Marco Scutaro and Irrational Exuberance

The perils of rumor reaction writing – Baggarly has amended his original note to suggest that the Giants offer is two years with a vesting option, not three years. So, adjust accordingly.

There are times when a player undergoes a dramatic transformation and essentially forces us to abandon everything we knew about that player previously. Cliff Lee. Jose Bautista. R.A. Dickey. It happens. Guys reinvent themselves, and as a result, their new contracts reflect the recent reality, not the average of all their Major League seasons.

And sometimes, guys have monster rebound seasons, reminding everyone of their previous levels of success, and enable teams to have confidence to pay premium prices to get them under contract. Adrian Beltre, for instance. Giving a veteran player a huge raise is not always an overpay. Sometimes, he’s just done enough to change the market’s opinion of his skills, and his performance requires a drastic change in compensation.

So, I’m not willing to say that every big raise for a veteran is a de facto overpay. But, even with all that said, I can’t say I understand what Marco Scutaro did in 2012 that has made the market drastically reevaluate his value.

According to Andrew Baggarly, the Giants current offer for Scutaro stands at $24 million over three years. Two years ago, when Scutaro was a free agent, he got $12 million over two years. After one year, the Red Sox essentially gave Scutaro to the Rockies in order to free up some payroll space to sign Cody Ross. In July, the Rockies gave Scutaro to the Giants in exchange for non-prospect Charlie Culberson, and picked up part of his remaining salary to help the trade go through. In the last year, every team in baseball has had the chance to pick up Marco Scutaro for a pittance in both salary and talent. Now, headed into his age-37 season, the bidding for his services is intense enough to require a three year commitment?

For the record, here are Scutaro’s offensive performances over the last five years.

2008 32 592 0.267 0.341 0.356 0.315 89
2009 33 680 0.282 0.379 0.409 0.353 112
2010 34 695 0.275 0.333 0.388 0.321 93
2011 35 445 0.299 0.358 0.423 0.344 111
2012 36 683 0.306 0.348 0.405 0.329 99

His 99 wRC+ last year is basically an even match to his five year average, and a bit of a step back from his 2011 performance. If anything, these numbers should suggest that his stock should have gone down slightly. He’s a year older, coming off a worse season, and is now more of a second baseman than a shortstop; there’s nothing here that really suggests that teams should have upgraded their evaluation of Scutaro over the last 12 months.

But, of course, he’s not getting this contract based on what he did the last 12 months. He’s getting this contract what he did the last three months, or at least, the last three months of the 2012 season. Because those numbers do look a lot different.

    2012 36 268 0.362 0.385 0.473 0.370 137

For the final two months of the regular season, Scutaro was an offensive monster. And then he kept it going in the playoffs, and was one of the main reasons the Giants ended up as World Series champions. From August to October, Scutaro gave the Giants 330 excellent plate appearances, and played at a level that would easily justify a significant contract, even with his advanced age.

But, unfortunately for whatever team ends up giving him three years, it was almost certainly a mirage. Nearly the entirety of his offensive surge can be chalked up to a huge spike in BABIP, as his core skills stayed basically unchanged. Scutaro is the exact same kind of player he was a year ago – an extremely high contact hitter who looks good when his balls in play go for singles and pretty meh when they don’t. There’s real value in having a guy who almost never strikes out, and Scutaro hasn’t really shown too many signs that he’s getting worse as he gets older. But we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that anything Scutaro did in the second half represented a real improvement on his behalf.

Assuming his body holds up, Scutaro has a really nice chance to be a +2 win player in 2013, so giving him $8 million for next year is perfectly acceptable. But, unless Scutaro has some kind of age-defying magical powers, expecting him to still be an average player at 38/39 is probably a stretch. Overpaying at the end of the deal is normal in free agent contracts, but generally you hope to overpay in a few years in order to underpay now. It’s hard to see how Scutaro is a big enough value in 2013 to justify the overpayment in 2014 and 2015.

It’s not going to be a huge waste of cash. If Scutaro gives the Giants four wins over the next three years, then the contract will be close to fair. And there’s a decent chance that Scutaro gives them four wins. But this is also the kind of player that generally doesn’t demand market price wins, and he’s at the age where the skillset could just implode entirely. It looked it did in the first half of 2012, for instance. Scutaro isn’t exactly a sure thing, even for next year, and certainly isn’t any kind of strong bet for the future.

Even accounting for inflation, I would have pegged Scutaro for somewhere in the 2/12 to 2/16 range. The contract crowdsourcing results put him at 2/16. The AAV here is just fine. The third year for a 37-year-old, coming off a year where he really didn’t do anything that should change anyone’s opinion of his skills, is a bit of a surprise.

The Giants will generate a decent amount of additional revenue from their World Series run, and having Scutaro on the books in 2015 probably won’t hinder them from winning any more than Freddy Sanchez did the last few years, but it’s hard to see why a player who was essentially free in July should require this kind of commitment in December. That said, we should be evaluating the move itself, not as much the perceived motivations behind the move. And while this looks like an overpay based on a few flukey good months, Scutaro’s a nice player who fills a hole for the Giants at a price that isn’t likely to make him a disaster.

I don’t think this market correction is necessarily justified, but I also think we should keep context in mind here. This is probably an overpay on the order of $5 to $10 million for a team that just won their second World Series in three years. I don’t think this is going to break them.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

newest oldest most voted

He’s good in odd years and bad in even years so it makes sense for the Giants to give him a 3 year contract starting in 2013 as that covers two odd years.

Ludwig von Koopa
Ludwig von Koopa

So Marco Scutaro is a Star Trek movie?

Neil S
Neil S

No, he’s Bret Saberhagen.