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Toronto Buys Out Adam Lind

In the wake of Adam Lind‘s monster 2009 at the plate, the Toronto Blue Jays have signed him to a multi-year deal. In short, Lind (who will be 26 to start the season) is guaranteed $18 million from 2010-2013, with the Jays holding options for 2014-2016, which would have been Lind’s first three years of free agency.

At first blush, this is a good deal for the Jays. To spoil the ending: it is. But how good? Remember that players typically get less money in arbitration, and Lind wasn’t going to be arbitration eligible until after the 2010 season. In other words, for 2010, Toronto was going to have Lind for practically “free” (around league minimum). For the three arbitration seasons, a player is typically paid 40, 60, and 80 percent of what he would make on the free agent market. To comparing Lind to the free agent market scale, rather that assuming 4/18, we take the three arbitration years, and multiply the time by 0.4, 0.6, and 0.8 respectively, and evaluate this deal as if it were a 2/18 (for simplicities sake, we round 1.8 up to 2) deal in the current free agent market. Assuming a current market value of $3.5 million dollars per marginal win, a typical 0.5 win a season decline, and 7% per season salary inflation, a two year, $18 million dollar contract would be an average deal for a player that is currently 2.5 Wins Above Replacement.

In 2009, Lind put up 3.7 WAR. In general, cherrypicking one good (or bad) season as a “new standard” for any player is a bad idea for projections, and even worse for deciding whom to resign. That’s why we look to projection systems that take account of playing time, run environment, age, and so on, and I’ll also add in the Fan projections for that “personal touch.” Averaging Lind’s projected 2010 wOBA from CHONE (.368), ZiPS (.359), and the Fans (.383), we get .370, or about 24 runs above average per 700 plate appearances.

Lind is… not much of a defender, to put it kindly, and Toronto is aware of this, making him their primary designated hitter (although I’m disappointed we’ll miss out on the comedy an everyday outfield of Lind, Vernon Wells, and Travis Snider would have provided). But he’s done it before, so we don’t need to worry about it effecting his hitting too much.

Putting it all together: +24 offense -17.5 DH positional adjustmen + 25 AL replacement level all times 85% playing time = about a 2.7 WAR player. Given the level of imprecision we’re dealing with here, that’s pretty much right on as far as what we’d expect. Of course, Lind is only 26 (turning 27 in July), so perhaps he isn’t in for as much decline and/or attrition as is built in to the 0.5 WAR-a-season estimate. Perhaps, although Lind isn’t exactly a the type we’d expect to age gracefully. It’s safe to say that the guaranteed portion is a good, not great deal for the Jays, and fair for Lind as well. This only looks “great” or like a “steal” if it’s compared with the free agent market, but Lind wasn’t slated to reach free agency until 2014 . Team have lots of leverage with pre-arbitration players, and the Jays used it properly.

One might argue that the Jays got a “steal” because Lind will be an “exception” to the projections. I’m aware of the uncertainty in projections. But while some professional and amateur scouts may be able to can pick the exceptions amidst uncertainty, I can’t, and I’ll leave that sort of thing to those who can.

What makes this deal even better, though, are the club options tacked on for what would have been Lind’s first three free agent years (2014-2016). They are worth about $7.5M annually (not counting the buyouts). I’ve said that it isn’t a good idea to bet on Lind being an “exception,” and by 2014 he’ll be entering his thirties. Guaranteeing something substantial five years down the road to most players, especially those who couldn’t run or play the field in their their mid-20s is, to say the least, not a good idea. But the Jays haven’t. When I look at the projections, and assume an average aging curve, I think it’s about even money, that Lind will be worth keeping around in 2014. But the Jays haven’t guaranteed him anything beyond a reasonable buyout for 2014. If he does turn out to age well in his late-20s, and is still going strong, the Jays can keep him on at a great price. If not, they can let him go. That’s what makes this deal decent now, but potentially great later.