Return of The Machine: Giants Re-Sign Burrell

Understandably left for dead by the Tampa Bay Rays in May, Pat Burrell latched on with San Francisco and hit .266/.364/.509 (.371 wOBA) in 341 plate appearances as part of the Giants’ World Championship run. Despite his struggles in the postseason, without Burrell’s unexpected regular season contributions it is hard to imagine the Giants getting to the playoffs. He has reportedly re-signed with San Francisco for the 2011 season for a very affordable one million dollars guaranteed (plus incentives) over one season. There are questions, however, about how Burrell fits into the Giants 2011 plans.

The Giants plan to contend, of course, coming off of their championship. All but the most vociferous Giants fan would probably admit that whichever team is the current favorite for the 2011 NL West, that team is not leaps and bound ahead of the others. The Giants just barely got into the playoffs in 2010, and even if one thinks the Padres were a fluke, the Rockies reamin talented and young, and the Dodgers are reloading. The Giants can’t rest on their laurels, despite their tremendous rotation and one of the best young catchers in the game. They need to get better where they can.

How does Burrell fit into such a plan? While Burrell did hit well for the Giants last season, given his dreaful performances for the Rays in 2010 and 2011, expecting him to repeat just because of his proximity to the Pacific and Aubrey Huff would be a bit… silly, given that he’s obviously in his decline phase. His .346 wOBA over the last three seasons isn’t horrible, but it is greatly influenced by his .374 wOBA over 645 PA for Philadelphia in 2008. Given his age and recent performance, something between Bill James Projections’ optimistic .351 wOBA and a still-above-average .330 seems reasonable. A .340 wOBA would be about 10 runs above average over a full season. Defensively, Burrell is probably pretty bad despite nice 2010 UZR and DRS numbers over a small sample. 5 runs below average in left field is probably generous given his age and how eager Bruce Bochy was to pull him for a defensive replacement in late innings. Calling it something like 10 runs below average and factoring in positional adjustment, we’d estimate Burrel to overall be somewhere bewteen one and 1.5 WAR over a full season. He’s still a bargain given the price, but not really what you want from a starter in a contending season.

As noted above, the Giants probably need to be improving their talent level, rather than just maintaining it. Rob Neyer made a similar comment in his note on the Burrell signing. The Giants have much going for them, but they also probably can’t count on players like Huff and Andres Torres to repeat anything like their 2010 performances. While they didn’t go crazy in signing Miguel Tejada, it doesn’t really improve their team. Moreover, with Burrell in left field and Huff at first, where does super-prospect first baseman Brandon Belt go?

These are valid concerns, but Burrell’s contract doesn’t really clog things up. Starting with the Belt situation: while Belt is quite promising, the Giants probably want to leave him in the minors for the at least the first months of 2011 in order to game his service time to get him more seasoning at AAA, where he only had 61 PA in 2010. When Belt does come up, the Giants can always move Huff to the outfield again (not that he’s great out there), and some have suggested that Belt himself might be able to hack left field — I’ll leave that to prospect mavens to judge. That would push Burrell to the bench, and that leads to the second point: the Giants need someone on the bench. One million dollars isn’t terrible even for a bench player, and Burrell wouldn’t start the season there. Contenders shouldn’t put themselves in a situation where they have play replacement level scrubs when someone goes down.

The money (or lack thereof) is the biggest issue here. A Burrell, Torres, and Cody Ross/Aaron Rowand outfield is hardly an inspiring group to start the season. But Burrell’s contract (unlike, say, Barry Zito’s) doesn’t impede the Giants’s ability to sign another outfielder if they can. If they can’t, at least they aren’t marching someone like Jose Guillen out there. Whether by way of Belt, Huff, or another signing they need to bench or even cut Burrell, they wouldn’t be taking a bath. At the very worst, Burrell’s contract is superfluous for the Giants. More likely, it is somewhere between good insurance and a nice fallback.

Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

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Josh G
12 years ago

Burrell reportedly has no incentives in his deal.!/hankschulman/status/10509649874780161

12 years ago
Reply to  Josh G

Which in my opinion would make it a quite good deal, even if he was used mainly as a pinch hitter. Also, I can’t believe Burrell is already 34. I remember when he was but a young pup on the Phillies. Time flies.

12 years ago
Reply to  B N

Heh. I can remember when he was tearing it up for the Hurricanes in the CWS.