Juan Rivera Hits Paydirt, But Why?

The news out of Los Angeles is that the Dodgers have inked outfielder/first baseman Juan Rivera to a one-year guaranteed deal worth $4.5 million, with a club option for 2013. This deal is puzzling for several reasons — among them Rivera’s age, his offensive production over the last two seasons, his mediocre defense and the ramifications for other potential Dodger moves.

Los Angeles got Rivera in a July trade from Toronto after the Blue Jays designated him for assignment. Rivera landed north of the border in January via the trade that sent Vernon Wells to the Los Angeles Angels. But Rivera didn’t produce for the Blue Jays, posting a slash of .243/.305/.360 with 11 doubles and six home runs in 70 games.  By mid-July, Rivera was back in Southern California where he’d played since 2005.

Rivera picked it up a notch for the Dodgers, batting .274/.333/.406 with 12 doubles and five home runs in 62 games. His offense was a significant upgrade over Marcus Thames, whom Rivera replaced, and over Tony Gwynn, Jr., the Dodgers’ Opening Day left fielder.

Still, Rivera’s 2011 efforts at the plate continued a decline that had begun in 2010. His best seasons offensively were in 2006 and 2009 — both with the Angels — and separated by leg surgery that forced him to miss most of 2007. In 2006, his age-29 season, he posted a wOBA of .373 with an wRC+ of 125. In 2009, he had a wOBA of .348 and a wRC+ of 110.  But by 2010, Rivera’s wOBA had dropped to .314 with a wRC+ of 94. His final line in 2011 had his wOBA at .308 and his wRC+ at 96.

Even in those productive years offensively, Rivera’s WAR hovered below 3 as a result of spotty defense in the outfield. After more than 3,700 innings in left field in his career, Rivera’s Defensive Runs Saved is only 28 — and 23 of those runs saved came in 2009. Since 2008, his Revised Zone Rating for left field has fluctuated between .800 and .900. By contrast, Tony Gwynn, Jr.’s RZR over 600-plus innings in left field last season was .935, with 3 DRS.

Rivera also played about 300 innings at first base this season, the first time in his career that he logged any significant time at that position. Looking at RZR, his first-base defense was slightly worse than in left field but about the same as James Loney‘s, the Dodgers’ regular first baseman.

Defensively over the past several years, Rivera’s closest comps in left field are Ryan Ludwick and Josh Willingham. Ludwick had a very disappointing 2011, first with the Padres and then with the Pirates after a mid-summer trade. Willingham had a very good 2011 at the plate, posting a wOBA of .339 and a wRC+ of 123.  Ludwick and Rivera are the same age and appear to be on the decline. Willingham is 18 months younger and still appears to be in his prime.

As Eno Sarris noted in his analysis of the free-agent market for corner outfielders, Rivera is not among the elite free agents. But he’s still in a group of serviceable outfielders who have holes in their offense, defense or both. The Dodgers got to know Rivera and the team apparently liked what it saw, so re-signing him to a one-year deal makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is locking Rivera up so early at $4 million. Rivera’s last contract was for $12.5 million over three years — for an annual average of just more than $4 million. But Rivera was three years younger when he entered that contract and hadn’t begun to show the offensive significant drop-off that came in 2010 and 2011. With a bunch of second-tier corner outfielders available this off-season, it might have made more sense for the Dodgers to see how this free-agent market developed.

More importantly, perhaps, is what the Rivera deal portends for the rest of the Dodgers’ moves — including the possible pursuit of Prince Fielder. It was thought that if the Dodgers added Fielder, Los Angeles would shift James Loney — who is in the final year of salary arbitration — to left field. Locking up Rivera so early limits the Dodgers’ flexibility to pursue these other options, as it seems unlikely the team would pay Rivera $4 million to either platoon with Loney or to come off the bench.

It’s a good day for Juan Rivera and a questionable day for the Dodgers.




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Wendy's baseball writing has also been published by Sports on Earth. ESPN.com, SB Nation, The Score, Bay Area Sports Guy, The Classical and San Francisco Magazine. Wendy practiced law for 18 years before beginning her writing career. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


28 Responses to “Juan Rivera Hits Paydirt, But Why?”

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  1. Joe says:

    If this prevents them from getting Fielder, then this deal has over 50M of surplus value (the portion of his contract that Fielder won’t live up to)

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  2. D4P says:

    “Juan Rivera Hits Paydirt, But Why?”

    Ned Colletti is incompetent.

    +28 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Yirmiyahu says:

      Whenever a player is overpaid, we criticize the GM. That’s a glass half-empty approach. Rather than criticize the loser, I prefer to congratulate the winner.

      So congratulations to Juan Rivera and his agent, Diego Bentz of SFX Baseball.

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      • filihok says:

        I prefer to be optimistic as well.

        Colletti didn’t sign Rivera for 2 years (or 3 or 5), only 1. Minimize the damage.

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      • delv says:

        Not only is it a “glass-half empty” approach, but it demonstrates a tendency to associate psychologically with the (richer) owner, which is kinda gross.

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      • bonestock94 says:

        It’s not some “capitalist pig” thing though, it’s because making financially sound decisions is always in your team’s best interest. Wanting the Dodgers to win = hating deals that overpay players.

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      • delv says:

        if that were really it, then D4P would have to be a Dodgers fan. maybe he is, but that’s clearly not requisite to his kind of comment.

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      • bonestock94 says:

        Not necessarily, while I’m a Yankee fan I rarely root for other teams to overpay for talent unless it’s a bitter rival. I’d like to see the Dodgers not suck just because it’s a storied franchise.

        Also, I think we’re conditioned into thinking from a GM view since so much of the enjoyment of baseball comes from being a wannabe GM. Whether it be fantasy baseball, hypothetical trades during the hot stove season, etc.

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    • williams .482 says:

      But…But… he wears snake-skin boots, like a real man!

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  3. Rob says:

    “Juan Rivera Hits Paydirt, But Why?”
    Because Ned fucking Colletti that’s why

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  4. Yirmiyahu says:

    During his time with the Dodgers, Rivera accrued 0.8 WAR in just 246 PA’s. Over a full season, that projects to 2.0 WAR. Which would certainly be worth $4.5 million.

    (Note: Juan Rivera will not play for a full season, or at a 2.0 WAR pace, in 2012.)

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  5. Telo says:

    Sometimes GM’s are not not not smart.

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  6. Sam says:

    This merely continues Colletti’s trend of favoring veterans over his farm system, thinking short-term rather than long-term and generally mis-managing what is a pretty sizable payroll budget.

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  7. Xeifrank says:

    $4.5M/1year might be an overpay but not a very big one. The Dodgers are up for sale and going through an ownership change in the very near future. I doubt they are going after Fielder, Pujols or any of the other big free agents this offseason. What Rivera provides is depth in the outfield and at first base. It gives Jerry Sands or some of the other Dodgers “near ready” outfielders time to blossom. This is better than Colletti panicking and signing Juane Pierre for 5 years. At one year and at only a slight overpay 1-2Mil? this is hardly a big deal imho.

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  8. Joey B says:

    Interesting that Toronto, a pretty smart team by most accounts, DFA’d him. That no one offered anything for him. That LAA insisted TO take him in exchange for Wells, but that the LAD thought he was worth > $4M.

    On the bright side, at least you didn’t have to give up Carlos Santana.

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  9. sporkless says:

    The Dodgers certainly did not get a home team discount, nor a beginning-of-offseason discount.

    This contract would make more sense if it had come near the end of the offseason and they still had a whole to fill.

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  10. Kevin S. says:

    You forgot the option where the Dodgers DFA Loney because he effing sucks.

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  11. Roger Goodell says:

    Why do the Dodgers hate Jerry Sands?

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  12. Drew says:

    Willingham had a .350 wOBA.

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  13. TheGrandslamwich says:

    Meh. They probably overpaid but on a 1 year deal it shoulnd’t cause them too much harm. They had a hole to fill and I’m sure the ownership insecurity made them eager to fill it.

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  14. Kampfer says:

    There is nothing wrong to sign Rivera at 4mil and only for a year. Unless you have a LF prospect whose name is Jerry Sands and simultaneously having a LF called Tony Gwynn Jr. who produces as much as Rivera but costs less.

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  15. Charlotte says:

    You suffer, but why?

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  16. Slats says:

    Ned Colletti – screwing the Dodgers since 2006.

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  17. DodgersKings323 says:

    The real guy that needs to be run out of town

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  18. The Dude Abides says:

    It’s a ridiculous deal by major league baseball standards, but not by Ned Colletti standards. Ned’s ridiculous deal, which should be the standard for all of baseball, was signing Jason Schmidt to a 3 yr/$47m contract AFTER his MRI showed a partially torn rotator cuff and his average fastball velocity had dropped by about 5 MPH month-to-month at the end of the previous season. Nothing can top that – not 5/$45m to Juan Pierre, not 2/$36m to Andruw Jones, not 3/$21m to Uribe, not even trading Carlos Santana for two months of Casey Blake. Colletti is a buffoon, and has arguably done just as much damage to the performance of the big club as McCourt has.

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