Second Base 2008: Calling back Kaz-Mat?

The moment I read the Ken Rosenthal column that malakian linked to last night, I figured that a certain faction of Rockies fans would key in on one particular phrase:

Second baseman Kaz Matsui, a free agent after this season, will move out of the Rockies' price range if he revives this season. Thus, even if Barmes opens the season in Triple A, he might be the favorite to be the team's regular at second in 2008.

Not even a qualifier, a "likely" or "probably" or something. Nope, he just goes out and says that Matsui will move out of the Rockies' price range. Just for kicks, here are the 2007 salaries (from Cot's Baseball Contracts) of the five projected NL West 2nd Basemen:

Arizona: Orlando Hudson, $3.9 million
Colorado: Kaz Matsui, $1.5 million (plus $950,000 in incentives)
Los Angeles: Jeff Kent, $11.5 million
San Diego: Marcus Giles, $3.25 million
San Francisco: Ray Durham, $7 million

So right now, even if Matsui makes all his incentive bonuses, the Rockies are the most frugal club in the division at second base by around $800,000. Next season, Arizona figures to be the lowest on the salary scale, with Alberto Callaspo making near the league minimum. Los Angeles could also be in that minimum salary category if they choose to use Blake DeWitt, but when was the last time the Dodgers did something for cheap that they could overpay by millions for? Anyway, let's look at a couple of projections:

Callaspo:    .283/.332/.401/1.90
Hudson:      .273/.333/.399/3.01
Matsui:      .259/.307/.336/0.70
Barmes:      .267/.305/.406/4.00
Carroll:     .280/.345/.342/1.35
Quintanilla: .261/.312/.369/2.49
Herrera:   .262/.317/.355/
DeWitt:      .228/.282/.348/1.21
Kent:        .273/.362/.484/
Giles:       .254/.329/.360/2.41
Durham:      .276/.348/.431/3.10

So what is that? That, my friends, is the power of the Hardball Times 2007 Preview.., with a little help from a BP subscription. Anyway most of the above projections are from the THT preview for the 2008 season. The only exceptions are for Kent and Herrera, where there was no projection in the THT book, so I went by the good old standby, PECOTA.

At any rate, the first three numbers are your standard AVG/OBP/SLG, but the last one is the projected wins above replacement if the player has a breakout year (75 percentile) in 2008. That four wins is why the Rockies are wanting to keep Barmes, and why I might change my mind about wanting to trade him. That's projected at shortstop, where he would have more value defensively, but you can probably figure his value at second in the event of a breakout would still be high enough to surpass that of all but Hudson, Durham and Kent.

I included Quintanilla and Herrera, however, to show that Barmes isn't the only possible plus second baseman on hand. Matsui, on the other hand, could be in serious jeopardy of staying in stateside baseball if he doesn't have a rebound season, and even then is in a declining arc that makes a big contract for 2008 a bad gamble to take given the other talent we'd have on hand. If any of the three step up for 2008 (and chances are at least one will) we'll be competitive with our divisional peers and won't have to pay millions to do so.

So while I sincerely hope Rosenthal was wrong about us not being able to afford renewing Matsui, I'm certainly not advocating that we go ahead and extend him, even if he does exceed projections.

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