John Mayberry and Wasted Resources

Back in December, I argued against tendering a contract to John Mayberry, suggesting that his salary outweighed his projected contributions. Mayberry was worth rostering when he made the league minimum and exhibited upside, but he was well past both points. There was no risk to letting him go, because despite his athleticism and versatility, he had been a replacement-level player for two straight seasons. Replacement-level players should not be guaranteed $1.5 million on a salary-strapped team.

Over 2012-13, Mayberry logged 863 PA and hit .237/.294/.393, with a -1 baserunning mark and a -14 fielding rating. He was worth -0.3 WAR in that span. While injuries unfairly forced him into a larger role — a good chunk of his negative fielding rating is attributable to his playing out of place in CF and only 288 of those 863 PA were against lefties — he is ill-equipped for long-term duty. His .337 wOBA against lefties since 2012 wasn’t all that special either.

Adding fuel to the fire is that the Phillies stumbled upon a clear-cut replacement for Mayberry in a player who also happens to be the son a famous outfielder: Tony Gwynn, Jr.

Gwynn lacks power but literally does everything else better than Mayberry at a fraction of the price. Even if the Phils were unsure of whether Gwynn — who wasn’t in the majors in 2013 and had a few weak offensive seasons before that — would be an upgrade over Mayberry, they had enough of a book on Mayberry to know that a replacement-level outfielder would be as good or better than Mayberry for much less money.

Here is their statistical comparison from 2009-13:

Mayberry: 1,232 PA, .245/.304/.430 line, 7.3% BB, 23.0% K, +0.1 BsR, -18.1 Fld, 1.9 WAR
Gwynn: 1,407 PA, .243/.314/.322 line, 9.1% BB, 16.2% K, +7.6 BsR, +36.3 Fld, 5.5 WAR

Gwynn gets on base more often and utilizes his speed better. He covers more ground in every outfield position. Yes, Mayberry has more power, but that is clearly negated by Gwynn’s significant fielding and baserunning advantages. Gwynn didn’t play in the majors last season but that was more because of the Dodgers’ outfield logjam than anything else.

What blew my mind in December was Amaro’s suggestion that non-tendering Mayberry wasn’t even a thought that crossed his mind, and that was before even considering alternatives for that roster spot. Mayberry may be able to hit 14-15 home runs, as Amaro cited, but who cares if the overall package isn’t ultimately worth anything?

Now, let’s be clear, it isn’t the end of the world that the Phillies have kept Mayberry. However, it speaks to a lack of creativity in roster construction that has plagued this regime for some time. The Phillies have one of the best front-threes in the majors with Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and A.J. Burnett. Fewer relievers will be used every three of five games. The Phillies could afford to carry one less mediocre mop-up reliever if it meant bolstering a bench that, as Pat indicated yesterday, clearly needs bolstering.

The utilization of that extra roster spot is important, because when Darin Ruf is activated, assuming he is installed on the major-league roster (as he should be), it’s Gwynn that will likely be sent down. Mayberry is guaranteed $1.5 million this year, and while the Phillies recently released Kevin Frandsen — who was also tendered a contract in December — it’s doubtful that they would be able to eat Mayberry’s salary. Fast-forward to mid-May, and instead of Gwynn, Ruf, and Power Bench Bat X, the Phillies will have Mayberry and Ruf, and an inconsistent reliever who might pitch five times per month.

Besides the fact that Gwynn is much better-suited for Mayberry’s role, the latter’s $1.5 million salary could have bought the Phillies the Power Bench Bat X mentioned above.

Regardless of Bobby Abreu‘s age, he would probably still lead the Phillies in on-base percentage if he made the roster. He would have cost less than Mayberry. Raul Ibanez has 48 HR and a .471 SLG since 2012 and cost $2.75 million. Garrett Jones has 42 HR and a .472 SLG since 2012 and also cost $2.75 million. Take away everyday fielding and Jason Kubel, who signed a minor-league deal with the Twins worth up to $3 million in incentives, would have been an interesting choice.

The Phillies didn’t want to have another Jim Thome situation, where they carried a bench batter solely for pinch-hitting and DH duty, but their hesitance is misplaced. That final roster spot would be better utilized by an Ibanez or Jones than a reliever who might pitch the 5th and 6th inning when Roberto Hernandez struggles.

These are but a few examples. Gwynn himself is already more valuable than Mayberry, and the combination of Gwynn and any of the guys mentioned above is certainly worth more than the Mayberry and Extra Reliever X combo that will likely fill out the roster when Ruf returns.

It’s hyperbolic to suggest that the Phillies’ season hinges on decisions like this, but if their best bet is 83-85 wins and a shot at the second wild-card spot, every extra win is extremely valuable. The gap between Gwynn/Extra Bench Bat and Mayberry/Extra Reliever could be the very difference between 83 and 85 wins.

Nothing will ultimately matter if Hamels misses significant time, or if Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins don’t produce, but lesser decisions like this really do matter in the grand scheme of a season.

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