- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

Offseason Overpay Candidates

With the offseason quickly approaching, today I’d like to take a glance at a few guys that I feel are prime candidates to be overpaid in free agency this winter.

To clarify, I don’t necessarily mean they can’t/won’t perform to the $5 million per win above replacement level. They may well do that. However, I’d like to present these players with all things considered, such as relative price of an available alternative, platoon splits, compensation, or anything else to that effect.

With this said, here are a few of my offseason overpay candidates.

Wilson Betemit – Detroit Tigers 3B

The pickings are slim at third base, where Mr. Betemit has played exclusively since coming over from the Royals earlier this summer. To contextualize a little bit, there are only six third-sackers league-wide with a WAR over 3.0 — in other words, even fewer than the similarly-shorthanded second base and shortstop spots. As a result, even marginal talents like Betemit appear likely to reel in a more lucrative contract than usual in this third base housing market.

To be sure, the idea isn’t to bag on Betemit. A .288/.347/.416 triple-slash this season is certainly nothing to scoff at, and he does provide some versatility, having stood near six different positions over his career which has spanned parts of nine seasons. So what’s the rub on Betemit? Well, the big detractor for him going forward is that he’s completely outperformed a reasonable BABIP the last two seasons, with a .361 mark last year and a .396 to date in 2011. Absent any spike in line-drive rates, and still below his career ground-ball rate, Betemit appears ready to plummet back to earth any day now, and that’s even before considering that he’s whiffing well above his career rate of once every four plate appearances. He and his agent aren’t going to commandeer a Jose Reyes-esque contract, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t get some long-term security from someone. For a guy who’s donned six uniforms in a short career, that’ll certainly be welcomed. For a GM who expects him to deviate from his Felipe Lopezian career path? Well, that sailing might go less smoothly.

Michael Cuddyer – Minnesota Twins OF/IF

There’s a lot to like about Cuddyer. With Jim Thome out of the picture, he’s unparalleled as the nicest guy in the Twins clubhouse. He’s active in the community, plays through injuries, and is willing to operate whatever fielding glove skipper Ron Gardenhire politely asks him to. As a website that focuses primarily on statistical analysis, FanGraphs doesn’t tend to give too much credit these things typically. In all honesty, it’s unlikely they affect the on-field product much, if at all, but nonetheless, clubs find it noteworthy.

Coupling his reputation and his versatility, Cuddyer would appear to be well sought after on the market. Troy Renck, a Colorado Rockies beat writer for the Denver Post, has reported that Michael is at the top of the club’s offseason shopping list. Additionally, there were countless — though perhaps not as trustworthy — sources that suggested that the Twins fielded a number of calls on “Cuddy” to see if they could pry the versatile everyman from his longtime home prior to the non-waiver trade deadline last month, but to no avail.

So why am I insisting Cuddyer will be overpaid? Well, there are a couple reasons. First, while Cuddyer does play a number of positions, he doesn’t play any of them particularly well. So, while he’d likely hit way better than the aveage bear at second base, his defense would massively curtail his value. The one position that Cuddyer does grade out well at, first base, is a place in which his bat is grossly inadequate. Speaking of his bat, there’s a little disparity there, too. A .289/.356/.476 triple-slash is good for Cuddyer’s third best OPS of his 11-year career, but it comes with a 723/1077 RHP/LHP platoon split. Thus, 67.9 percent of Cuddyer’s plate appearances have come against right-handers, against whom he’s hit .270/.319/.404 against in 2011. Extrapolate to his whole career, and the split is a more palpable 760/877, but midpoint there from a corner guy just isn’t going to be worth the ~$10 million I would imagine he’ll be offered on the market.

Edwin Jackson – St. Louis Cardinals SP

Jackson’s been around forever, hasn’t he? The former number-four prospect in baseball, Jackson, like Betemit, has spent parts of nine seasons with six clubs, with each hoping it can refine his great potential into comparable results. So far, those results have been mixed, as Jackson’s career line to-date shows a 4.51 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, and a K/9 of 6.7, which ranks him right on par with noted contact guru Kevin Slowey. This paucity of strikeouts is certainly troubling for a young man who has struggled with the “thrower” distinction earlier in his career. In my view, someone who averages 94.2 mile with his heater (in addition to good offspeed deliveries) should probably miss a few more bats, and would cause me to look elsewhere with my free agency bankroll.

On a less-illuminating side note, the “similar list” pitchers that appear at BaseballReference.com for Jackson are also troubling. Names such as Frankie Rodriguez, Kyle Lohse, Jeff Weaver, Javier Vazquez, and Sidney Ponson all evoke different, although perhaps not that different emotions.

The one situation that may be best for Jackson is the exact one he’s in, under the tutelage of Dave Duncan. It’s easy to see that as the walks and strikeouts converge, Jackson becomes a much less effective pitcher. Of course, he’s just like any pitcher in that respect. It just seems a bit more magnified with a pitcher who struggled mightily with control early in his career, and still has less sporadic bouts with wildness. Nonetheless, whichever club takes a gamble on Jackson’s talent will certainly be banking on getting the Jackson from the second half of 2010 rather than the first (which I feel are the poles for him going forward). That’s not a gamble I think I’d take as an executive.