Whither Kenny Lofton

Right now, as we see a slow moving free agent market causing players to adjust and take deals they wouldn’t have otherwise considered, I begin to wonder who will be left standing without a chair when the music stops. Are we going to see another situation as we did last year, where Kenny Lofton couldn’t find anyone to give him a job despite being a quality player? Probably.

But the train of thought led me to wonder – what on earth happened in regards to Lofton last year?

In ’07, Lofton hit .296/.367/.414, stole 23 bases in 30 attempts, and played above average defense in center field. He racked up 559 plate appearances and was worth 3.1 wins in his age 40 season. He showed no signs of decline, drawing more walks than strikeouts and posting a .118 ISO that was right in line with his career average. He didn’t get any slower, as evidenced by his eight bunt singles and quality baserunning.

His career wOBA was .359. In his final three seasons, it was .368, .345, and .349. From 2005 to 2007, he was worth a total of 8.2 wins, for a dollar value of about $30 million. He made less than half of that.

And then, last winter, he couldn’t find anyone to give him a job. Even if you had decided that he was going to suffer significant decline at age 41 (despite there being no evidence of erosion in his skills), at worst, you could have projected him as a +2 win player for 2008. The absolute worst case scenario would have led a team to expect him to be league average. And no one wanted to employ him?

Put this another way – Torii Hunter got $90 million last winter to be a slightly above average center fielder. His 2005 to 2007 three year win value was 8.5 wins, barely more than Lofton’s total. Yes, he’s younger, so you’d expect him to age better, but that just means that you think Hunter would be half a win or so better than Lofton in 2009. Hunter was paid $16.5 million last season while Lofton sat at home unemployed. In what world does that make any sense?

How Kenny Lofton was forcibly retired by MLB will remain one of the stranger stories of the last year. It will be interesting to see if baseball tosses any other quality players out of the talent pool this winter.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

10 Responses to “Whither Kenny Lofton”

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  1. Ryan says:

    The Rays supposedly offered him, but he wanted to play for a winner. Ooops.

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  2. Tim Dierkes says:

    I think Lofton was just stubborn about his asking price, which was reportedly at least $2.5-3 million. He turned down at least two offers, one from the Rays worth more than $1 million and a minor league deal from the Reds.


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  3. Jack says:

    I wonder if the Cubs would consider picking up Lofton midseason if the Fukudome/Reed Johnson platoon doesn’t pan out. I think Fukudome is a good rebound candidate, but if he totally flops, and if Reed Johnson sees his BABIP regress in a big way, Lofton could possibly be a fit. It wouldn’t be the first time he showed up midseason to help the Cubs.

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  4. Mike says:

    Lofton’s asking price was far from unreasonable, though, based on his production. For him to receive only two offers well under that, I wonder if his poor clubhouse reputation preceded him. I seem to recall he wore out a few welcomes over his career.

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  5. robbbbbb says:

    I’d have loved to see Lofton in a Mariner uniform last year. They could’ve used the CF defense.

    Oh, and Dave, you’re going to have to change the tagline at the bottom of your articles. The Seattle Mariners are turning into a well-run team, as you’ve been excitedly covering at USSM. Or is it there for nostalgia’s sake?

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  6. Peter says:

    Given the production from their CFs in 2008 I’m surprised the Braves didn’t take a chance. He’d be a almost perfect place-holder for Schafer.

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  7. Tim says:

    He hated the one year he was with the Braves and will most likely never go back, although I agree he would be a good fit for one year.

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  8. JOHN says:

    It does appear that he is being “black listed’ if you will. If the game is about production, you would think that a contender would’ve picked him up. I don’t hink 3 million was to much to ask given his consistent contributions year in and out. Maybe it’s as they say, “it’s a young man’s game”.

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  9. Dave says:

    This not playing seems to be preventing Kenny Lofton from possibly getting into the hall of fame (.299, under .300). Lofton should consider Roger Maris deserves to be in the hall of fame more than he (and anyone else) does and not get self centered; nor is he Mickey Mantle (.298, #7, CF).

    The Cubs should pick him up and give him a chance (for hall of fame) – what they got to lose (win) by now, a Pennant? After all, then poor Lofton was a Cub fan growing up by Chicago (nw IN), not Cleveland.

    nw IN

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  10. Dan says:

    Not being in the clubhouse, we can only look at statistics, but Lofton plays for winners. Whether it’s luck, negotiations, or leadership I don’t know, but something about him on the field seems to light up a team. A year off at his age? Who knows, but the last year he played he put up some more than solid- pretty much All Star – numbers. Instinctively, if I was building a team, he’d actually be the first guy I went after. If the Cubs could get him….

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