The value of Arizona’s middle infield

By Travis Reitsma

Yesterday, former Blue Jay Aaron Hill signed a 2yr/$10-million extension with the Arizona Diamondbacks after the team declined his $8-million option just a few days prior.  Hill hit well in his late season stint with Arizona after coming over in an August trade with the Jays along with John McDonald for Kelly Johnson, but finished the season with an underwhelming .246/.299/.356 slash line, hitting just eight home runs.  Although he rebounded from an absolutely disastrous 2010, his .356 slugging percentage was a career low and a far cry from his 2009 mark of .499.  He actually posted a lower WAR in 2011 than he did in 2010.

So, did the D’Backs overpay Hill?

FanGraphs values one win-above-replacement at about $4.5-million in market value (i.e. on the free agent market, not the arbitration or contract renewal market).  If this is true than the D’Backs think that Hill will provide them a little over 1.0 WAR per year for the next two seasons.  As bad as Hill has been the last two seasons at the plate, he’s still been worth an average of 1.0 WAR, so the deal doesn’t seem far off of market value (a market that probably overvalues WAR when you consider all players and not just free agent-eligible players).

Perhaps the question shouldn’t be centred on Hill.  Perhaps we should be asking if the D’Backs have overpaid their middle infield.  They’re getting Hill pretty much at market value and there is some upside to him that could make the deal a good one for Arizona.  But the D’Backs have now given out three contracts in the past week to middle infielders.  Willie Bloomquist, McDonald and Hill will be paid a combined $8.4-million in 2012 and are guaranteed a total of $16.8-million over the next two seasons.  When you combine that with injured shortstop Stephen Drew, who will be paid $7.75-million in 2012 despite the fact that he may not play much due to a devastating ankle injury, Arizona will pay their four middle infielders $16.15-million.

If we assume that FanGraphs’ value of WAR is accurate, then the D’Backs will expect 3.6 WAR from those four players in 2012.  Coicidentally (or perhaps not) this is the exact value those four contributed in 2011.

Drew is the X-factor here; with an ankle injury that severe, it’s impossible to tell what kind of value (if any) he’ll bring to the team in 2012.  Even though he only played 86 games last season before his injury, Drew was still the most valuable of the four with a 1.9 WAR.  If Drew comes back and produces at even a fraction of the level he did previous to the injury, the D’Backs might actually come out okay in giving these four players the deals they did.  If he doesn’t, the D’Backs will be paying $16.15-million for roughly 1.7 WAR, a mark that is only valued at about $7.65-million.  Throw in that Drew is actually guaranteed $9.1-million with the buyout in his 2013 option-year and the D’Backs could be far overpaying for their middle infield.

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