The Orioles have reportedly signed Garrett Atkins (non-tendered earlier by the Colorado Rockies) to a one-year contract with a base salary of four million dollars with incentives. The deal includes an option for 2011 with a $500,000 buyout. Atkins is thus guaranteed about $4.5 million dollars for 2010. Is Atkins worth what Baltimore will be paying?
The now-30 year-old Atkins put up genuinely impressive offensive numbers in 2006 (.410 wOBA, 142 wRC+) and 2007 (.368 wOBA, 116 wRC+) for Colorado. His wOBA dipped to .337 (98 wRC+) in 2008, which isn’t too bad until one takes into account his home park. 2009 was even more disappointing for Atkins, as he only managed a .291 wOBA (67 wRC+) and saw his playing time cut. It is difficult to project players moving out of extreme run environments like Atkins, but CHONE posts context neutral linear weights and already has Atkins projected for Baltimore: .257/.326/.410, 3 runs below average per 150 games.
While that isn’t a thrilling offensive line, three runs below average isn’t actually all that bad for a third baseman. Unfortunately, Atkins’ fielding also seems to have fallen off of a cliff. In 2006, his UZR/150 at third was a reasonable -2.1, but Atkins followed that with a horrendous -14.6 in 2007. This was bad enough that he began to see more time at first base (where he also was hardly a defensive standout), but still was below average at third, with -8.6 and -0.7 UZR/150s in 2008 and 2009 respectively. The Fans Scouting Report rates Atkins well below average as a third baseman. Jeff Zimmerman projects Atkins at -7/150 at third base for 2010. He might play some first base for Baltimore, depending on whom else they sign, but neither the positional adjustment as well as his past play there suggests that would increase his overall value. TotalZone is much more generous, projecting Atkins as a +3/150 defender, but given UZR’s rating of him as well as the fans, it’s hard to project Atkins at anything better than -5.
Including positional adjustment, over 150 games Atkins projects as about a 1.3 WAR player for 2010. Assuming $4.4 million per marginal win as average market value, his $4.5 guarantee plus incentives seems to be in the right neighborhood.
It is worth reiterating that consistently paying “fair market value” isn’t really a “smart” thing to do. Teams on budgets need to get more for their money to win consistently, especially going up against New York and Boston in the American League East. On the other hand, it isn’t particularly “dumb,” either. It’s “average…” on average. It makes sense in this particular case. They certainly didn’t want to bring back Melvin Mora, who has entered the undead phase of his career. Baltimore’s prospects at third and first aren’t ready for the major leagues yet. Atkins isn’t a star, and will be lucky to be league average again. While Baltimore surely isn’t trying to contend, as has been noted elsewhere, sometimes a team simply needs to put a competent player on the field for fans. That’s okay as long the team doesn’t pay out the nose. Baltimore isn’t paying excessively for Atkins, and he won’t be blocking any prospects who might be ready for 2011. Way to bridge a gap, Mr. MacPhail.