Scouting the third basemen

added 12/2/2005 by Scott Barzilla

Since we are not concerned with replacing our third basemen, there is no need to look at the third basemen on the market. Instead, we will look at the decision facing the Astros this winter on Morgan Ensberg. Ensberg is arbitration eligible, so the question is whether to lock him up long-term or agree to a one year deal. As we did with the second basemen, we will use Bill James win shares model because it's nice and neat and incorporates both offense and fielding. Like with second basemen, we will only look at third basemen that have been regulars the last three seasons.

               2003 2004 2005 Total   Salary
Alex Rodriguez   32   29   34    95     25.2
Scott Rolen      25   35    5    65     10.7
Eric Chavez      25   18   20    63      8.5
Chipper Jones    26   18   18    62     16.0
Adrian Beltre    15   33   13    61     11.4
Melvin Mora      16   24   20    60      3.8
Aramis Ramirez   19   19   18    56      8.3
Hank Blalock     17   24   14    55      0.9
Bill Mueller     23   12   19    54      2.5
Morgan Ensberg   15   11   27    53      --- 
Mike Lowell      23   22    8    53      7.5
Joe Randa        14   13   15    42      2.2 
Edgardo Alfonzo  17   15    9    41      7.5	
Troy Glaus        9    8   23    40      9.0
Corey Koskie     21   13    6    40      3.5
Casey Blake      11   17    9    37      2.5
Joe Crede        13    8   15    36      0.4
Vinny Castilla   14   12   10    36      3.0
Brandon Inge      5   13   17    35      1.4
David Bell        5   20    9    34      4.7

I don't know Morgan Ensberg's agent, but I can guess that there are several directions he can go in the negotiations. The key will be in how these negotiations are framed. There are two key issues that will be debated between the Astros and Ensberg's agent. We'll spend the rest of our time looking at these issues and which side the Astros should fall on.

Short Term vs. Long Term

As you can tell, I've already given away my feeling on the issue. One of the core beliefs in sabermetrics is that we can predict the future because after players get established they usually fall within a fairly tight range given a large enough amount of numbers. It's a lot like political pollsters that want to find out how people feel on a particular issue. If you ask ten people you can have some idea, but if you ask 1000 people randomly you will have a great handle on what people think. If you ask me to base an opinion on one season I can give it my best, but if you ask me to base it on three, five, or seven seasons I am usually a lot more confident.

If you were Morgan Ensberg's agent you would definitely be playing up his 2005 performance, but if you're the Astros you have to ask yourself if 2005 is the exception or the rule. This will be the biggest key when determining whether Ensberg gets the one year deal or multi-year deal. If Ensberg and his agent are confident he can repeat his performance then they will demand more money and likely settle for a one year contract. Yet, if the Astros are also confident of that, they may end up capitulating. Let's see what kind of money we're talking about.

               2005  Salary
Alex Rodriguez   34    25.2
Morgan Ensberg   27    ----
Troy Glaus       23     9.0
Eric Chavez      20     8.5
Melvin Mora      20     3.8

Ensberg's agent would be well within his rights to argue that Ensberg should be considered with these folks. The average among the four (excluding Ensberg) is 24 win shares, so Ensberg could fall back some and still be within this group. Now, only Scott Boras would ask for the average salary among these four players (11.63 million), but the median salary (8.75 million) would be perfectly reasonable from his point of view.

This is where the frame of mind of Ensberg's agent comes into play. The Astros will not give Ensberg a multi-year contract at that rate. It simply doesn't make sense for them to do that. So, if Ensberg's agent wants a multi-year contract he shouldn't submit eight or nine million as his one year arbitration number. He certainly would have a better than average chance to get that amount on a one-year contract, but he would have very little chance of agreeing to a multi-year deal. So, the submission Ensberg's agent makes will drive these negotiations.

Will the real Ensberg please stand up?

From the Astros end, you want to ask yourself which Ensberg you think you're going to get. If you think you're going to get the 2005 Ensberg you want to ink him up to a three-year deal. If you think he's going to fall back you want to go ahead and give him the one year deal. If he has another 10-15 win share season they can definitely argue that he is really that player.

So, the last question is whether he should get the mean salary (since he falls in the middle on the three year average) or the median salary. Ensberg's agent would be a fool to ask for the 11.63 million, but the 6.8 million dollar mean seems to be pretty reasonable from his point of view. Yet, the Astros would definitely prefer the 4.8 million dollar median. In the end, the contract will probably fall somewhere in that range (5-7 million for one season, 15 million to 21 million over three years).