While the Gettin' Was Good
Raul Ibanez has been one of the most consistent offensive producers over his last three seasons in Seattle. His fielding leaves quite a bit to be desired, however, and he is entering his 37 year-old season.
Dave Ross will be 32 for the 2009 campaign. While he has shown flashes of proficiency with the bat, he has never eclipsed 350 plate appearances and has been known to struggle mightily over long stretches. Last season he was released outright by the Cincinnati Reds in August, cleared waivers and was subsequently picked up by the Red Sox.
What do these two men have in common? They were both free agents coming out of the 2008 campaign and signed a week apart from one another early on in the hot stove season - Ross with the Atlanta Braves on December 5th and Ibanez with the Philadelphia Phillies on December 12th.
Most seasons, or rather most off-seasons, two free agents receiving contracts more or less in line with what they figure to be worth would not make for interesting material. But this year, with their respective above average outfielder and dependable backup catcher peers still in the unemployment line, Ibanez and Ross (or at least their agents) come out looking awfully smart.
There happens to exist a perfectly compatible peer group for Ibanez this off-season. Outfielders Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn, Manny Ramirez and Bobby Abreu, like Ibanez, are all excellent offensive performers who struggle badly with the glove. Below are their ages and what one projection system, Marcel, has in store for them in 2009 (here are links to Marcel's projection system as well as a definition of wOba thanks to FanGraphs).
Age Marcel Projected wOba Dunn 29 .372 Burrell 32 .369 Abreu 35 .365 Ramirez 37 .389 Ibanez 37 .344
So how has this off-season shaken out for this group? Ibanez, who looks like the least attractive option on that list, signed for three years and a guaranteed $30 million back in early December. In January, Burrell signed for two years and $16 million with the Tampa Bay Rays. Ramirez, Abreu and Dunn remain unemployed and will not even sniff what they might have received had they jumped on initial offers that are now surely off the table.
A free agent peer group for Dave Ross does not fit quite as nicely. He is younger than many of the other back-up catchers on the market and has performed, for the most part, a bit better than them. Still, I think a group of Johnny Estrada, Pudge Rodriguez, Sal Fasano, Adam Melhuse and Toby Hall could reasonably be labeled free agent "peers" of Ross. Let's apply the same numbers as we did with the outfielders above.
Age Marcel Projected wOba Estrada 33 .305 Pudge 37 .309 Fasano 37 .298 Melhuse 37 .293 Hall 33 .281 Ross 32 .323
In this group, Estrada, Pudge and Fasano all remain free agents, Melhuse and Hall are headed to MLB Spring Training with Minor League deals and Ross has a two-year, $3 million guaranteed contract with the Atlanta Braves. If you looked solely at the numbers above, that might make some sense but it's worth pointing out that if you consult the Fangraphs page for Ross, you see that Marcel is easily his most optimistic projection. Remember, in 2007, the year in which he played more than any other in his career, Ross posted a .203/.271/.399 line. This is not necessarily a guy who stands out from the crowd listed above. Two years guaranteed, in this market, appears to be a coup.
Like Ibanez, Ross received the contract he did at least in part because he jumped on the initial offer(s) coming his way. Whether that was the result of foresight or dumb luck nobody will ever know. But what we do know for sure is that the gettin' was good early, not so good in the middle, and now it appears that All-Star and HOF caliber players will have to suit up teams they felt were low-balling them all along; all while Raul Ibanez - Raul Ibanez! - toils care-free knowing he will be clearing $300,000 or so every couple of weeks during baseball season for the next three years.