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whither edmonds?

Update [2006-11-2 12:21:43 by lboros]: scroll down to see how the SB Nation manager of the year polling turned out.[end update]

program notes: i did a fairly lengthy spot on outsider radio tuesday, talking about the cards' triumph in the world series and, in a more general sense, about the playoff format and the marketing of baseball. the link is here; my segment is in the last 1/3 of the show. have another spot coming up on sports byline usa to promote Diehard Cards, will provide a link when available.

another pair of SB Nation award winners will be announced later today; managers of the year. the cy young winners will come out tomorrow, with the al mvp to come on monday and the nl mvp on tuesday. these results will always arrive as updates to the main post, because they're not available for publication until noon eastern time.

as for a general off-season posting schedule: as long as valatan and erik are up for posting through the winter, we should have new material up 6 days a week; i'll be posting mon-tues and thur-fri, with V on wednesday and erik on sunday. if a significant roster move happens on a saturday, we'll get up a quick post about it. i anticipate renewing some of last off-season's tropes, particularly the roster matrix (see here for an example from last november) and the community projections (example). i may also try to line up a hot-stove interview or three.

on to more interesting subjects. perhaps the biggest, and certainly the most immediate, decision facing the cardinals this off-season is whether or not to pick up edmonds' option. they can keep him for next year at a $10m salary, or buy him out for $3m and let him become a free agent. they have to make that call soon --- within the next 10 days or so, i believe. will they do it? should they do it? my opinions are "no" and "depends," and this is why:

will they bring edmonds back?
we've already heard straight from la russa that if edmonds comes back, it'll likely be on a renegotiated deal --- an extra year or two on the contract at a decreased per-year salary. i doubt that edmonds would go for that. he stated loudly at midseason that he'd been promised his option for 2007 would be picked up at $10m, and he was frustrated that the club had gone back on its word; he also compared his situation to those of woody williams, mike matheney, matt morris, mark grudzielanek, and other veterans who were (in their eyes) cast aside with less than full courtesy. maybe edmonds was just speaking out of frustration, or maybe he genuinely felt betrayed; to me, the comments smacked of PR positioning. ie, i think he knew the club would try to retain him at a lower salary, and he wanted the club --- not himself --- to bear the blame when he rejects the offer. that's just my read of the situation; your opinion may differ. i think he doesn't want to look like a greedy ballplayer who turned down a reasonable offer; he wants to look like an aggrieved star who gave his all to the franchise and the city, only to be treated shabbily in the end.

if edmonds does test the market, he can probably get the same type of deal that moises alou and steve finley got in their late 30s --- two years, $15m or so. the cardinals might offer him that same deal, but they'd have to insist that he waive the $3m buyout because otherwise they're not really saving any money; they'd just be paying him $10m this year ($3m buyout + $7.5m salary) and $7.5m next year, which defeats the purpose. would edmonds give up that $3m so he can stay in st louis and have a chance to "retire a cardinal," as he has long expressed a desire to do? i'll believe it when i see it.

should they bring edmonds back?
this is a very complicated call, and it has to begin with a realistic view of edmonds himself: an aging player with declining health and declining skills. he's down across the board --- playing time, power, on-base ability, the whole thing:

pa avg obp slg bb/pa iso
2004 612 .301 .418 .643 .165 .342
2005 566 .263 .385 .533 .161 .270
2006 408 .257 .350 .471 .130 .214

the playing time alone imposes a major ceiling on his value. edmonds suffered this year from shoulder and abdominal woes, as well as a serious concussion; the shoulder problem was a carryover from late 2005. at age 37, he can't be counted on for more than 500 plate appearances in 2007. i also question how likely edmonds is to regain his effectiveness as a hitter. in only 2 months out of the last 9 --- ie, all 6 months of 2006, and the last 3 or 2005 --- has edmonds slugged over .500. he had spurts of power in september 2005 and july 2006, but aside from those two very short runs he hasn't been a dangerous hitter for a season and a half.

admittedly, a diminished jim edmonds is still a very effective player; baseball prospectus assessed his value at 3.5 wins above replacement this year, despite his injuries and slack statistics. if we accept mgl's benchmark that a win is worth roughly $2m, then edmonds was a $7 million player in 2006. at the very least, he ought to be able to maintain that level of play in 2007. but that really isn't the issue; the question is whether or not edmonds represents the best available use of the $10m in payroll. i can think of at least one option that might be a better use. i'll throw it out for consideration; the response should be interesting. here goes:

dave roberts.

now, before you jump all over me, i am not going to argue that dave roberts is a better baseball player than jim edmonds. but i think he might be a better value than edmonds --- ie, a better return on the dollar. and in the era of moneyball, that is really the only question that matters. roberts might be a downgrade in the outfield compared to edmonds, but he wouldn't be as big a downgrade as you think; he would, however, be a major downgrade in salary, even if you factor in edmonds' buyout clause --- and the payroll savings could be used to fill other holes. so if the choices are:

  • spend $10m on edmonds, or
  • spend $10m to buy out edmonds and sign dave roberts and, say, adam kennedy
i think you have to weigh both options carefully. these are my assumptions:
  1. roberts is nearly as good as edmonds. in the last two seasons at offense-stifling petco, roberts has posted a cumulative .767 ops; get him out of that adverse hitting environment and he's capable of close to .800. edmonds at this stage of his career is no more than an .850 ops guy, so the downgrade from him to roberts isn't as steep as you might think at first blush. baseball prospectus valued roberts at 5.6 wins above replacement in 2006, or two wins better than edmonds; even if you assume that those numbers flip-flop in 2007 (and that's assuming a lot), roberts is simply not a precipitous downgrade.
  2. roberts will cost a lot less than edmonds. players of his type --- speedy singles hitters, particularly outfielders --- don't generally make much as free agents. the cardinals already have one such player on the roster, eckstein --- he signed a 3-year deal for $10m, or about $3.5m a year. likewise, the dodgers got ken lofton for $4m / 1 yr. the exceptions to this rule are guys like rafael furcal and jimmy rollins, who a) are younger than roberts (he is 34), and b) play shortstop rather than the outfield. roberts made $2.25 million in his final arbitration-eligible year; i think he could be signed to a two- or three-year deal very similar to eckstein's, with a 2007 salary of no more than $3.5m.
if my assumption is correct and you could, in fact, get roberts for $3.5m in 2007, then after buying out edmonds for $3m you'd still have $3.5m in the till to address a hole somewhere else on the roster. that money might go into either the rotation or a new second baseman; i mentioned kennedy above, but you could probably get ronnie belliard (not that i'm advocating) for that price, or craig counsell for less; you could also pay half of ray durham's salary for $3.5m. so even if the cards lost a little bit in the outfield (and that is far from a given) by shifting from edmonds to roberts, they could still come out ahead on the deal overall.

the question, ultimately, isn't whether edmonds is worth $10m; it's whether there are other ways to spend that money and get a better return on it. and i think that's a debatable point; lot of evidence to support both sides of the argument. also a lot of risk, either way you go; if it were me, i'd take my chances with the value-priced players and spread my risk around, rather than placing one very large bet on a player who might prove to be washed up.