Faced with a decision between two Adrians, the Red Sox finally settled on the younger, left-handed one, and have agreed to a deal that will bring Adrian Gonzalez to Boston. In return, the Padres are getting three of the Red Sox better prospects, but no players off their major league roster. Was this a better use of resources compared to re-signing Adrian Beltre?
Until we know what kind of money the Red Sox have to give Gonzalez in a long term extension, it is tough to say. However, we can look at the projected performances of Beltre and Gonzalez and come up with an estimated value difference, add in the cost of losing the three prospects, and come up with a spread between the two options that would make this choice more palatable for the Red Sox.
Gonzalez will be 29 next year, and is coming off the two best seasons of his career. He was worth +6.5 WAR in 2009 and +5.3 WAR in 2010, and while this will probably represent his peak, he has the well rounded skillset to keep producing at this level for a bit longer. And while WAR is park adjusted, so it accounts for how hard it is to hit at Petco, Gonzalez has been harmed more than a normal player by its dimensions (career .343 wOBA at home, .393 on the road). Switching to Fenway will certainly boost his raw numbers, but may even serve to increase his value as well.
Even adding in some decline for aging and a bit of regression to account for the fact that he’s only played at this level for two years, I’d still feel comfortable estimating Gonzalez as a +5.5 win player for 2011. He is legitimately one of the best players in baseball.
If we use an aging curve of losing about +0.5 wins per year off his value, and the Red Sox end up signing Gonzalez for seven years, then they’d get something like +28 WAR from Gonzalez in 2011 to 2017. If we estimate the cost of a win at $5 million this winter and project 5 percent annual salary inflation (which I will readily admit is a total guess – you can argue for almost anything here), that would make Gonzalez’s performance worth about $159 million over the next seven years.
Beltre’s true talent level is a bit tougher to pin down, as his performances have varied greatly over the last seven years. He’s been a monster in each of 2004 and 2010 – the last two years in which he wasn’t playing half his games in Safeco Field – but was simply a good player instead of a great one in his five years in Seattle. He’s also three years older than Gonzalez, and while he hasn’t shown any signs of decline yet, we have to assume some is coming.
Given Beltre’s volatility, I’ll project him as a +3.5 win player in 2011. He blew that away last year, but I’d expect a pretty significant step back from his 2010 performance. Given that the Red Sox seem to have drawn a line in the sand at four years with Beltre, we’ll only project his value going forward through 2014. Using the same aging curve and dollar to win values, Beltre would be worth about +11 WAR and $58 million over that time.
Gonzalez offers $158 million in projected value over seven years, Beltre $58 million over four. If we simply restrict Gonzalez’s value to the first four years for an apples-to-apples comparison, we get a difference of +8 WAR, or about $43 million in value.
Adding in the lost value of the three prospects cuts into that difference significantly, of course. Kelly’s stock waned a bit with a down year, but he’s still one of the better pitching prospects around. If we estimate him as a back-end Top-100 guy, with Rizzo as a fringe Top 100 prospect and Fuentes as a bit more of a project, those three guys would be worth about $20 million, based on Victor Wang’s research.
So, over the next four years, Gonzalez will be worth about $20 to $25 million more than Beltre and the prospects. Given that Gonzalez’s contract in years 5-7 won’t provide much additional value above and beyond having that money available to spend, as they would with a shorter deal for Beltre, that number seems to be about the spread in cost that the Red Sox should be looking for here.
If they were willing to give Beltre $60 million over four years, then going with Gonzalez makes sense if they get him for less than $85 million over those same years. If he ends up getting significantly more than that, or they have to give him an eighth and ninth year as part of the extension, then they may have better off with Beltre and the kids. Given that Gonzalez seems legitimately interested in playing in Boston, however, I expect they’ll get him signed to a not-crazy contract, and this decision will prove to be the better one.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.