Former St. Louis Cardinals utility infielder Daniel Descalso agreed to terms with the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday, according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick. The two-year contract will be worth at least $3.6 million, per Chris Cotillo of SB Nation. Descalso will earn $1.5 million with the Rockies in 2015 and $2.1 million in 2016, with the potential for $500,000 more via incentives in each year. The two-year pact's overall value could reach as much as $4.6 million.
When I saw the news that a team—any team—has signed Descalso to a two-year contract, I was surprised. Players who can only passably play second and third base while hitting .243/.313/.341 (.288 wOBA, 81 wRC+) aren't difficult to come by. But it seems that with Tony La Russa's Diamondbacks and perhaps others interested in signing Descalso, the Rockies had to guarantee a second year's salary in order to net the gritty bench-rider.
What strikes me about the contract is the parallels to what Descalso might have earned via the arbitration process had the Cardinals maintained control of utilityman by tendering him a contract for the 2015 and 2016.
As a general rule, a ballplayer typically earns about 40% of what he would make on the open market in his first season of salary-arbitration eligibility, 60% in his second, and 80% in his third. Descalso earned $1.29 million last year with St. Louis after the Cardinals and he agreed to a contract that allowed them to avoid an arbitration hearing. Descalso then hit .242/.333/.313 (.297 wOBA, 88 wRC+) over 184 plate appearances during the 2014 season. MLB Trade Rumors, via their arbitration-eligible salary projections system, foresaw Descalso making $1.4 million for 2015. At $1.5 million (plus potential incentives), the Rockies have essentially given Descalso what he was likely to make in 2015 via arbitration. The bump from $1.5 million guaranteed to $2.1 million, with the same incentives, probably isn't all that far off what the Cards might have paid Descalso had they kept him in the organization in 2015 and tendered him a contract for 2016.
During the last four years, with Descalso on the club, the Cardinals have never won fewer than 88 games, qualified for four postseasons, played in four consecutive National League Championship Series, participated in two World Series, and won one world title. The Rockies, on the other hand, have won 66, 74, 64, and 73 games in each of the last four seasons—never posting a winning percentage over .456.
The indictment of the signing is that the Cards were willing to let Descalso walk in favor of Dean Anna, a minor-league free agent with 25 major-league PAs to his name, or Ty Kelly, who has never dug into a major-league batter's box, as their potential utility infielders while the Rockies are willing to pay for a player who is at best barely above replacement level in his skill set. Put otherwise: the Cardinals are positioned where they could (and should, if the player is worth it) pay a premium for a utility man that will help them win on the margins while the Rockies are not. Consequently, this signing makes no sense for the Rockies.
Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that the Cardinals had not lost fewer than 90 games in any season between 2011 and 2014. This was incorrect. St. Louis won only 88 games in 2012, Mike Matheny's first as manager.