McLouth Signs Away Arbitration

Nate McLouth became the latest player to join the trend of signing a contract that buys out his arbitration years. Entering his fourth year of service, McLouth today inked a deal that guaranteed three years (all of his remaining arbitration years) and $14.5 million. There’s also a team option on his first free agent year at what works out to be $10.65 million with $1.25 million of that assured to McLouth via a buyout.

McLouth has spent the majority of his career thus far in center field, and not done too well there according to UZR, looking like his ability falls in the -10 to -15 runs per 150 games range. He was -40 plays according to John Dewan’s Plus/Minus last year as well. On the other hand, he won a Gold Glove last season and we all know how those are only given to the very best fielders in the game. I will assume for now that McLouth is going to stay in center field as the Pirates do not seem to have anyone to press him out of this role. Splitting the difference on his fielding rating and adding in the +2.5 positional adjustment for center field leaves us with an even -10.

On the hitting side, McLouth maintained the gains he made in a half year during 2007 and even improved on them slightly over the course of a full slate of 2008 plate appearances. Marcel still sees some significant regression with McLouth’s dismal 2006 on record, but CHONE thinks McLouth will hold on to being a .360-70 wOBA hitter. We also have to project a reduction in at bats going forward to account for injury possiblities. Lumping all those together and we get a figure of about 10-15 runs above average for McLouth’s bat. I think that’s a bit low myself given that the projection systems are seeing McLouth’s part-time work in 2007 as a reason to keep his expected at bats in 2009 a lot lower than seems prudent.

Throwing in the 20 runs for replacement and McLouth’s total value for 2009 looks to be in the 2 to 2.5 win range, worth $8-11 million on the open market per season. However, McLouth is still tied to arbitration, so his expected compensation is diminished by the 40/60/80 estimation to 1.8 years of open market seasons for the three years. With the 10% reduction in total value you expect players to take off for the security of a long term deal, McLouth warrants around $15.6 million for his arbitration years according to Marcel and CHONE. Including the option buyout, McLouth is guaranteed %15.75 million.

To me, there’s good reason to expect McLouth to outperform his projections next year simply by dint of staying healthy and getting 500+ at bats. Because of that, I think the Pirates did well here, though McLouth isn’t getting fleeced either. However, I wonder how much money he leaves on the table were he to have a 2009 similar to that of his 2008?

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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.

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