It’s that time of year again, the time when teams and players start positioning themselves to get the best deals for themselves on the free agent market. A good deal of this is posturing, naturally, but it is often difficult to separate mere negotiating ploys from the honest truth. That said, taking some initial reports of what certain players (assuming their agents accurately speak for them) want, I wonder who the most deluded person of the 2010 offseason is so far: Bruce Chen, Jeff Francoeur, or Derek Jeter.
Earlier this week Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star tweeted that Bruce Chen wants a multi-year deal. Chen had a surprisingly nice season for Kansas City in 2010, making 33 appearances, 23 of which were starts in the Royals’ shattered rotation. He had a 4.17 ERA over about 140 innings, and a non-horrible 4.54 FIP gave him a 1.3 WAR — not bad for a guy on a minor-league deal. For all of that Sweet Chen Music, however, this was by far Chen’s best season since 2005, having been replacement level or worse every time he has had a chance since then. Even in 2010, he thrived on good fortune on fly balls; his 2010 xFIP was 5.01. Chen is not a player who can be expected to significantly outpitch his defense-independent statistics — his career ERA is 4.64 and his career xFIP is 4.74, and that includes his more successful seasons more than five years ago that are far less relevant going into 2011 than his horrible 2006, 2007, and 2009. While he might be a useful 1 WAR starter somewhere in 2011 at the back of a rotation or as a swingman, he’ll be 33 at the beginning of next season without much good in his recent history besides 140 okayish 2010 innings. Multiple years? Come on, Chen.
In news that will surprise no one, Jeff Francoeur wants to play every day. Just like Chen wanting multiple years, this is understandable. I want Sonny Sharrock, ‘The Reverend’ Frank Wright, Peter Kowald, and Elvin Jones to play my next birthday party, but that probably isn’t going to happen, either. So much has been written about Jeff Francouer that extensive analysis can wait until he does sign somewhere, likely in a part-time role. Suffice it to say that despite short stretches of seeming to be good in New York and Texas, Francouer has been worth almost exactly replacement level in total from 2008 to 2010. It isn’t as if he has been hurt or seen reduced playing time, either, averaging almost 600 plate appearances a season over that time. His wOBA in that period is the worst among qualified outfielders at .298 — that is not a misprint. Given that he’s hardly even worth using as a platoon player, why would a team give him more than the league minimum, much less promise him a full-time job?
Derek Jeter is reportedly seeking six years from the New York Yankees. Craig Calcaterra does a good job of deflating such reports, so this should be taken with numerous grains of salt. Still, Jeter’s agent Casey Close has been quoted as saying that Jeter’s value to the Yankees “cannot be overstated” in response to Hal Steinbrenner’s hardline stance. Between the spin and the rumors it’s probably mostly posturing in order to get Jeter the best deal possible (it is Close’s job, after all), but in the interest of not showing “East Coast Bias,” let’s take a look at this. Jeter has had a great season as recently as 2009, and is still the “face of the franchise,” despite his down season in 2010. However, after 2010 and at 36 years old, Jeter’s 2009 is looking more and more like a Last Great Season from a great player. The Yankees clearly have more money than any other team, and just as clearly want to avoid an ugly public spat with the face of the franchise. Nonetheless, would Jeter really get even three years and $40 million dollars from another team? Given his likely talent level, that would be generous, and whatever value he has in the eyes if the Yankees fan base, it won’t matter elsewhere. Who knows what Jeter and Close really expect, but the Yankees’ primary business is winning, which probably doesn’t include paying him like a starting shortstop into his forties when they are already on the hook for a number of other players in earlier stages of their declines.
But hey, I’m wrong all the time. Bruce Chen is a left-handed pitcher, and those guys seem to hang on forever. Jeff Francoeur should have been non-tendered a season or two ago, but teams still imagine he’ll suddenly catch on to the newfangled “strike zone.” The Yankees are taking a tough stance publicly now, but Brian Cashman tried to do a similar the same thing with Alex Rodriguez in 2007, only to get overruled by Steinbrenners after A-Rod opted out. Maybe the most deluded person of the offseason to date is Matt Klaassen.