Executives around baseball ridiculed Pagan's deal, but the Giants should jump for joy.
In a survey of 16 baseball executives conducted by Jayson Stark of ESPN, the Giants' re-signing of Angel Pagan to a four-year, $40 million contract was ranked as the third worst free-agent signing of the winter and the third most outrageous contract.
One executive told Stark, "$10 million a year for four years of a guy who has never been an All-Star or [finished in the] top 30 MVP [voting]?"
Stark went on to write:
And are they [the Giants] SURE it was worth committing four years and $40 million to a center fielder (Pagan) who turns 32 in July and whose Similarity Score list at baseball-reference.com produces names like Felix Jose and Alex Ochoa? Our voters definitely weren't.
All-Star voting, MVP voting and Baseball-Reference Similarity Scores aren't the best metrics to evaluate a player. There is no perfect way to make an evaluation, but the best single metric at the public's disposal is Wins Above Replacement (WAR or wins) because it combines positional value, defense, base-running and offense.
Since Pagan became a full-time starter three years ago, he's hit .281/.334/.415 while averaging 33 steals and nearly three wins per year. He avoids striking out, which helps him maintain a solid batting average. However, his 7.5 percent walk rate over the past three years is below the league average of around 8.0 percent and far from ideal for a leadoff hitter.
Where Pagan separates himself from the pack is with his speed on the bases and in center field.
He's one of the top baserunners in the game and he plays at least average defense at a premium position. Last year, Pagan ranked as the fourth best baserunner in the game according to FanGraphs and the second best baserunner according to Bloomberg Sports.
Fielding Runs Above Average—the metric used by Baseball Prospectus—ranks Pagan at 22 runs above average over the past three seasons. Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating—the two metrics available at FanGraphs—show Pagan to be slightly below average over that span.
Because the defensive metrics that are publicly available aren't as far along as the offensive stats we now have, WAR is an inherently flawed statistic. Until someone creates a more reliable defensive metric, WAR will continue to be a stat that can point to a player's total value but without the degree of certainty we have with offensive stats like batting average and home runs.
However, since WAR paints a holistic picture of each player's contributions, it's the best number to use to make general comparisons over time. And, over the last three seasons, Pagan ranks favorably with the free-agent outfielders that were available this winter.
Josh Hamilton ranked as the best available outfielder this offseason based on his performance over the past three seasons. However, his $125 million contract was triple what Pagan received, and he also would have cost the Giants their first-round draft pick.
As a left-handed pull hitter, AT&T Park would not have been a good fit for Hamilton's services. Additionally, his days as a center fielder are over, as he'll likely play right field for the Angels.
B.J. Upton has produced nearly the exact same WAR as Pagan over the past three years, yet he received one more year and $35 million more this offseason.
Upton has good speed and more power than Pagan, but he's had problems making contact. Over the last four years, he's hit just .242 overall while averaging 162 strikeouts per year.
Michael Bourn is even faster than Pagan and one of the game's elite defenders in center fielder. However, he also has problems making contact and doesn't hit for any power.
His four-year, $48 million deal is just slightly richer than Pagan's, but he also would have cost the Giants a draft pick. Additionally, they would have had to wait all winter for Bourn and super-agent Scott Boras to make a decision.
Shane Victorino received $13 million per year from the Red Sox, though his contract is one year shorter than Pagan's. Victorino has been slightly better than Pagan over the last three years, but he had the worst season of his career last season—hitting just .255/.321/.383.
Unlike Hamilton, Upton, Bourn and Swisher, Victorino wouldn't have cost the Giants a draft pick because he was traded midseason. However, he would have cost the Giants $3 million more per season than Pagan over the next three years.
Cody Ross received the smallest deal of this group at three years and $26 million, but he's more of a corner outfielder than a center fielder at this point. He's also been worth about half as many wins as Pagan has over the past three seasons.
The executives who believe Pagan's contract was one of the worst of the winter are underrating his abilities. In two out of the last three seasons, he's played at an All-Star level despite not getting rewarded with a trip to the All-Star Game.
He's just as good as Upton and Victorino, yet he's making less money per year. He might not field as well as Bourn, but he's a better hitter and an equally outstanding baserunner. Almost no one on the planet hits like Hamilton, but Pagan is the better defender and baserunner—not to mention the better fit for the spacious confines of AT&T Park.
The Giants' decision to re-sign Pagan wasn't one of the worst decisions of the offseason; it was one of the best. They kept their first-round draft choice and the second best position player on last year's championship team.
The Pagan contract isn't outrageous. In fact, if he keeps producing like he did last season, the Giants will have themselves a bargain.
(All contracts not directly linked to in this article are from Baseball Prospectus' Cot's Contracts).