For months now, I've been on the fence, or rather on both sides of the fence, about whether or not the Phillies should re-sign Aaron Rowand. On the plus side, there's his (now-official) Gold Glove defense, his right-handed power, improved on-base skills and clubhouse presence. On the minus side, he's 30 and an injury risk, he'll command at least four years for at least $10-11 million per year--and maybe much more--and as always when signing a non-superstar free agent, there's a very significant chance you'll wind up paying for what he's done, not what he will do.
I'm getting off the fence. The Phillies should offer Rowand arbitration and a hearty and sincere thank-you for a job well done, and move on without him.
The latest rumors have Rowand seeking at least a four-year deal for $52 million. Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated is on record predicting Rowand will get four years, $56 million. That's $13-14 million a year for a non-superstar's age 31 through 34 seasons.
It's hard to believe he's going to be worth it. Baseball Reference has among Rowand's top comparables Eric Byrnes, whose three-year, $30 million deal would have been palatable for the Phillies, and then Hank Leiber and Wally Judnich, both of whom were finished in the game by age 32. His next two comps are guys I've actually heard of: Shane Mack, who was done as a regular after his age-30 season, and Kal Daniels, an absurdly talented outfielder who couldn't stay healthy and retired at 29. Further down the list are Casey Blake, Mike Lamb and Milton Bradley--all good players, but none of whom are remotely worth $13 million per season.
The projections out for 2008 aren't overly optimistic about Rowand replicating his outstanding 2007 numbers. ZIPS projects him for a .276 average, with .339 on-base percentage and .444 SLG; Bill James has Rowand hitting .287/.347/.473. (Thanks to TGP contributors MattS for posting these numbers, and phatj for formatting them, here. Matt's own projections have Rowand at .290/.349/.473.) With Aaron's strong defense and other contributions, that's arguably worth $13-14 million... but presumably it goes downhill from there.
Were the Phillies possessed of unlimited financial resources like the Yankees or Mets, and/or had no other centerfield options--as some evidently believe to be the case--it might be worth taking the chance anyway. But they aren't, and they do. Committing $50 million or so to Rowand bears a serious opportunity cost, blocking the team from adding another impact player this winter and impairing their capacity to do so in future seasons.
At the same time, they've got Shane Victorino, whose bat plays adequately in right field but very well in center. Shifting Victorino to center, of course, creates some vacancy in right. If Rowand doesn't come back and Victorino takes CF, it looks like Jayson Werth will have some or all of the right field job; the team is confident that Werth can sustain his level of production in a larger role. I'd prefer they match him up with a more potent platoon partner than Greg Dobbs, and it should be possible to do so through trade or free agency, this winter or during the season, at a much lower cost and shorter commitment than Rowand will require.
I'm not saying the Phillies shouldn't want Rowand back at any pirce. If he'd take a three-year deal for less than, say, $38 million, that's probably a good call. Even if they could get him for four years, $40 million, it's close enough that the move could be positive. But that ship probably has sailed, and at this point Rowand would be foolish not to explore a seller's market. If he signs somewhere for five years, $60 million--and I don't think that's an impossibility--more power to him, and I wish him well against 28 teams. We'll move on with Victorino, two high draft picks, and salary flexibility, and hopefully it works out for everybody.