Welcome to the north side, Mr. DeJesus (and goodbye Soriano?)

Today, the Cubs signed David DeJesus to a two-year, $8.5 million deal with a third-year option worth $6.5 million with a $1.5 million buyout. In other words, the Cubs signed a defensively adept outfielder/health risk with an average/slightly above average bat to a two-year, $10 million deal with a third-year marginal option cost of $5 million.

Using last year’s market win value, they are essentially paying for a +1.0 WAR player each of the next two years (three, if they exercise his option). As identified in our 2012 Cubs offseason article, this is an excellent buy-low move.

Given DeJesus’ age and health risks (he is 32 and only played a combined 222 games between 2010 and 2011, only once playing 150 games in a single season and only twice playing 140 over his eight-year major league career), $5 million a year might seem like merely fair compensation, while a two-year deal with a mandatory buyout might seem slightly generous.

However, contrary to that gut reaction, it is an extremely team-friendly deal in more ways than one. It not only is an expected surplus-value-providing contract, but, as will be explained below, it is also one that empowers the Cubs with extra payroll/positional flexibility to move Alfonso Soriano.

Let’s begin by looking at DeJesus and his contract. First off, he is coming off his second-worst year in the majors since his rookie season. He only batted .240/.323/.376 (.309 wOBA), which is what enabled the Cubs to sign him so cheap in the first place.

However, even with such a poor batting line, DeJesus was still worth +2.2 WAR last season. Thanks to strong outfield defense (career +6 UZR/150 defender in the corners) and above-average base running (as measured by UBR) abilities (this despite being a career 51-for-97 base stealer), DeJesus is still an above-average major league player when his bat disappoints and he only plays 130 of his team’s 162 games.

Accord to the world according to xBABIP, DeJesus was pretty unlucky with his balls in play in 2011. His .274 BABIP last year was a career low (by .015 points), and despite an uptick in strikeouts (17.0 percent compared to a career rate of 13.4 percent), DeJesus continued to drive the ball with authority (20.2 percent line drive rate). The result was an expected BABIP of .309, which was a full .035 points ahead of his actual results.

If we adjust DeJesus’ batting line to reflect his xBABIP-based “true talent” line, then we should have expected him to hit .268/.347/.388 (.735 OPS) last season. Using his career BABIP rate (.316) in lieu of xBABIP, we could have expected a marginally better batting line of .273/.352/.393 (.745 OPS).

Oliver projects DeJesus for a .326 wOBA in Oakland for 2012 (.741 OPS). Such an improvement would mean the addition of 7-8 batting runs to DeJesus’ 2011 batting value, bringing his expected 2011 WAR production to right about +3.0. And that’s before you consider the move from spacious Oakland to Wrigley.

Those numbers might be off his career batting line of .284/.356/.421 (.776 OPS), but when you consider that the Oakland Colluseim played as a far worse hitters park than Kaufman Stadium last year, as it has for the past few seasons, especially for left handed batters—Kansas City has a slightly inflating wOBA index of 103 for lefties, while Oakland has a deflating index of 95—then the numbers really are not that far apart. And remember that offense around the league as a whole was down last year relative to the past few years.

So let’s say DeJesus’ talent line is not far off his career rate, maybe slightly below it. What can we expect from Wrigley’s effects on DeJesus? For starters, it should help boost his very average power. Wrigley Field has a 120 index for left-handed home run power. That means DeJesus should be capable of 15 or more dingers if he can play 150 games (a big if, of course).

Wrigley also means that DeJesus should see a jump in his overall wOBA production. The Friendly Confines is one of the more notorious hitters parks in the National League, and as hinted above, the park tends to help left-handed hitters more than right-handed hitters.

Given that DeJesus was worth +2.2 WAR in only 131 games last season in one of baseball’s most offense-zapping parks, I full expect him to be worth at least +3.0 WAR at Wrigley next season—keeping all else constant—with +4.0 WAR upside if he can stay healthy. At the very least, he should be able to turn in a pair of +2.0-2.5 WAR seasons for the Cubs.

If we pessimistically assume the DeJesus will only be worth between +4.0 and +5.0 cumulative WAR over the next two years, that makes his contract worth between $10 and $15 million dollars in “surplus” value to the team. If he is capable of something more, say +7.0 WAR over the next two years, that surplus value conceivably jumps to $25 million.

Let’s take the pessimistic median of these projected ranges, for simplicity’s sake, and assume for a moment that DeJesus’ contract is worth a surplus value of $16 million over the next two years. What does this mean for the Cubs?

It means they are able to move Soriano without being prematurely forced to lean on Brett Jackson, for two reasons. First, DeJesus can simply take over Soriano’s spot in the lineup. DeJesus has mostly played right the past few seasons, but he is no stranger to left (let alone center) field.

More importantly, however, it allows the Cubs to “eat” more of Soriano’s salary without any real effect on the team’s relative payroll and production. For every surplus production dollar that DeJesus is worth to the team, that is one dollar that can give away, for nothing, without changing the pre-signing status quo.

Soriano’s remaining contract is essentially a three-year, $54 million deal. That’s an $18 million annual expenditure, or $4 million more per year than Adam Dunn is making. If the Cubs were willing to eat half of Soriano’s salary ($27 million) to move him before the DeJesus signing, this deal could potentially mean the team could eat up to an additional $16 million without being in any worse of a financial situation in terms of dollars spent and expected wins.

In other words, they potentially could be offering teams a three-year, $11 million-dollar commitment to obtain Soriano. That’s roughly the fair market value of a single season of a player like Carlos Pena, which would make Soriano incredible attractive to even small-market teams.

More likely, however, it means the Cubs can now eat half of Soriano’s salary without handcuffing their productive future (they go from “eating” $27 million to effective “eating” $10 million). While the money will still be sunk into Soriano’s contract regardless, the value gained from the DeJesus deal will recoup much of that sunk cost.

Of course this all assumes a relatively flat aging curve and no adverse changes in health, which are bold assumptions. Nonetheless, I think this will prove to be a fantastic deal for the Cubs and a great sign of the shrewd, positive things to come during the Epstein/Hoyer era.

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Comments

  1. jj said...

    I’m not sure who would want Soriano right now no matter what the Cubs eat.  It would have to be a team that hopes to contend and has absolutely no minor league OF prospects because I can’t think any team really believe that he is much better than a AAAA OF at this point.  Maybe as a DH he wouldn’t hurt as much.  Either way I think the Cubs would do much better to wait until June/July to see in there is interest for him – his value can’t go much lower at this point – can it?

  2. Jeffrey Gross said...

    It is also worth pointing out that this move obviously does not make the Cubs a contender, nor am I arguing that. It sets them up to tentatively slot LaHair at 1B and DeJesus in RF if they do not trade Soriano, while adding a Fielder/Pujols type if they so desire. I think an OF of Byrd, DeJesus and Jackson would be quite defensively good and would would go lengths towards masking the Cubs’ pitching depth issues.

  3. Jeffrey Gross said...

    jj,

    There are plenty of teams who would take Soriano at the right price, including the Red Sox and Yankees, to play DH.

    Teams can get creative. For example, the White Sox could conceivably move Quentin for prospects or whatever, slot Dunn/Soriano in the corner and the other at DH. Likewise, the Twins are in need of a DH/LF-type to replace Cuddyer/Kubel right now, and never count out the giants to make a play for an aging veteran that falls within budget. Mariners also need a power bat too, as might the Blue Jays (potentially).

    Soriano can still hit for power well. 26 HR last year. Sure, he looks a lot like Mike Jacobs given his OBP, but a .265/.320/.470 is plausible enough in 2012—a .750-.800 OPS type production. The real question is health and salary. Eating money solves a lot of the questionability of the move.

    And hell, if the Jays can move vernon well AND get mike napoli back, then anything is possible

  4. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Also, just to point out, eating Soriano’s money, even more of it, obviously “costs” the team more “dead payroll,” but the point here is that the surplus value of DeJesus’ contract offsets that deadweight loss

  5. Craig said...

    Somewhere Jim Hendry and Gary Hughes are opening their Baseball Prospectus’ to find out who this “Jesus” guy is.

  6. Jared said...

    I absolutely love the deal.  Not sexy at all, but it’s the type of moves that improve the team will very little risk involved.  Since he is basically making 4th OF type money it gives them a lot of flexibility that could be useful when handling Jackson.

    Also, funny Dunn’s name is brought up.  I would still like the Cubs go out and get him, either in a swap with Soriano or just getting lots of cash back in return.  I think he is a great buy low candidate and could very well rake again playing at Wrigley.

  7. Pat Simons said...

    If something is happening with Fielder please do
    it soon so that the Brewers can make necessary
    additions for the next season and the cubs can
    start another problem with A/S.  Thank you

  8. Jeffrey Gross said...

    I think the point, at least in my mind Brad, is this:

    DeJesus is a league average bat in some of the worst offensive parks, so he should be at least a league average bat in Wrigley most likely. He’s a plus defender and, despite poor SB, a good baserunner (at least in first-to-third terms). That makes him at least league average, probably more so, at least in my view. The Cubs are paying him like a 1 WAR reliever

  9. Brad Johnson said...

    Where does Dunn play in the field though? I don’t exactly expect much of anything out of Bryan LaHair, but I do expect him to outperform Dunn. Remember, Dunn literally can’t play defense and now that he’s no longer a lock for +40 batting runs, it really makes little sense to waste a roster spot on him.

    Go find out if you have the next Mike Morse in LaHair.

    Just as an interesting observation, there seem to be two schools to WAR measurements on DeJesus’ 2011.

    Fangraphs – 2.2
    BPro (WARP) – 2.1
    B-Ref – 0.6
    Oliver – 0.3

    As we discussed on the list serve, I’d rather not discuss DeJesus’s value according to WAR, it’s just an interesting observation. I’m not inclined to say any of those numbers are “wrong.”

  10. JR said...

    Jeffrey, good article on DeJesus.  But I agree with some others that it is going to be much more difficult than what is said above to move Soriano.  He is just really bad (defensively and offensivley)and has an even worse contract.  I think all of MLB knows that.  Even if the Cubs eat 90% of his contract i think it would be stupid for another team to pick him up.

  11. Jeffffff said...

    JR,
    NO.  It wouldn’t be stupid for a team to pick up Soriano.  That’s the whole point of this well-written and researched article.  Learn to read.

  12. klocker said...

    DeJesus is a solid low risk high reward pick up and is where theo and Jed make their money. He is without a doubt better than any other options the cubs have in house.

    By the way, there is no way the yankees or red sox touch a liability like soriano. They are both too smart,  too deep and too wealthy to take on someone else’s problem. There is a surplus of bats that can get you .250 and 25 hr.

  13. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Kloker,

    Soriano is worth acquiring at the right price for the right role for many teams. He’s an average/slightly above player still. The problem is he is getting paid superstar money. Note that his ISO has been .225 or higher in 6 of the past 7 years, and with the exception of last year, the walks have been up too. He is also capable of playing the field. A player like that certainly has some value. Just not nearly as much value as he is getting paid to produce. Thus, the need for the Cubs to eat money

  14. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @JR,

    What is wrong with his bat/arm? 2009 was an injury-riddled bust of a season. He was still an average bat last year with a career low BABIP. His power is still robust, and his fielding is average/a tad above average, and he is an average base runner. Soriano has an average arm in the field, and he makes some mistakes, but he has good enough range to make up for it. As one of the commenter points out, he is a much better LF than 2B.

  15. givejonadollar said...

    This was a very good article.

    As for Soriano….I would be all for him staying if he would look at more pitches per at bat.

    I think most of his offensive woes are directly tied to the fact that pitchers know he is going to continually attack.

    If he is too stubborn, ignorant, or just simply doesn’t have the ability to change that issue, I would prefer for him to go.

  16. JR said...

    @Jeffrey and Jefffff

    I am just saying in my opinion Soriano is garbage even with 25 bombs.  He is bad at every other part of the game.  I would much rather have a player like J. Willingham who can at least get obp.  And i will never be convinced his defence in left is decent.  Are you kidding me??  Guys i think we just agree to disagree.  Plus the dumb trade that GM in LAA made for Wells is going to make GM’s more cautious…

  17. AimHighProfits said...

    Brett Jackson is more than ready. Worst case scenario imo is let Soriano have a fflashing April-May and trade his ass.

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