Sunday, 16 September 2012

What About Carlos?

There's been quite a bit of talk about Carlos Villanueva over the last few months.  He's been arguably the most valuable pitcher for the Jays over the summer months (since Brandon Morrow went down, anyway), he's certainly been one of the few responsible parties for keeping this season afloat(-ish), and he's a free agent at the end of the season.

Given the current state of the Blue Jays' season, Villanueva probably should have been traded at the July 31 trade deadline, and almost certainly would have been, had the injury bug not jumped up and bit practically the entire team.  The fact of the matter is that the Jays weren't that far out of the wild card hunt at that point in time; all it would have taken was one nice little hot streak where they win 10 of 12 or whatever, and there's a reasonable chance that they could pull it off, or at least come close with the addition of a nice piece or two.

Move forward a couple of weeks, and suddenly, the Jays are 8 games out of the second wild card.  Morrow is on the shelf, Bautista is on the shelf, Arencibia (and d'Arnaud) is on the shelf, Lawrie is on the shelf.  Romero and Escobar are having sub-par seasons, Kelly Johnson is either sucking, or playing hurt, and Anthony Gose, Moises Sierra and Adeiny Hechavarria are playing practically everyday.

The obvious problem here is that the non-waiver deadline has come and gone.  AA has already decided that neither Travis Snider, nor Eric Thames is worth a final look, and he moved them to Pittsburgh and Seattle, respectively, in an effort to bolster a disappointing bullpen.  Francisco Cordero, arguably the worst Blue Jay in history, was jettisoned, along with prospects, to land Brandon Lyon and JA Happ.  These weren't sell-mode trades.  These were little deals to help the team win, or at least survive.

Basically, what I'm getting at here, is that if AA could see in to the future, he'd have probably traded Carlos Villanueva at the July 31 trade deadline, since the Jays are currently tanking, and he doesn't seem to want to extend him.  Further, he probably tried to work out a deal at some point during August, but Villanueva probably got claimed on waivers by a team that couldn't work out a deal.

So now, the question is this: what does Villanueva end up getting on the free agent market this off-season?

MLBTR already kind of looked at Villanueva's free agent market, but didn't really make any firm prediction, so let's do that.  The main thing I typically look at when determining a player value is WAR, and assign some kind of dollar value to that, and then adjust for various factors, such as age and past performance.

Villanueva has been worth 1.3 fWAR and 2.3 rWAR so far this season, and is projected to finish with something similar to that by the end of the year, considering he only has two more starts left (we'll call it 130IP).  For our sake, 1.8 WAR is a happy medium and should be a tidy number for math.  His 2011 totals show 1.2 fWAR and 1.8 rWAR over 107IP, so I think we're pretty well seeing the real thing.  The big issue is whether he'll be able to extrapolate those numbers in to 175-200 innings, or if he'd lose effectiveness as the season stretches out.  My money is on the former, for the record.

If Villanueva is a true-talent 2 WAR player, the math is pretty easy.  At $5MM per WAR, then at age 29, Villanueva should just get $10MM a year.  That's probably not going to happen though.  Edwin Jackson's market last year suggested that he would get 3-5 years at $10MM, because, despite being a 2-ish WAR player, he had the track record of being durable enough to throw 200 innings without much worry; we saw how that one worked out (1 year, $11MM plus incentives).

The other two names mentioned by MLBTR in their Villanueva piece are Chris Capuono (2y/$10MM) and Aaron Harang (2y/$12MM).  Neither Capuono nor Harang were 28 years old (both were entering their age 34 season), nor did they have very good years entering free agency this past year.  In fact, the only real thing either had going in their favors were innings counts (186 and 170, respectively); Villanueva has better k/9 and h/9 rates, similar walk rates, and similar ERA's, despite Villanueva being in a much tougher division and ballpark.  The only real problem with this comparison is that both Capuono and Harang were signed by Ned Coletti and the LA Dodgers, who have been throwing around money in hilarious fashion over the last year.

The going rate on a pitcher of Villanueva's caliber is a one-year deal in the $5-7MM range.  Joe Saunders, for example, was worth 1.4rWAR in 2011, and was signed to a $6MM deal.  Again, he has a track record of being able to go out there and throw 175-200 innings.  Villanueva probably won't beat that dollar amount per year, but he may be able to find a second year, thanks to his performance over the last two years.  It's not that he doesn't have the ability to throw 175-200 innings, per se; he hasn't been given the chance to.  Whether or not that is his fault or not is another issue.

My best guess: 2 years, $10.5MM, likely with incentives and/or contract options.

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