Yesterday, the Chicago White Sox warmed the cockles of the present author’s heart by taking 29-year-old infield-type Angel Sanchez from the Angels in the Rule 5 draft. Because Sanchez can play the infield (including shortstop) and because he has some kind of offensive upside (owing to his excellent contact skills) and because he’s cheap (he still has just two years of service time and will likely make the league minimum), Sanchez will allow the White Sox to spend money elsewhere. Or, otherwise, to not spend money elsewhere and just keep that money and use it for whatever, like for a donation to an important New England boarding school.
Players who are chosen in the major-league phase of the Rule 5 draft (as was Sanchez) must be kept on the selecting team’s 25-man major league roster for the entire season after the draft — which suggests, if he’s retained by the White Sox, that Sanchez will fill some manner of utility role behind Gordon Beckham, Jeff Keppinger, and Alexei Ramirez.
Paying a player like Sanchez at or near the league-minimum salary would seem to give the signing time a competitive advantage. It’s also possible that that’s not the case at all. What the author found himself wondering — and what he attempted to answer by means of this post — is the question: “How much are utility infielders worth these days?”
To answer said question, I used MLB Depth Charts to find the players who were considered bench players on each 25-man roster at the beginning of 2012, isolating those field players who seemed reasonably likely to play second base, third base, or shortstop. I then found the salaries (at Cot’s Contracts) and WAR totals (here) for all the players selected.
There is, of course, all manner of caveat to be made here. Because Mark Trumbo (who started eight games there) was considered, at some level, to be the Angels’ starting third baseman for 2012, Alberto Callaspo (who actually started 122 games) is listed as a utility infielder. In other cases, a player — like Willie Bloomquist, for example — isn’t listed here, because he began the season as the nominal starter (in Bloomquist’s case, because Stephen Drew was on the disabled list).
In the (sortable) table below are all the players who fulfilled the above criteria. Listed next to each player are his team at the beginning of 2012, his plate-appearance and WAR totals, his salary, his WAR pro-rated to 600 plate appearances, and then his value (assuming $5 million per win) pro-rated to 600 plate appearances, as well.
|Nick Punto||Red Sox||191||0.5||$1.50||1.6||$7.85|
|Eduardo Escobar||White Sox||146||-0.1||$0.48||-0.4||-$2.05|
|Omar Vizquel||Blue Jays||163||-0.6||$0.75||-2.2||-$11.04|
|Brent Lillibridge||White Sox||209||-0.8||$0.50||-2.3||-$11.48|
• Utility infielders, at least using this (admittedly flawed) methodology, averaged ca. 200 plate appearances last season.
• In those ca. 200 plate appearances, utility infielders were worth about 0.2 WAR a piece.
• The average utility infielder was paid about $840,000 in 2012.
• Colorado’s Eric Young was the most valuable player by this critiera, posting a 1.8 WAR in just under 200 plate appearances while earning the league-minimum salary — although, it should be noted, he actually ended up playing exactly zero innings in the infield this past season.
• Oakland’s Josh Donaldson, second on this list, really did play the infield — exactly 71 games at third base, in fact.