Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Trade: 2005 Shortstop Carousel

Watching the Blue Jays game yesterday and seeing David Eckstein play second base for Toronto reminded me of one of the more intriguing player movements in recent history. After the 2004 season, three teams switched starting shortstops. The Red Sox signed Edgar Renteria, who had been with the Cardinals, to a four year/$40M contract. The Angels signed Orlando Cabrera, who had been with the Red Sox, to a four year/$32M contract. And, after the Angels waived him, the Cardinals signed David Eckstein to a three year/$10.25M contract.

It was a unique situation because all three played the same position, all three were the same age (30 years old at the time), and all signed brand new contracts. These factors make the comparisons pretty straightforward.

Renteria and Cabrera are now in the last year of their contracts, and Eckstein's expired after last season. One telling fact to start with is that neither Reteria or Cabrera stayed with the team that signed them through the life of the contract, while Eckstein did. Renteria lasted only one year in Boston before he was traded to Atlanta for two years and then traded to Detroit before this season. Cabrera lasted three full seasons with the Angels before getting traded to the White Sox before this season.

I am going to use WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player, described here) as a way to compare these three players and determine which team got the best of their deals. I like WARP for this purpose because it takes fielding into account.

Here are the cumulative WARP totals for the 2005-2007 seasons:

Eckstein - 15.6
Cabrera - 17.4
Renteria - 15.8

Based on raw numbers, Cabrera was the best of the three, followed by Renteria and then Eckstein. But let's add the salary component. For Cabrera and Renteria we will just consider the pro-rated portion of their salary, since the contracts actually continue through 2008. With that in mind, here is how many dollars each of their teams paid for each win added (according to the WARP system):

Eckstein - $657,051
Cabrera - $1,379,310
Renteria - $1,898,734

From this perspective, Eckstein was clearly the better value. Of course, if the marginal difference between Eckstein and Cabrera or Renteria was the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs, the calculation of value might be different. But, in 2005 all three players made the playoffs with their teams, in 2006 Eckstein's team made the playoffs while Renteria's and Cabrera's did not (so clearly the extra expense was not worth it that year) and in 2007 Cabrera's team made the playoffs while Eckstein and Renteria's did not. The Angels won their division in 2007 by six games. Cabrera had a WARP that season of 7.3 while Eckstein's was 3.8, a difference of 3.5 games. So, if Eckstein had played for the Angels instead of Cabrera they still would have won their division by 2.5 games.

Of course, real life doesn't exactly work that way. You can't just take one player off of a team and swap statistics in from another player and assume that everything would have fallen exactly the way it did otherwise. But by almost any calculation you can come up with, David Eckstein was clearly the best value of the three shortstops that changed addresses before the 2005 season.

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