As reported earlier today, the San Francisco Giants are in discussion to sign former Atlanta Braves SS Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez, with a career line of .247/.291/.399, does not have much of a bat but generally possesses an above average glove at short. Gonzalez faced a number of injuries in the middle of the last decade and, entering his age-35 season, may be seeking his last contract.
Using WAR, Gonzalez has been a good but not great SS, averaging 1.8 fWAR per season over the last five years. Gonzalez has seen a steady decrease in walks (the man doesn’t take a pitch), an increase in strikeouts and has put up an alternating Jekyll and Hyde series of power numbers over the last seven seasons. If you believe in patterns, the Jekyll Gonzalez should appear for the Giants next year, followed by the Hyde.
No free agent signing is done in a vacuum and a potential Alex Gonzalez-to-the-Giants move helps clear up a hazy picture at shortstop for the Phillies, for both better and worse reasons.
1.) It helps establish a market for Jimmy Rollins.
With Alex Gonzalez signing, a number of things happen to Rollins’ status as a free agent. It immediately takes a team highly speculated to be interested in signing Rollins, for both team need and player location preference, out of the running. There had always been question marks as to whether or not the Giants could afford Rollins, but a Gonzalez signing officially takes San Fran off the table.
A Gonzalez signing also sets the very basement for what Rollins should accept. Rollins has been worth 5.45 WAR over the last five seasons, which includes his 6.9 WAR 2007 MVP campaign, but also includes an injury filled 2010 where he posted only 2.5 fWAR.
Assuming that Rollins will play to a level most comparable to 2009-2011 rather than 2007, Rollins was worth about $13.53 million per year from 2009-2011 according to FanGraphs, whereas Gonzalez was worth $7.06 million per season. Do I think Rollins is twice as good a player as Gonzalez? I do, actually.
Rollins is a year and a half younger and has shown less signs of decline. He puts up impressive power numbers for a shortstop and fields better than most. Gonzalez averaged a 5.44 UZR/150 over the past 5 seasons where Rollins posted a 6.0 UZR/150. Rollins is consistently the better defender (though Gonzalez is also excellent with the glove) and posts better offensive numbers. This probably dictates Rollins is worth somewhere between 1.5-2x the contract Gonzalez is and gives him the benefit of the doubt in extra years.
2.) It gives the Phillies more leverage in negotiations with Rollins.
Officially removing a strong suitor from the table could lower Rollins’ pricetag. Or it may have the direct opposite effect…
3.) The removal of Gonzalez from the free-agent pool increases the worth of Rollins to available teams.
The contending teams interested in signing a shortstop, including the Phillies, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals and others, could use Gonzalez’s potential signing as motivation to become more aggressive as the market dwindles. This possibility is unlikely, though, knowing the payroll constraints of most of the teams seeking a shortstop. This scenario would more likely immediately benefit a guy like Rafael Furcal right now and only benefit Jimmy Rollins if he is the last shortstop standing with at least two very interested teams pursuing him.
4.) It may make Jimmy Rollins, Rafael Furcal, and others more expensive.
Rafael Furcal is a name talked about since season’s end on sports-talk radio as a viable alternative to replace Rollins. Furcal struggled in 2011 but ended up on the right side of the World Series with the Cardinals. Through his career, Furcal has been the best of the “also-ran” shortstop categories, who always seemed to be on the cusp of breaking through to elite status. Furcal, who is between Gonzalez and Rollins in age, has been worth $10.48 million a season according to FanGraphs over the last five injury-filled seasons. If Furcal could stay healthy, he could reward a team on a shot-in-the-dark gamble but he won’t be cheap. Depending on the terms of a potential Gonzalez deal, Furcal, a superior player to Gonzalez, could see his price increase even more in both money and years and effectively make the Phillies chose between a slight overpay for Rollins and a gigantic overpay for Furcal, which may lead to the doomsday scenario…
5.) The Phillies join the mix for Jose Reyes.
This is by far the least likely of the consequences, however this move could trigger a bizarre Butterfly Effect which sends the free agent shortstop market into a tizzy. If Gonzalez’s deal is lucrative enough, it could raise the prices on Rollins, Furcal, and others making them impossible to sign by teams with midlevel budgets like Milwaukee and Atlanta. Since those teams would be unable or unwilling to sign Reyes anyways, the demand for Reyes remains low and the prices come down across the board. The only speculated offer Reyes has on the table is the 6 year/$90 million offer from the Marlins which works out to $15 million a year, which is likely way less than Reyes is looking for and probably a little more than Rollins would settle for. If the price comes down to $18, $17, $16 etc. million a year for Reyes and the other options (Rollins and Furcal) each want $10+, is it then worth the extra money to sign the clear market favorite? If the Phillies choose not to engage in that possible madness…
6.) Freddy Galvis is the Phillies 2012 Opening Day Shortstop
Hey, it could happen.