Mark Teahen’s Curious Deal

Since a promising 2006 season, Mark Teahen‘s career has been on a downhill slide. Perhaps this off season will mark a turning point for him professionally. Traded away from Kansas City to the White Sox right after the conclusion of the World Series, Teahen today signed a lucrative three year contract with Chicago.

Teahen was entering his fifth year of club control, meaning 2010 and 2011 would have been arbitration years, and 2012 his first year of free agency. Using the standard 40%/60%/80% of free market value for arbitration estimates, the White Sox would be expected to dole out 2.4 years worth of Mark Teahen‘s expected value in this contract.

The next step then would be to formulate a projection for Mark Teahen. He clearly has the talent to be an above average player, his 2006 and 2007 seasons speak to that. Since then Teahen’s bat has stagnated and his fielding numbers have taken a turn for the worse. Seasons of 0.1 and 0.2 WAR ensued. Teahen’s walk rate fell to its lowest mark of his career in 2009, at least partly as a result of a three-point increase in his swinging percentage. Most projections are going to regress the walks back up slightly, and in turn, an overall average package of hitting stats seems where most projections are clocking in.

Projecting defense is a bit tougher, but when you factor in position adjustments, Teahen was average for two years followed by two years of -12 runs, so even giving him some credit for re-adjusting to third base (if that is indeed where he ends up) and some credit for regression yields no better than an overall -5 run or so projection. Add it all up and 1 to 1.5 WAR is where I’d feel comfortable tabbing Teahen. Fair value then for the next three seasons would be about $13 million, a touch under the actual value of this contract (reported for $14.4 million).

However, the above paragraph assumes some free market principles not in play here, mainly because of the backwardness of how arbitration salaries are usually awarded. Teahen made $3.575 million last season and players rarely get paycuts going to arbitration so even though fair market for Teahen next year would be about $2.5 million, there is no chance that is what he actually would have made. By dint of how the process works, Teahen was essentially guaranteed about $9 million over the next two years regardless, and that’s if he didn’t bounce back this upcoming season. If the White Sox factored the likely arbitration awards into their cost estimates, then the price they just paid for that 2012 season comes down into a very reasonable range.

All in all, this deal makes sense for Teahen, who gets financial security after laying two goose egg seasons. It also makes some sense for the White Sox. Their risk is not really in overpaying, but rather guaranteeing money to a player who they had under control anyways and who they might not want to have around two years from now. The reward is if Teahen returns either his prior hitting or fielding skills, then the White Sox have a cheap asset on their hands.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.