gross, Kelly Johnson, Ryan Church, Ryan Langerhans (sigh), and others. All of these players could be useful in a stopgap or platoon role on the right team. Gabe Gross should and will latch on somewhere. In the words of resident Rays’ fan R. J., “Hopefully he finds a nice owner with a big yard and a short porch in right.”