The Eric Chavez Problem

It’s always good when the Yankees come to town for a weekend series.  The Indians get to sell some tickets and their fans get to see real, live baseballing players.  It’s a win-win, really.

There was one of those baseballers from the Bronx who caught my eye this weekend in particular, and made me think some Tribe thoughts.  I think too often we look at the Bombers and see all the things that we can’t have—players like Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter or Mark Teixeira or Curtis Granderson.  Players who are simply beyond the financial constraints of this (and most other) franchises.

But the Yankees also have some players we ­can have.  And here I’m talking of course about Eric Chavez.

Chavez signed with the Yankees as a bench player this off-season for $900,000 plus performance incentives.  Granted, this was coming off of several injury-plagued, sub-par years, but still.  The Yankees signed Eric Chavez to a one-year free agency deal for less than a million bucks.  This is the part of the pool that the Indians can play in.

This season, Eric Chavez has a higher OPS (.857) than any Indian.  He has 13 HRs which would put him behind only Choo and Cabrera, despite having fewer than half as many plate appearances (243) as either one.  He is a fine third baseman, and can play the outfield in a pinch.  And he was guaranteed less money this year than: Jack Hannahan, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, Kevin Slowey, and Casey Kotchman, among others.

You are likely out there biting your thumb at me.  After all, it’s particularly unreasonable to expect the Indians to have known that Eric Chavez would catch fire this season with newfound health and opportunity.  How could they have known?  Isn’t this the worst sort of hindsight, backseat driving nonsense?

Well, yeah.  It is unfair to argue the Indians should have known that Chavez was going to outperform their entire team.  But I’m not saying the Indians should’ve known.

What I’m saying, I think, is that I can’t remember the last bargain bin free agent the Indians signed who actually worked out.  There was David Dellucci (hardly a bargain, we should remember) and Jason Michaels and Trot Nixon and Masa Kobayashi and Mark DeRosa and Kevin Slowey and Jamey Carroll and Mark Grudzielanek and Orlando Cabrera.  Oh god.  I just remembered Obie.  The horror.

That’s just off the top of my head, and we’re not even counting the league minimum guys here.  And not one of them benefitted this team in any appreciable way.  The best of them were glorified bench players miscast into everyday duty.  The worst were named Orlando.  But not one of them provided anything near the sort of value that every once in a while you expect to find if your talent evaluation is anything near average.

I don’t think that every free agent signing has to be Eric Chavez—that’s not remotely possible, given the constraints of the space time continuum.  But I’m not sure why they all have to be Masa Kobayashi either.  As the Chavez example should make clear, there is real value on the free agent market each off-season that is within the Indians’ financial grasp.

Too often, we prefer to throw our hands up when faced with the unlevel playing field in MLB.  And don’t get me wrong: it’s seriously warped.  But the Indians’ front office as well as the fans need to be asking why other teams are able to find free agent value on the cheap.

  • Garry_Owen

    So, what you’re saying is that when we trade Choo to NY, that trade should include Chavez. Okay!

  • 5KMD

    DeRosa played pretty well. Well enough to get CP. I’d say that was a win.

  • C’mon, one stiff the Yankees signed is good after being washed up for years. What about all the stiffs that suck for them, like Andruw Jones (.297 OBP), DeWayne Wise (.286 OBP, cut), Jayson Nix (.288 OBP), Chris Stewart (.281), Casey McGehee (.234 OBP after a trade), Chad Qualls (6.14 ERA), Ryota Igorashi (12.00 ERA in 3 IP). They have the same success rate signing stiffs as the Indians. You will NOT be successful if you are poking through the trash hoping to find the valuable baseball cards some old lady threw out.

    No one was writing about Eric Chavez the last three years when he was basically Jack Hannahan.

  • dwhit110

    Kevin Millwood and Paul Byrd both came to mind.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    When you are a team that has players like Jeter, Rodriguez, Granderson and Teixeira you can afford to have a player like Chavez. The Indians have a team of Chavez’s and very few stars in fact I’d say virtually none especially this season.

  • mgbode

    NYY offense has underwhelmed this year. First, they will likely bounce-back next year (Tex healthy, Gardner back, etc.).

    They have HR-power, they have a deep bench, but their starters have been extremely disappointing all year long.

  • cmm13

    Kenny Lofton 2007. BOOM.

  • mgbode

    mid-season trade, no?

    casey blake as a good sign. Russell Branyan was as well (not for his play but for all the players he netted in trades as well as the fun discussions it netted us).

  • Harv 21

    I like Chavez, but two thoughts:

    – what would his numbers looked like in the middle of our line up, where Choo started off so cold he was moved to lead off and pretty much everyone else stayed cold?

    – Free agency requires the player to want to play here. Chavez has made a lot of money in this game. Who says he wanted to come here, even for a little more money? If no one was offering him a decent multiyear contract, a shot at a ring and a lineup that he thought might help his numbers for next year may have been way more important.

  • mgbode

    as far as the warped MLB paying field. i’m close to throwing up my hands.

    Angels make $150mil/year on their local TV deal. So, their current payroll (including guys like Pujols, Greinke, Wilson, Weaver, etc.) is paid for before they have a single person walk through the turnstile or purchase merchandise.

    Dodgers are rumored to exceed that amount by quite a bit. They currently have a $193mil payroll for 2013 and there is talk that it will be covered by their local TV deal ($4bil/20year deal rumored).

    The Indians, btw, make $30mil/year from STO. Enjoy.

  • EyesAbove

    Im disappointed that the Indians didnt go after Cody Ross. He signed a 1 year deal for 3 million with the Red Sox and he too has a higher OPS than any Indian. Even if you buy the argument that 3 years was too much for Willingham (which I dont anymore) there were still other (better) options available to the Tribe that they did not pursue.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    If you’ve ever watched STO I’m amazed they even get $30M!

  • mgbode

    definitely. Willingham, Ross, Kubel, Cespedes. All signed on the market for reasonable deals and all exceeding expectations.

  • mgbode

    don’t think I made the above post enough to the point:

    Angels/Dodgers both have a fully paid payroll before opening day.
    Indians payroll is less than 1/2 paid.

    This despite the huge discrepencies between the payrolls.

  • mgbode

    guess I might be underselling the Dodgers local TV deal. latest from ESPN says $5bil/20year deal (250mil/year) is a possibility:

    “The Los Angeles Lakers’
    new contract with Time Warner Cable, which has been reported as a
    20-year, $5 billion deal, is often used as a the point of comparison for
    what the Dodgers could get.”

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The irony is the Indians don’t deserve to be paid they way they’ve been playing.

  • BisonDeleSightings

    Casey Blake?

  • Steve

    Sorry Jon, but this is bad analysis. One, as Harv mentioned, it’s not as simple as your Xbox game. Guys have to want to sign here, and as we’ve seen (all 3 teams), guys don’t want to come to Cleveland.

    Also, Chavez has played in a hitters park, and especially so for lefties. His numbers would be noticeably down in Cleveland. His 125 OPS+ would be good for about an .800 OPS here. Huge difference. And much more importantly, Chavez has greatly benefited from not having to face LHP all year. 247 PAs, just 28 against lefties. Divvy them up like a full-time starter would actually get (2/3 against RHP, 1/3 against LHP) and we’re looking at a guy who OPS-es in the very low .700s. Ho hum. Eric Chavez is, unequivocally, not a good example of what you’re trying to say.

  • Steve

    3 years is too much for a guy who looks perfectly mediocre when you’ve seen how overpaying on the FA market can really hamstring your small-market team.

  • Natedawg86

    I am next to you on the cliff bud

  • mgbode

    i disagree. willingham’s 120 OPS+ was worth the 3yr deal. the pause I had with it was that he was only healthy for 110-120games/year (before this year). he was a slightly younger, lightly healthier Pronk. $7mil per year for 3years felt like too much for that. of course, he has gone off this year.

  • Hypno_Toad

    Or are they playing on par with what they’re paid?

    Chicken and the egg.

  • Du

    Totally agree. The problem for the Tribe is that their FA’s end up having to carry our team for the most part. Where as FA’s on teams like the Yankee’s can play more behind the scenes, with much less pressure. Therein lies the problem. If you look back at some of the more successful middle ground FA’s we have had over the years, I would guess you would find that in those years are core players were the ones leading our team.

  • Jaker

    First of all, it’s much easier to have that OPS and HR total playing in Yankees Stadium and being surrounded by that Yankee lineup. Brantley is an All Star if he was in that lineup, and Cabrera would have 30 Homers. Chavez on the Tribe? No way we know what numbers he puts up. Similar to Yankee Chavez? Probably not. Similar to Indian Hannahan? Most likely.

    Second. I believe that Casey Blake and Carl Pavano fit Into that stopgap role pretty well when they were here, which was too long ago. Our FO’s forte is picking up gems in trades for Roster fillers (Droobs, Choo, Santana, Perez) so lets get back to doing just that, ShAntonetti!!!

  • Steve

    I agree that his numbers, and even his health risk, are easily worth the contract, for most teams. But not the Indians. This team is in the unfortunate situation of having to greatly overpay FAs to get them to come to town, while not having any leeway to even slightly miss on larger money targets. Remember, this is a town that bitched and moaned about David Dellucci. They have to be perfect.

  • EyesAbove

    All true and yet, they’re in first place on August 28th with a 3.5 game lead.

    Must be nice.

  • JRS19

    And these deals are working out for 2012, (well not really Ross as Sox are a mess too) but Boston can afford to keep him around as they’re rich and try to contend each year. Willingham’s, Kubel’s, and Cespedes’ contracts will probably end up as albatrosses next year or the year after, but at least OAK may get a playoff berth this year off the investment.

  • mgbode

    it depends:

    JoshW has been crazy good. even if he reverts back to the 120 or so OPS+ hitter he was, if he can stay healthy enough, then he’s worth the investment. hard to say the Twins will regret that deal (they may even just flip him this offseason for pitching as his deal is now seen as team-friendly).

    Kubel – worked out well this year and only 1 more guaranteed year left. hardly an albatross.

    Cespedes – longest deal, so greatest risk, but he should be entering his prime (if he is actually 26yo).