According to this report, the Nationals have decided not to offer a long-term contract extension to outfielder Josh Willingham. It is also likely that the team will deal Willingham by the start of the 2011 season. Willingham, who turns 32 in February, will enter his final arbitration season next year. He is coming off a $4.6 million contract last season, and with a injury shortened but still successful 2010, the outfielder can probably expect an arbitration reward somewhere in the neighborhood of $6.5 to $7.5 million.
Willingham has been one of the more consistent players in baseball in terms of overall production. From 2006-2010, Willingham has produced between 2.2 and 2.9 WAR in each season with wOBAs ranging only from .363 to .378. Willingham isn’t a good defender, producing a total of 16 runs below average in the corner outfield spots in his career, but with his high-level bat, he manages to contribute at an above-average level year in and year out.
The problem with Willingham has been his inability to remain on the field. In his last five seasons, he has only averaged 509 plate appearances, failing to reach 600 four times and 500 twice. Willingham has struggled with back problems and most recently suffered a season ending knee injury which cut short his 2010. Although his penchant for injuries limits his value, it doesn’t detract from the fact that he’s still a very good bet to produce 2+ WAR. In a way, Willingham reminds me of a poor man’s J.D. Drew. Drew’s 4+ wins in shortened seasons are still very valuable, although people often see the time that he misses as a detractor to his on field value. It’s unfortunate, for sure, but in short seasons, guys like Willingham and Drew are both able to provide good to great MLB performance, making their roster presence well worth the irritating injuries.
Assuming Willingham recovers well from the knee surgery, he should be another good bet to post a 2+ win season. That means he should provide some $2-$4 million in surplus value, depending on his contract. Willingham also would have been a type A free agent this season, according to this release of MLB Trade Rumors’ reverse-engineered Elias rankings. That means that Willingham is a near lock to classify as at least a type B and has a good chance of retaining type A status for next season, serving to increase his value further. Willingham’s production and compensation picks could be worth about $10 million in surplus value, which should be able to bring in a solid, B+ type of prospect.