The contract extension given to Randy Winn wasn't cheap. That's about all I'm convinced of. The pros and cons bounce back and forth in my mind, with a firm opinion seemingly far off. If you try and do a Point/Counterpoint with something like this, you end up with:
Counterpoint: YOU DON'T HAVE THE GUTS! (Rips open buttoned shirt, and pounds chest) C'MON! I DARE YOU!
Something that could help would be some sort of adaptation of the Keltner List for free agents and extended contracts. This is an off-the-cuff attempt, so there are definitely questions I've neglected:
Is the contract at or close to market value?
I'd guess it to be close. Jacque Jones was a semi-valid comparison, though I take Winn. Mark Kotsay's contract was very similar in price/length, but the players differ in value, with Kotsay being more valuable defensively, and Winn being more valuable with his history of staying off the disabled list.
Can the player be expected to age well over the life of the deal?
Yes. Winn has a skills set that tends to age well. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA reinforces that opinion better than I would have ever imagined, though you'll have to subscribe or buy the book to get the specifics. (Unlike a vocal minority over at the former Baseball Primer, I still think it's a good deal to subscribe and buy the book. End plug.)
Is the team lacking someone from within the organization who could achieve similar results for a lower cost?
Yes in the present, and yes for the foreseeable future. Fred Lewis has his supporters, but he's a 25-year old tools player still learning how to play the game. His stats in AA, even taking into account the second-half surge, weren't overwhelming enough to ignore other long-term options. Any of the lesser prospects could break through, like Clay Timpner, but no one to feel comfortable relying on.
Was he a preferable option to what could be found in future free agent markets?
Here's where I really like the deal. This offseason saw the Yankees and Red Sox frantically scramble for center fielders. The Yankees ended up paying a bajillion dollars for one, and the Red Sox coughed up one of baseball's best prospects for another. Future offseasons don't look much better. After 2006, the cream of the crop is Juan Pierre, followed by Dave Roberts. If the A's don't lock up Milton Bradley - or if anyone else doesn't lock him up, for that matter - he could be available as well. That would not be the group to find a long-term solution in.
After 2007, both Andruw Jones and Vernon Wells might be available, but no one else of note would be. The Giants could count on their ability to outbid for either, and count on the premise that one or both would want to come to San Francisco, but a bird-in-the-hand philosophy starts making sense at that point.
To the best of our knowledge, is the player free of any injuries with the potential to impact future performance?
Does the player's value justify any budget limitations that the contract might cause?
Here's where I start to question the deal. The contract ain't cheap. Is Winn good enough to justify it? He's consistent, and has a good injury history. As a poster pointed out, so did Ray Durham. If a Giants center fielder hits like Winn has over the past three years, I'm ecstatic. If my Giants center fielder hits like Winn did over the last three months of the season, I'm likely to tattoo his face on a buttock or two. However, is the difference between a .290/.350/.440 center fielder worth $6M more than a .260/.330/.390 center fielder like Jason Ellison? Maybe, but things start to get fuzzy at that point.
Winn takes some heat for his defense in center, but I'm pleased with his defense. If you aren't convinced by my sub-amateur scouting, there is always the typical stat-based defensive consensus to fall back on. PMR isn't a fan of Winn in center, Baseball Prospectus sees him as average, and Win Shares has him as one of the best 15 outfielders in baseball. Glad I could clear that up for you.
In Alan Schwarz's book, The Numbers Game, there's mention of the future of defensive statistics, and how it will be based on some advanced 3-D camera modeling. It will take multiple factors into consideration - such as the angle of balls off the bat, and the speed of batted balls -- and it sounds fascinating. Until then, it's tough to come to any sort of conclusion based on defensive statistics. I'll stand by my claim that Winn looks okay in center, which combined with his offense makes him a pretty valuable player. If his contract means the Giants can't spend on a Vlad-sized talent, it's a bad contract. I don't believe that to be the case, though. It's expensive, but not outrageous. A half-hearted yes to the initial question.
I didn't expect the initial run of the Winn test to go so well, but it's worth noting Edgardo Alfonzo would have aced a good portion of it before coming to the Giants. Is the test great science? Hardly. A fun tool? Sure. Any suggestions on how to refine it are welcome, and probably necessary.
Two Darryl Hamiltons up. The factor that pushed me over the edge were the predictive stats from Baseball Prospectus. They aren't infallible, but they're the best available to peons like myself. I was wrong with my initial reaction to the Winn trade, as I gave Jason Ellison way, way, way too much credit. I hope I'm more prescient with my opinion on Winn as a Giant for the next four years.