Acquisitions

Tender Frustration and Finding Upside

The deadline for tendering contracts has passed and the Phillies have elected to bring back John Mayberry, Kevin Frandsen and Kyle Kendrick. Both Mayberry and Frandsen were solid bets to get non-tendered. Their salaries were likely to outweigh their contributions and there were better uses for Frandsen’s $900K and Mayberry’s $1-$1.5 million.

The Phillies should have non-tendered Mayberry.

That adds up to $2-$2.5 million for two 30+ year old reserves who hit something like .230/.285/.370 last season. Amaro defended his decision by citing their versatility and said there was never any thought to non-tendering either player. There should have been plenty of thought to that effect as Frandsen defined the replacement level while Mayberry fell below.

Mayberry was serviceable when he made the league minimum and showed flashes of being able to hold down a semi-regular role. Those days are gone. He has no upside. He is not going to break out a la Jayson Werth.

Frandsen had a terrific 2012 season driven by a .366 BABIP and he was worth bringing back last year to see if he really had improved. He ended up posting very similar walk, strikeout and isolated power rates but his BABIP fell closer to his career average. His offensive production predictably plummeted. He has no upside. His 2012 campaign was a fluke.

While both players may be versatile, there was absolutely no reason for the Phillies to bring them back. For a team with so much money concentrated in select spots, finding value players with upside is integral to short- and long-term success.

For this Phillies team, two of the spots to use on value players with upside are the ones that Mayberry and Frandsen will once again occupy.

Some have questioned the Marlon Byrd and Carlos Ruiz deals but this is the headscratching decision of the Phillies’ offseason so far.

By bringing back Mayberry and Frandsen the Phillies are exhibiting zero creativity and further illustrating their faulty means of evaluating talent. Whether to retain Kendrick is more complicated but committing to Mayberry and Frandsen is problematic.

The decision to tender a contract is made irrespective of other teams. The Phillies couldn’t have known for certain that so many intriguing players would get cut loose around the league. However, they didn’t need to know about anyone else to properly value their own players. Mayberry had a very solid 2011 campaign but his progress has since stalled. From 2012-13:

2012: .245/.301/.395, .303 wOBA, 7.1% K, 23.2% BB
2013: .227/.286/.391, .298 wOBA, 7.0% K, 23.4% BB

It’s the same season. He was a replacement level player over 800 PA. Amaro highlighted that Mayberry hit 14 home runs, which he did in 2012, but so what? Hitting 14 home runs at the major league level isn’t all that impressive on its own. Last year, the following players were in that vicinity: Trevor Plouffe (0.4 WAR), Ryan Doumit (0.1 WAR), Josh Willingham (0.0 WAR), Lyle Overbay (0.0 WAR), and Dayan Viciedo (-0.1 WAR).

Yes, Mayberry can play centerfield in a pinch, but he’s not particularly good there. Just because he’s lean and athletic doesn’t mean he has a ton of range or takes effective routes. In 1,072 innings in centerfield, Mayberry has a career UZR/150 of -19. That would be one of the worst marks for a centerfielder over a full season. He really can’t play centerfield.

His skill-set now consists of playing decent defense in a corner while hitting well against lefties. Those types of players are frequently available. Heck, the Phillies had one last year in Casper Wells. Since 2011, Wells has a .332 OBP and .461 SLG vs lefties; Mayberry is at .324 and .515, respectively. In that same span, Wells has a +5 UZR, while Mayberry’s is at -14. All told, in 500 fewer plate appearances, Wells has 1.6 WAR to Mayberry’s 2.0.

In Jim Salisbury’s piece linked above, Amaro mentions how bench players are getting costly, citing Willie Bloomquist‘s two-year deal with the Mariners and Nick Punto‘s $3 million contract with the Athletics as reasons for bringing these two back. This completely misses the point and, again, speaks to their struggles with player valuation.

Bloomquist’s deal is a ridiculous one handed out by another poor front office. Punto, however, is a valuable player who is well worth $3 million.

Since 2008, his WAR totals are 2.6, 1.6, 1.3, 1.7, 0.5 and 1.9. He has been a league average player since he settled into a part-time role and has been an elite defender for most of his career. He is also a very good baserunner. We’re well into the age where fielding and baserunning must be taken into account.

And his actual bat isn’t that much worse than Mayberry or Frandsen. Since 2011, Punto has a .304 wOBA; Mayberry is at .318; Frandsen is at .319.

You pay Nick Punto $3 million for his versatility because he is a terrific defender everywhere he plays. You pay him that money not only because he will outproduce it, but because bench players frequently become starters when actual starters inevitably get hurt. Teams can succeed when Punto has to fill in for a starter. The Phillies will be in trouble if Frandsen or Mayberry has to log significant playing time.

This isn’t to say that the Phillies should have signed Punto, but rather that there are numerous players out there that have Frandsen’s floor but a much higher ceiling. These players either cost less or are worth the additional commitment. Heck, Cesar Hernandez is already in the Phillies system. Same goes for Galvis.

We’ll explore Kendrick’s case later this week but the decision to tender contracts to Mayberry and Frandsen is frustrating in principle because of what it represents. It’s not crippling financially but this goes beyond the dollars and cents.

Teams have gotten very creative recently. The Tigers found a way to unload Prince Fielder. The Rays are going with the catching combination of Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan, stressing defense and pitch-framing, and paying relatively little. The Nationals acquired a top-tier starter in Doug Fister when few teams even knew he was potentially available. The A’s signed Scott Kazmir to a team-friendly deal and subsequently acquired a better version of Ben Revere to shore up their outfield.

While many teams are getting better at thinking outside the box and seeking value, the Phillies front office decided to bring back Mayberry and Frandsen, and wondered aloud why anyone thought either would get non-tendered.

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