Former Phillies’ OF Pat Burrell is apparently on the verge of signing with the Tampa Bay Rays for $8 million a year. This development means that I am on the verge of discontinuing, out of sheer frustration, my quest to understand what some general managers are thinking. Allow me to explain.
Last year, Burrell made $14 million to play the outfield for the Phillies. It was the last year of his contract. The Phillies could have offered Burrell arbitration, which likely would have resulted in paying him $16 million for one more year of his services. If Burrell rejected arbitration, the Phillies get extra draft picks. They did not offer arbitration, electing instead to just let Burrell go. This will become more ridiculous in the coming paragraphs.
Throughout his career, Burrell has been somewhat of an under-appreciated player. He owns a career .257 batting average, which has hurt his perceived value, even though we know that batting average really does not matter. He strikes out about 150 times a year, which also contributes to his perceived ineffectiveness, even though Jason Bay, Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Ludwick, Jim Thome, Carlos Pena, Dan Uggla and Ryan Howard all struck out more than Burrell last year. These factors have contributed to the idea that Burrell is not good at hitting a baseball. He is.
Burrell’s career OBP is .367. His career SLG is .485. His OPS+ is 119, better than Carlos Beltan, Milton Bradley, Paul Konerko, Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano, to name a few. He’s good for about 100 walks a year. In short, Pat Burrell is an asset to a baseball team at the plate.
The Phillies presumably elected not to re-sign Burrell because they believed they could find similar or better production for similar or less money. They did not consciously decide to let Burrell go because they believed they could find worse production for more money. But that is exactly what they did when they signed Raul Ibanez to replace Burrell for $10 million a year. The Phillies replaced a better, younger hitter with an inferior, older hitter, committing more years and more money in the process. Look at their numbers:
- Burrell: 31 years old, .367 OBP, .485 SLG, 119 OPS+, 31 HRs per year, .291 EqA, 4.8 WARP per year
- Ibanez: 36 years old, .346 OBP, .472 SLG, 113 OPS+, 21 HRs per year, .283 EqA, 2.9 WARP per year
Their defense is similarly atrocious. Burrell had a -10.8 UZR last year, while Ibanez had a -12.8. So, clearly, the Phillies do not care about defense in left field. This means they’re focusing on offense, which means that they have no idea how to evaluate offense, because they chose the older, worse player for more money over the younger, better player for less.
It comes down to this: The Phillies were faced with one year of Pat Burrell for $16 million, or three years of Raul Ibanez for $30 million. If Burrell had declined arbitration, the Phillies would have gotten draft picks. If he had accepted, they get one year of good performance at a fair cost. But the Phillies failed to offer arbitration, which means they get no draft picks. Then, they turned to an older and worse hitter to replace Burrell for more years. This is mind-boggling.
I recognize that Burrell’s new contract has little bearing on this analysis. After all, the Phillies were expecting to pay $16 million for one more year of his services. Had the cost been $8 million, I am sure their strategy would have changed. Burrell’s new deal just served as the final nail in the coffin for this ridiculous sequence of decision making. The Rays now have a splendid right-handed bat as their DH for two years at a low cost, and the Phillies have a rapidly declining left-handed bat who cannot play the outfield for three years at a higher cost. To add insult to injury, the Phillies became even more left-handed, adding Ibanez to Howard and Chase Utley. And we all know that Charlie Manuel is reluctant to split up his lefties.
I did not understand what the Phillies were thinking when they signed Ibanez. Burrell’s new deal with the Rays just makes me even more curious.