The San Francisco Giants wound up making the mistake. But if they hadn't, someone else would have.
For some reason unbeknownst to me, baseball execs throughout MLB thought Mark DeRosa was worth several million dollars a year. DeRosa wound up getting six million dollars for two years: a two-year, $12 million deal.
This is the sort of move that, as an analyst, drives me up the wall.
Mark DeRosa doesn't do anything particularly well. He hit a mediocre .250/.319/.433 in 2009, a .752 OPS. Third basemen as a whole hit .265/.335/.421, a .757 OPS.
So, offensively, he's close to average.
DeRosa will be 35 before the 2010 season begins, and he appears to be in decline. His strikeout-to-walk ratio (121/47) was the worst he's had since 2003 and second-worst of his career. His strikeout rate has increased three straight years, and his walk rate dropped considerably last year.
DeRosa also had the lowest line-drive rate of his career; not only is he swinging and missing more (hence the Ks), but when he hits the ball, he's not squaring it up as well.
DeRosa did manage to hit 23 homers last year and 21 the year before; prior to 2008, he had never hit more than 13 in a season. He's certainly unlikely to improve on the 23 homers after moving to San Francisco's spacious park, but the over-the-fence power is a bright spot in DeRosa's otherwise unimpressive offensive game.
You'd think that if slightly-above-average power was DeRosa's only good offensive skill, and he was getting $6 million a year, he was some sort of wizard defender.
But he's not.
In his first extensive time at third base last year, DeRosa posted a -8.7 UZR/150. His career mark at the position is -6.5 in 311 games.
Players don't generally get better defensively as they hit their mid-to-late thirties, so expecting DeRosa to be even average with the glove at third is too much to expect. He is a good right fielder (career +21.6 UZR/150), but right fielders (.256/.338/.444 in 2009) generally are much better hitters than DeRosa.
So DeRosa is an acceptable but below-average defender at third who doesn't hit for much average, walks a decent but unexceptional amount, and has enough juice in his bat to pop 20 homers.
Here's the part that irks me.
Aren't there a million guys crawling around Triple-A with that exact skill set?
And, for the Giants specifically, doesn't DeRosa's skill set sound exactly like Scott McClain's?
If you're not a Giants fan, I'll fill you in: McClain is a minor league slugger journeyman who never got a fair shake at the big league level, but hit well over 300 minor league homers. He's a fundamentally sound third baseman, but in his late thirties, he's not a premier defender there. The Giants sold McClain to the Japanese leagues last May.
A quick look at the minor league free agent list uncovers a number of players who could produce about as well as DeRosa for the league minimum of $400,000: Dallas McPherson, Wes Bankston, Paul McAnulty, Mark Bellhorn, Mark Saccomanno, Joel Guzman, Corey Smith...
And even if those options were unsatisfactory, there are plenty of players in Triple-A that could be acquired for little or nothing to fill the "pop 20 homers in a season and don't completely embarrass yourself in any other area" role, just like the A's got Jack Cust from the Padres in 2007.
Heck, Jesus Guzman, who hit .321/.379/.507 at Triple-A in 2009, is already in the Giants' system!
And it's not just the Giants. We saw this same sort of move with the Nationals' signing of Jason Marquis and the Angels' signing of Fernando Rodney. Why waste money on these players? At best, they perform adequately, and at worst, they implode. With that sort of upside and downside, it's best to wager the least money possible and find a proven minor league performer like Guzman for the league minimum.
The money saved from that, in the Giants' case, could go toward extending Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brian Wilson, Jonathan Sanchez, or some other core piece; or it could be used to attract a top-tier free agent in future seasons.
The only team that really goes by this logic is the Florida Marlins, who perpetually have a laughably low payroll. And yet, despite their severe financial limitations, the Marlins really have never been basement dwellers. They've won two World Series in less than two decades of existence, and if they were allowed any financial flexibility, they may have won more.
The Marlins trade average players like DeRosa away once they get expensive like this, and find another guy like Guzman for the league minimum. That player performs pretty well for a few years, gets expensive, is traded for minor leaguers, and the cycle starts all over again.
It's not so much Brian Sabean and the Giants that I'm criticizing for this. It's the culture that thinks a 35-year-old third baseman with a .752 OPS and poor defense is not only better than a 25-year-old third baseman with an .885 Triple-A OPS and poor third base defense, but so much better that he's worth paying $6 million. $6 million to block the 25-year-old who will do the job for less than seven percent of that figure.
Is DeRosa an upgrade over Edgar Renteria and his .635 OPS? Yeah. Does he make the Giants better because of that? Sure.
But is throwing $12 million at Mark DeRosa the best way for Brian Sabean to allocate resources to make his team better?