Value is an all-encompassing term comprised of performance relative to the position, league and readily available alternatives, as well as the price paid to acquire that production. It’s also fueled by the utility of the player to the team in how he is used. A team can maximize value by using a player according to his strengths while masking his faults. However, if a team perceives a player incorrectly, it runs the risk of minimizing his value.
This idea of maximizing strengths most often surfaces in the form of platoons. A lefty-crusher who struggles against righties won’t face same-handed pitchers much in a straight platoon. The idea of perceiving a player incorrectly and minimizing his value occurs when teams incorrectly view a platoon player as an everyday starter.
Which brings us to the free agent market, which still includes Cody Ross, Scott Hairston and Juan Rivera, three players best utilized as the lefty-crushing component of a platoon sandwich. Only Ross is viewed by many teams as an everyday starter — valid to an extent — and is seeking a contract commensurate with that view.
While he could certainly start for several teams, his value is largely connected to his production against lefties, who only throw about 25% of the innings in a season. He is a better overall player than Hairston and Rivera, averaging ~2 WAR over the last four seasons, yet he is 32 years old and is reportedly seeking a deal in the 3/$24 vicinity.
Given these factors, teams might find it more cost-effective to sign Hairston or Rivera for a strict platoon role. Assuming they are platooned with players that hit righties well, an interested team could eke out even more production.
Over the last four years, Rivera has posted respective wRC+ marks against lefties of 106, 122, 102 and 167. Hairston is at 135, 90, 84 and 149 over the same span. Collectively, Rivera has a .359 wOBA and 125 wRC+ against southpaws in 585 PAs since 2009, while Hairston has a .348 wOBA and 120 wRC+ in 546 PAs. Both hit lefties well, though Rivera’s yearly numbers fluctuated less and he remained above average each season.
As an everyday player, Ross has a .333 wOBA and 105 wRC+ from 2009-12. While his numbers against lefties are superior to Rivera’s and Hairston’s, the apt comparison here is his overall numbers to their platoon splits. Teams perceive Hairston as a part-time player and aren’t going to sign Rivera for everyday duty either, but they will do so with Ross.
Strictly comparing their offensive proclivities against lefties, Ross is the best bet, but it’s unlikely that he’ll sign for something like 1/$3 or 2/$7. It’s also hard to imagine Hairston signing for much more than 2/$10 or Rivera getting even half of that.
There are inherent advantages in using Ross as an everyday player — saving a roster spot and increasing the consistency on both offense and defense a platoon may lack — but a team strapped for cash could likely replicate his production by pairing the less expensive Hairston or Rivera with a lefty that hits righties well. Ross has value, and teams could do far worse than a potential 2 WAR corner outfielder, but the issue is whether a team would rather spend $8 million for 100% of him, or half that cost for 85-90% of him.
The bar isn’t set very high in finding someone to handle righties either, as Ross has a .316 wOBA and just a 93 wRC+ since 2009 in that split. The list of players who have produced better includes Casey McGehee, Vernon Wells, Erick Aybar and Nyjer Morgan. Looking at the last two years, Ross has a .320 wOBA and 100 wRC+ against righties, improving on his 2009-10 numbers. The list of players who have outperformed him over the last two years includes Raul Ibanez, Coco Crisp and Michael Brantley.
Ross is a decent player but it’s doubtful he is really worth $8-$9 million per year when a platoon of, say, Juan Rivera and Nyjer Morgan could replicate most of that production for a fraction of the price. Ross is somewhat in between an everyday player and a platoon candidate but the perceived uncertainty is costly compared to players clearly perceived as part-time players. With Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher still available, and a number of teams getting creative with trades, it will be interesting to see where the pieces fall. What happens with the likes of Ross, Hairston and Rivera could go a long way towards establishing how teams currently view cost-effectiveness and value.