Free Willy by Eric Seidman December 29, 2008 Walt Jocketty and the Cincinnati Reds signed Willy Taveras to a two-year deal this weekend. The financial terms of the deal have not yet been disclosed, but the team plans on leading Taveras off and putting his glove in centerfield. Taveras will be replacing Corey Patterson, who, in 392 PA last season was worth -25.5 runs with the bat while supplying league average defense in center. Patterson made $3 mil in salary in spite of his -$5 mil fair market value. Essentially, by playing Patterson for 135 games, the Reds would have had to spend $5 mil more just to get back to zero wins above replacement from his roster spot. Taveras had a disappointing 2008 season, posting a .301 wOBA while playing -7 run defense in centerfield. He, too, “cost” his team money, though not nearly as much as Patterson. Willy earned $2 mil in actual salary despite being worth -0.8 mil. He did, however, manage to steal 68 bases. In 2007, Taveras hit .320/.367/.382 for the Rockies with a wOBA of .344. He only played 97 games but still managed to match his 2006 stolen base total of 33 swipes. His offense has never been superb, but Taveras could always stake claim as a menace on the basepaths. And, prior to 2007, his UZR ratings pegged him as a very solid fielder. Taveras’ defense has taken a turn for the worse recently. After posting +7 and +13 UZR ratings in 2005 and 2006, Taveras was worth -10 runs in 2007 and -7 runs last season. His lack of offensive prowess may not have mattered as much while he stole a ton of bases and manned centerfield ably. In 2008, only the baserunning facet of these skills seemed evident. For the 2009 season, Taveras projects to be at -12 offensive runs and between -2 and +2 runs with the glove. For the sake of this analysis, let’s call him a -12 run hitter and 0 run fielder, deeming him average at the tough position. Playing around 140 games with 540 PA, Patterson would receive an additional +20 runs for value above replacement level as well as adjusting for his position. Added to the offense and defense, this makes Taveras +8 runs, or roughly +0.8 wins, next season. This would mark an improvement over the -0.2 wins in 2008 and the +0.6 wins the year before. At the 2009 fair market value of $5 mil/win, this makes Taveras a $4 mil player. He signed for a two-year deal, which would be valued at anywhere between $7-8 mil based on these projections. We will know more about the contract’s terms this week, in order to compare his actual received salary to the fair market value. If Willy can find and harness his offensive numbers from 2007 while reverting to the defensive performances seen prior to the same year, these numbers vastly shift. With a .332 wOBA and +5 run defense, and the same number of plate appearances, Willy becomes a +2.4 win player. His fair market value in this case is closer to $12 mil. By signing Taveras, Jocketty and the Reds are likely paying him somewhere in the vicinity of the +0.8 wins while holding out plenty of hope that his actual value inches closer to the +2.4 win mark. A few aspects of his performance will need to revert to prior instances of success for this to take place, but it still seems more sound than throwing Patterson out there for another season. Well, more sound assuming that they are not paying Taveras an exorbitant fee. As long as the deal stays much lower than the $12 mil fair market value based on his “extremely optimistic” projection, it isn’t an awful signing. The deal does, however, depend a lot on the hope that the Taveras from 2008 is not truly Willy. Two-year deals based on a hope are awfully risky, so this will be considered a win for the Reds if and only if his production improves. It might not be considered a loss if the average annual value is even lower than the $4 mil fair market value based on his actual projection if the production fails to improve. Still, for an organization with some nice young pieces in place, a two-year deal based on a hope seems like an odd move.