First off, it should not be remotely surprising that Brian Sabean has chosen to sign Miguel Tejada. He went with the established veteran, something he’s done time and time again throughout his tenure. Let’s take a look at the two established veterans that just departed, Renteria and Uribe. Both were considered leaders in the clubhouse, like Tejada, and one hit an NLCS clinching HR while the other hit the World Series winning HR against one of the best pitchers in baseball, sealing his Fall Classic MVP. This all but confirmed Sabean's philosophy, so of all the responses you should have following this announcement, shock should be the last.
It’s also important to quickly dispel the myth that Tejada HAS power. He HAD power. People hear Tejada and they think he has pop, but in his current, 36-year-old state that couldn't be further from the truth; his 2010 slugging percentage of .381 was a point lower than Scott Podsednik. Rumor dispatched.
Something he also far from possesses, and this holds true now and throughout his entire career, is plate discipline. If you think Uribe likes to hack, you probably won’t be thrilled to learn that Tejada saw fewer pitches per plate appearance (P/PA) than Juan in 2010 (3.34 versus 3.59). Tejada had a 90 OPS+ in ’10 – that’s 10% worse than a league average hitter – to go along with a .306 weighted on base average (wOBA), .312 on base percentage (OBP), .381 slugging percentage (SLG), and .693 OPS. That’s awful.
Bill James projects he'll rebound slightly to the tune of a .320 wOBA in ‘11, but he's no upgrade over what the Giants had in 2010 with Renteria (.314 wOBA) and Uribe (.322 wOBA). More likely, he's a downgrade, both offensively and defensively.
He's had negative defensive ratings by Fangraphs in 9 of 13 seasons (-4.9 wins career) and in 10 of 13 by Baseball-reference (-6.7 wins career). Which is to say, they never thought his defense was good, and because he'll turn 37 in May, it’s bound to be atrocious. You wouldn't mind the defense if he was still hitting even near as well as he was in his prime, but he's not, and he won't again.
One thing he does do is play every day, and that’s probably worth something. But he will need to again be worth the 1.35 wins above replacement (WAR) he was in 2010 to earn his paycheck. His WAR was 1.35 when you blend his 2010 WAR 50/50 between Fangraphs (1.3) and Baseball-Reference (1.4). He’ll need to play at least that well to be worth the $6.5 million they're paying him at the rate of $4.5 to $5 million per win (which is the believed to be value of a win above replacement on the open market currently).
*1.35 WAR x ($4.5 or $5.0) = $6.075 to $6.75 million, or right on the money
The trouble is, there’s reason to believe he won’t play that well. Players at such an advanced age lose about a half a win per season on average, at least. Some work by Tom Tango recently revealed that it's probably appropriate to regress even more aggressively with players over 33 to the tune of 0.7 wins per season. If that holds true, and even if we take the higher market value of $5 million per win and the higher WAR figure from Baseball-Reference of 1.4, he'd regress to 0.7 wins above replacement in 2011, or a value of $3.5 million. However you look at it, it looks as though the Giants are paying him fair value, best case scenario, or about $3 million too much worst case scenario. In my wildest dreams he might be worth two wins next year, but I’d be happy if he again hit 1.3 wins above replacement.
The silver lining in all of this is pretty obvious, though. While Sabean surely did not avoid going the once-upon-a-time-a-star, veteran route, he did manage to avoid doling out a multi year deal. Progress! Tejada will be a one year stop-gap to give the Giants' minor league options time to develop. If none of them (Brandon Crawford and Ehire Adrianza, specifically) pan out, they'll again look to build another bridge to the next prospect, or fill the need via free agency or the trade market.
It's easy to ridicule, tar and feather Sabean for this deal based on Tejada's recent success (or rather, lack there of), but we all knew the shortstop options weren't attractive. Many would have probably preferred Uribe at 3 years and $21 million, but those in favor would also likely be first in line to crucify Sabean when in two years he isn't hitting, a serviceable shortstop, healthy, or some combination of the three. The truth of it is this: Uribe may and likely will be the better player in 2011, but after that the Dodgers are on the hook for two more seasons and an additional $14 million. The Giants won’t be.
The Giants picked one out of a stable of unattractive options, and are content to see how it works and buy themselves enough time to find a long-term option later. What were the other options? As far as free agents go, there was Cezar Izturis with his .248 wOBA and -0.3 WAR. There was Orlando Cabrera with the .292 wOBA and 1.3 WAR. There was Edgar Renteria with a .314 wOBA and 1.3 WAR but who can’t possibly be expected to play even half a season. There was Adam Everett with his .210 wOBA and -0.3 WAR in just 31 games this past season. There was Christian Guzman and his .287 wOBA and -0.1 WAR. Are you getting the picture? Trade candidates who would cost a prospect or two were: Jason Bartlett (.302 wOBA, 0.7 WAR), J.J. Hardy (.313 wOBA, 2.4 WAR) and Ryan Theriot who was already shipped to the Cardinals by the Dodgers. There was technically Derek Jeter. He, however, would have cost more than the Yankees were willing to pay, or upwards of $45 million over three seasons, which can also be described as a sum likely far greater than his actual worth.
The truth is the options were awful, and throwing darts at a board of their names or faces would have been about as productive. The Giants get a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds because Uribe went to the Dodgers as a Type B free agent. The Giants also didn’t sign themselves up to a multi-year deal with a player they weren’t wild about – Uribe was clearly in this category. Finally, they didn’t cost themselves a prospect, and Sabean has been clutching them tightly in recent years, the results of which cannot be argued with.
One thing to keep in mind and certainly keep an eye on is this: If Pablo doesn't return to his 2009 form or something approaching it, the wheels could fall off the left side of the infield in a hurry. The lack of range on the left side would be frightening, and the lack of plate discipline and propensity to ground into double plays between them could be horrifying. This is the nightmare scenario. What’s more, if either J.J. Hardy or Jason Bartlett are non-tendered instead of traded, the Giants may have painted themselves into a corner in which they cannot negotiate for their services due to lack of payroll. This seems unlikely, but it’s a possibility.
A blanket goal of the offseason should have been to improve. On top of that, the front office explicitly acknowledged a desire to get more athletic and more left-handed. They've accomplished neither the specific goals nor the blanket goal to this point in the offseason, and it’s far from apparent that additional moves will change any of that.
Hopefully, management recognizes quickly – if they have not already – that while the results of 2010 were a Dream Come True, the path taken was far from a straight line. The savvy veteran will not always hit an opposite field home run to win the pennant. The aged shortstop will not always hit an improbably home run off of the elite left-handed pitcher. Pitchers have down years and players get hurt; no matter how good your pitching is, the goal should never be to score "3 to 4 runs per game." The Giants simply MUST find a way to eclipse 700 runs by some significant number, or else they'll be missing the playoffs more often than they’d like.
Am I wild about Tejada? No. But after further reflection following my initial knee-jerk reaction, he’s not a disaster.