Wednesday, December 8, 2010
First things first for White Sox, Cubs
Tuesday was a day for rumors and developments at baseball's Winter Meetings. Wednesday was a day for action.
The most noteworthy thing to happen today is that both Chicago teams resolved their first base situations. The Chicago White Sox re-signed Paul Konerko for three years and $37.5 million and the Chicago Cubs inked ex-Rays first baseman Carlos Pena to a one-year, $10 million deal.
Konerko's dominance at U.S. Cellular Field in 2010 may have played a role in his decision to stay with the White Sox. He was one of two players to hit .340 or better with 25 home runs at home last season, along with Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Those two were the first to put up those numbers since Matt Holliday hit .376 with 25 home runs at Coors Field in 2007.
Konerko, who is a season-and-a-half away from joining Luke Appling and Nellie Fox as the only players to play in 2,000 games for the White Sox, had one blemish on an otherwise outstanding 2010 season. Konerko ranked last among major league first basemen in Defensive Runs Saved, with -17.
In simplest terms, this means Konerko struggled to turn batted balls and bunts into outs more than any first baseman in the league. Konerko also rated worst in a stat called Revised Zone Rating. According to Baseball Info Solutions, Konerko fielded approximately 65 percent of all ground balls hit into his zone, compared to Daric Barton's league-leading 83 percent.
Pena's issues in 2010 were based on his offensive performance. He's coming off a season in which he hit .196. That is by far the lowest batting average for a player who signed a deal averaging $10 million in the offseason. The next lowest? After the 2007 season, Andruw Jones signed a two-year deal averaging $18.1M with the Dodgers after hitting just .222 that season for the Braves.
Pena's .204 batting average against right-handed pitching last season matched the worst by any left-handed hitter against right-handed pitching in the last 35 seasons (current Braves television analyst Joe Simpson hit .204 for the 1981 Mariners). That represented a significant drop from 2007 and 2008, when he hit .280 or better in each season.
Pena averaged 37 home runs and 108 RBI from 2007 to 2009, but had just 28 home runs and 84 RBI in 2010. He goes from Tropicana Field to a ballpark that has historically rewarded left-handed power hitters, Wrigley Field. Tropicana's Park Factor for left-handers from 2008 to 2010 was 92, according to the Bill James 2010 Handbook. Wrigley had a Park Factor of 120, the fifth-friendliest in all of baseball.
While it's not rare for a free agent to receive a one-year contract or a contract that averages at least $10M, it is fairly uncommon for a free agent to receive a contract that is both just a year AND is at least $10M, especially for a position player. Pena is just the fifth non-pitcher to receive a free agent contract of one year that averages at least $10M (15 pitchers have received this type of contract).
It's a move that worked for Juan Gonzalez, who finished fifth in the MVP voting for the 2001 Indians, Ivan Rodriguez, who won a World Series with the Marlins in 2003, and Adrian Beltre, who had a huge year for the Red Sox in 2010. Pena will be hoping for a similar combination of dividends.