How to (and How Not To) Fill a 2B Hole

Sorry for the sabbatical, but with my classes clamping down on me in the past couple weeks, I’ve had to cut back on baseball-related stuff…and it’s not like the Indians have been a big player so far in the free agent market.

That being said, they’re probably doing the right thing and not jumping head-first into the market. Their biggest need is an adequate second baseball that will allow Brandon Phillips a year in Buffalo to sort out his hitting issues. Now, adequate is nice, but along with adequate needs to come inexpensive. And no long-term contracts, either. Ricky Gutierrez will be exorcised from the payroll at the end of this year; no need to take on another similar contract.

Witness yesterday’s signing of “slick-fielding” Fernando Vina to a 2-year, $6M contract. Yes, Albert Belle’s former speedbump is going to Detroit, where he’ll probably be paraded as an example of ownership trying to win. Now Detroit has been deemed as a small market for years, but sucking for a decade does not make a small-market team. As market size goes, Detroit is second to Chicago as far as market size goes in the AL Central. So theoretically, they should have a pretty high payroll, and they do. Unfortunately, the former Randy Smith regime left the Tigers with the highest per-capita albtrosses in the majors. Dean Palmer, Bobby Higginson, Damien Easley, and I could go on. Up until this point, I thought new GM Dave Dombrowski has done as good a job as he could with trying to build the team while waiting out the contracts.

Until now. The Vina contract fails every kind of test a rebuilding (or building, in the case of the Tigers) team should be looking at when filling a hole via free agency:

1) Is the player going to be part of the next winning team?

Well, since two years is generous by any standards for the Tigers to start winning again, the first answer is no. Compounding this is the age of Vina (34) and his injury-riddled 2003 season. This is not a player in his prime; if anything, he’ll get progressively worse over the next two seasons.

2) If no to #1, is the contract affordable?

In this instance, $3M to Vina is probably a bit over market value. Over the coming month, after the non-tenders and other signings start to happen, you’ll see some better players sign for less. I’ll cover some of these 2B options later on today.

3)If no to #1, does the contract give the team flexibility for next year?

In other words, is it either a minor-league contract or a one-year major-league contract? Well, since Vina received a two-year, guarenteed contract, this answer is no.

So, why did the Tigers sign Vina to a two-year contract again? I have no logical explanation. It’s not like Vina was in demand, so why not just sign him to a one-year deal, and then look at the free agent market next year? Vina certainly isn’t a long-term solution, and he’s not much of a short-term solution, either. His main assets are his defense and his bunting, two things readily available for close to the minimum these days. In fact, the Tigers could have had Juan Uribe for next to nothing if they wanted a young, cheap solution. And they have a couple of in-house glove-men in Andres Torres and Ramon Santiago.

What the Tigers needed at the position was an offensive upgrade, but is Vina really an upgrade of the incumbant Warren Morris?:

Career OPS+ (A player’s career OPS versus the league-average OPS, with 100 being league-average):

Vina 90

Morris 83

That certainly isn’t worth an increase of $2.7M for Vina.

OK, you may be saying, so how should the Indians avoid an idiotic signing like this, and who’s out there? I’ll get to that later today.

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