The three-headed hydra of Detroit Media looked at Carlos Guillen’ contract-talks today. (Morosi blogged a bit extra). Will the blogosphere follow? (Eric looked at this question in early January, to be fair!)
First, the background. Guillen will become a free agent after this year. He had hoped to get a contract before Spring Training, although the Tigers were pretty busy knocking off the easier deals, like Jeremy Bonderman and Brandon Inge. Unlike Carlos Zambrano, Guillen’s attitude is “No sweat.” As Tom Gage put it in the News, “He’ll get his.” As long as Guillen survives the season healthy, he’ll be in line for a contract that surpasses Julio Lugo’s $9M per year/4 years deal, but Guillen’s numbers look much nicer.
Oh, and to make this seem like a no-brainer for Detroit, there doesn’t appear to be any player coming down the pipeline to replace Guillen at shortstop. Jim Leyland himself said he doesn’t view Omar Infante as that guy. We know it’s not Ramon Santiago, and I don’t have faith in Tony Giarratano. Besides, as Morosi pointed out, several other teams are in the market for a short stop after this year, so there’s no guarantee the Tigers wouldn’t trade down in value. So, based on first-look Detroit pretty much needs Guillen.
To his credit, Guillen would like to stay in Detroit rather than run to one of the big-name teams. Of course, thanks to his bat, Detroit can play toe-to-toe with the Yankees in the playoffs and come out the victors. So why should he leave if he gets a fair contract? The other question is, what is fair? Guillen won’t show his cards in public, so we have no way of knowing if he’s looking for a four year deal worth $50-60M or a 5 year deal worth $60-70.
The concern is Guillen’s defense at short stop slipped in 2006. He made 28 errors, a career high. His knees appear healthy and his range was good, but he just had too many miscues and it’s hard to say if that’s just a one-year outlier. He’ll be 32 after this season, so it seems pretty likely by the end of his next contract he will have to find a new position, likely first base, which he played eight games last season and also played in the Venezuelan League. Thus, the problem. If Guillen is not playing short stop in 2009, then Detroit is back to the drawing board, looking for an above-replacement shortstop while paying $12.5M…ish for a first baseman.
The problem is, Guillen’s numbers compared to other first baseman aren’t as rosy, although a Top 12 AL OPS in 2006 would have looked great at any position. But what about 2009 or 2010? Does carrying expensive and aging stars Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield (in 09) and Guillen at $10M+ a pop make financial and winning sense?
I’m just going to look at the Baseball Prospectus PECOTA card for Guillen (Sub-Req), which projects his next five seasons. The first thing that pops out is the Marginal Value Over Replacement, that is, the sum of what PECOTA projects to be his value during the next five years based on wins-above-replacement-player, surpasses any contract he would liklely receive. As a primer, that is just an estmate of his value on the free market based on the recent market, which has gone berzerk and some project will continue to be berzerk next offseason. And, well, based on what I’ve mentioned, it almost appears Detroit would be looking for a replacement level player.
As expected, he looks like a must-have during the next few years of his contract, if he continues to play shortstop. But let’s say he is able to play short two years, and in 2009-11 he is a starting first baseman. (Sorry Chris Shelton!) He still projects OBP more than .350. That’s nice. He has a good eye. That’s good, too. But his power drops and he comes down to an OPS in the .850 range. Still looks good, but compared to 2006’s first-basemen, it’s now slightly above league-average for the position. Say, a slightly better Richie Sexson, who is about the same age and whose numbers are only slightly less per year over the same time period. As a first baseman, his 800 OPS and 20-something runs are worth about $8M per year in 2009. Guillen will likely have a better eye but fewer homers during that period. Not really your prototypical first baseman. Sorta a better Sean Casey, if you get right down to it. (By the way, PECOTA projects he’d still be better than Shelton, but it may be as confused by 2006 as the rest of us).
(Keep in mind that’s a rough shoehorning. I’d be interested to see what others with PECOTA access come up with.)
So if Guillen’s career path does take the path many expect, his is value a lot less during those final two or three years of his contract. Just a rough estimate, I come up with a value of $55-60M over five years based on MORP and my own playing with numbers. If you take 2007 out of it, because he is already under contract, it becomes more like $40M/4 years for 2008-11 … and you still worry about short stop and powerless first baseman in the later years. I think he’d earn more than that on the free agent market if he makes it through 2007 with numbers similar to 2006, closer to 15M per season x 4 seasons with an option for a fifth is my guess in this market.
So if you start to think of it like that, you understand why Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski has not pounced on a long-term deal with Guillen. Unlike Bonderman, he is not on the youthful side of his peak. Unlike Inge, he isn’t being paid baseball’s new equivalent of pocket change. There is no simple answer.
Detroit’s priority needs to be a short stop who can play the position for the length of the contract. If Guillen can honestly do that, he’s going to be worth quite a bit and that’s money well spent. If he can’t, they end up paying quite a bit of money while searching the free agent market or minors for a new shortstop, thus worsening the problem.
It is probably best to take the wait-and-see approach for a chunk of the regular season before making a decision if Guillen’s move to first is inevitable, or if it was just a gut reaction after a moderate-fielding 2006.