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Maicer Izturis Finds New Place to be Perfectly Acceptable

Just last season, Maicer Izturis wrapped up a three-year, $10-million contract. On Thursday, Maicer Izturis signed a three-year, $9-million contract. There’s also a fourth-year option — worth $3 million — for one of the very newest Toronto Blue Jays. Maybe that isn’t enough of a hook. Maybe this will make for a better hook.

It’s the first multiyear contract that Anthopoulos has guaranteed to a free agent since becoming general manager in the fall of 2009. The biggest handout prior to Izturis occurred last offseason, when the Blue Jays signed lefty Darren Oliver to a one-year, $4.5 million deal.

Under Alex Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays’ biggest free-agent investments have been Darren Oliver and Maicer Izturis. Granted, free agency is not the only means by which one may construct a major-league roster. On the other hand, Darren Oliver and Maicer Izturis. This is one of those things that’s funny if you think about it for five seconds and a lot less funny if you think about it for five minutes.

Izturis is somewhat newly 32 years old, and he’s coming off a .287 wOBA. Last season he hit two home runs and slugged .315. What that screams is “unexciting,” and even if you’re more fair to Izturis, it all still kind of screams “unexciting”. And yet, we reflect on something Dave Cameron just wrote. The community pegged Izturis for a two-year contract worth $10 million. Cameron was rather fond of that as a good value. Instead of two and ten, Izturis got three and nine. That’s an even better value! By a not insignificant amount!

Because, of course, Izturis is more than Izturis’ 2012. There’s a whole rest of his track record, and that track record is decidedly more positive. In Toronto, his role is presently unclear, as the offseason’s only just beginning. Izturis could end up a utility infielder, again. Or he could end up the starter at second base ahead of Adeiny Hechavarria, who is young and in need of improvement. Maicer Izturis is capable of doing a lot of things, and as a starter, he should be able to hold his own.

It’s neat that Izturis is a switch-hitter, but he’s probably best known for his flexibility. Over his career he’s got more than 1500 innings as a shortstop, nearly 2000 innings as a second baseman, and more than 2000 innings as a third baseman. UZR figures he’s been just fine at all of them. The worst as a shortstop, naturally, and Izturis is presumably only getting older, but there’s every reason to believe Izturis can still field those three positions at least adequately. So there’s some defensive value, and some flexibility value. And then there’s the rest of the value.

Over his career, Izturis has added two wins with his baserunning. Just last season, he was successful on 17 of 19 stolen-base attempts. He’s always been above average at taking extra bases, in the way that Angels players were taught to do. And Izturis has a career 94 wRC+. Last season he was well below average, but the season before that, he was slightly above average. The season before that, he was below average, but the season before that, he was above average. Izturis hasn’t been an everyday player, meaning his playing-time samples have been smaller, meaning it’s not a surprise that his numbers have bounced around. To find his true talent, we can aim more or less in the middle.

Let’s try it this way, putting everything together. Since 2010, 351 position players have batted at least 600 times. In terms of WAR/600 PA, Izturis comes in at 2.3, basically dead even with guys like Colby Rasmus, Jeff Keppinger, and Michael Morse. While I know this is practically trolling, Derek Jeter‘s WAR/600 PA since 2010 is 2.4. Quibble all you want about the defensive inputs, but the general point is that Izturis has been just fine for a while, and he’s not so old that he should fall apart. There’s a pretty good chance he’s better than his 2012.

And there’s something else to consider. Angel Stadium is a pitcher-friendly ballpark. Izturis is not a power hitter, so one wouldn’t intuitively expect him to feel the park effects as much as someone else. Izturis’ numbers, like wRC+, are park-adjusted. But Izturis first played for the Angels in 2005, and batted nearly 2800 times. Here are his home and road splits:

Home: .276/.336/.363
Road: .277/.342/.404

On the road, over a similar number of plate appearances, Izturis hit 13 more doubles, three more triples, and 13 more homers. His road .127 ISO was 46 percent higher than his home .087 ISO. No version of Maicer Izturis is a power-hitting version of Maicer Izturis, but there’s evidence to suggest he and Angel Stadium weren’t besties, and so Toronto could make for a better home. Fly balls that used to die on or in front of the Anaheim track might now go for hits. At least a few of them.

In case you’re curious, since I was, Izturis seriously just isn’t a slugger. This is his only career opposite-field home run:

But he does have some pull power, from both sides, and so he could be in line for something of an offensive revival. Or he could get older and worse. Sometimes baseball will get you.

Izturis is a fine and unexciting player, and though he’s entering his mid-30s and though he’s a little dude, the Blue Jays are paying him to be worth less than one win for each of the next three years. Even last year, FanGraphs gave him an approximate value of $3.1 million. He’s going to be earning $3 million a season for three seasons. This isn’t a contract that’s going to win Toronto a pennant, but it’s easier to see it going well than it is to see it going poorly. A three-year, $9-million contract can go only so poorly. Maicer Izturis isn’t much of a big splash for Alex Anthopoulos, but it’s a pretty safe splash, which isn’t bad as free agency goes.