One might be tempted to see the Royals’ signing of outfielder Scott Podsednik as a move to steal the headlines in the wake of cross-state rival St. Louis’ big Matt Holliday contract earlier this week. Or maybe they just wanted to sneak in the bad news on Friday. Close observers, however, know better. This is all part of The Contest.
I’m not exactly sure what the goal of The Contest is: to put together a team that might contend in 2005, get fired, or to shatter the blogosphere’s Universal Snark-O-Meter in one fell blow, but it’s been apparent for some time now that Royals General Manager Dayton Moore and his Mets counterpart Omar Minaya have been involved in some sort of bizarre rivalry for at least the last year. It’s been a real back-and-forth (forgive the shaky chronology):
* Omar accuses a reporter critical of a fired Mets official of gunning for a job with the Mets.
* In the midst of a near 100-loss season, Dayton lectures Royals fans on their lust for instant gratification and admonishes them to “trust the process.”
* Omar, bidding against himself, manages to overpay Jason Bay by at least $15-$20 million.
It was obviously Dayton’s time to shine. And shine he did.
The terms of the deal haven’t been made public yet (to my knowledge). But what kind of player is the 34-year-old Podsednik at this point?
CHONE has Podsednik projected for a context-neutral .271/.333/.367, 9 runs below average per 150 games. My own projection is .269/.324/.384, -8/150. Defensively, CHONE’s TotalZone projection is +4 in left field (Podsednik’s primary position the last few seasons) per 150 games. Jeff Zimmerman has him at -2. My projection includes basestealing (in short: he steals a lot, but gets caught too much to be worth it), but as far as his baserunning goes otherwise, he’s average at best at this point.
Per 150 games (which Podsednik hasn’t played since 2004): let’s call it +1 defense, -7 prorated positional adjustment for left field, -9 offense + 20 replacement level = 0.5 WAR player. Fans have so far projected Podsednik at 0.2 WAR for 2010.
I haven’t seen the terms of the deal yet. I’ve heard rumors or one year, one million dollars, and even at $3.5 million per marginal win, at 0.5 WAR, that’s sort of reasonable… sounding.
Except that it’s still a terrible decision. Let’s put it this way: the Royals aren’t exactly at a point at which they should be spending more for a marginal win — they are one of the worst teams in the American League. It’s a slight bargain at best, and assuming (perhaps foolishly) that Moore didn’t spring for more than one year, a player with this sort of projection needs to have some upside, and Podsednik is 34 years old.
Moreover, what does this mean in relation to opportunity cost? Podsednik is 34 years old and his primary position the last few years is left field. Of course, one of the few above-average position players the Royals have is their current left fielder David DeJesus, probably a 2.5-3.0 WAR player in 2010. DeJesus is good enough defensively that he could probably be at least adequate in center (certainly better than Podsednik), but his arm (despite 2009’s impressive statistical showing in left) won’t play in right. Podsednik doesn’t have the arm for right, either… which leaves center field, something Dayton Moore has repeatedly hinted at with his talk of “speedy center fielder” (roles!) all offseason.
Leaving aside the reality that Podsednik is at best barely above average defensively in left field, thus implying a disaster in center field (where he last played full-time in 2004), the Royals already have two center fielders on the roster. One is the recently signed replacement-level Brian Anderson (Moore is apparently adding former White Sox to his palette of former Braves and Mariners). Anderson, at least, is young-ish enough to have some upside, although why Moore felt he had to give Anderson a major-league deal worth $0.7M with performance incentives is beyond me. Even worse, the Royals have Mitch Maier. Maier is nothing special — he’s probably a good fourth outfielder at best — a 1.0-1.5 WAR player. But he’s 28, at the minimum, and the Royals aren’t contending (even for .500) in 2010: this is the year to play Maier and see what he’s got and save a bit of cash. But Dayton has other ideas.
Even if Maier wasn’t around, Podsednik isn’t close to good enough to be an Iwamura-type “let’s at least have someone respectable out there” — in that case, there are still far superior players like FanGraphs-favorites Ryan Church and Gabe Gross available, and the market shows that superior players to Podsednik, such as Langerhans, are going for less than Brian Anderson money.
I could go on, but you get the picture: this deal makes no sense… unless you know about The Contest.
Your move, Omar.
[Update: As pointed out in the comments, I completely negleted to factor in Dayton’s brilliant ‘banning’ of Rany Jazayerli for criticizing the Royals’ medical staff. I apologize for the embarrassing oversight on my part. This really puts Omar behind… how many years and millions to Bengie Molina is it going to take for him to catch up?]