Rays sign Pat Burrell to a Steal of a Deal

The Rays have reportedly inked Pat Burrell to a 2-year deal worth $16 million total.

Think about that.

Pat Burrell is going to be paid $8 million a year. For only two years. His successor in Philadelphia – an older, less effective, worse fielder (contrary to what his employers may think) – is getting paid $30 million over three years. And Burrell wasn’t offered arbitration, so the Rays won’t have to give up a draft pick to sign him.

Seriously, what a deal.

Finances aside, Burrell is EXACTLY what the Rays need: a right-handed, middle-of-the-order bat. Burrell is a terrible fielder, but will only have to play the field in an emergency, and will become the full-time DH. He hit .250/.367/.507 last year, and has posted OBPs of over .360 (including three years over .380) every year since 2004, and has slugged over .500 for four consecutive years. He crushes lefties (.276/.410/.540 in his career) but is very good against righties too (career .251/.352/.467). Even though he has spent his entire career in Philadelphia (and has played in a hitter-friendly park for most of it), his career home OPS is 851, and his career road OPS is 853.

Last season, Eric Hinkse had a wRAA (weighted runs above average) of 6.5. Cliff Floyd was 4.8. Together they were 11.3. Pat Burrell was 24.3 (and he was 30, 24, and 32 over the previous three years). It’s fair to assume that Burrell is at least approximately twice as good as the players who DHed for the Rays last year, and is approximately a 1.5 – 2 win upgrade (at least) over the previous DHs.

That may not sound like a lot, but think about it this way: Eric Hinske and Cliff Floyd were actually fairly productive for the Rays in 2008 – 11.3 wRAA is nothing to sneeze at. Even if Burrell is “only” twice as good as those two, it’s not like those two were bad in the first place – so twice as good is saying something. Furthermore, Burrell is only one player, so the Rays in essence free up a roster spot by not having to use a platoon at DH.

Burrell is also very low-risk, having an established track record of consistent success throughout his career – especially over the last four years. His OPS+ since 2005 has ranged between 122 and 128 – now that’s consistency.

Perhaps the most amazing part of this deal is not just that the Rays managed to upgrade one of their few remaining “weaknesses” (again, Floyd and Hinske were actually pretty good last year), but that they were able to do so on such favorable terms. Although Burrell is going to be 32 years old next season, the Rays are only on the hook for two years. Burrell may begin to decline as he exits his prime, but he’s a very good bet to remain approximately as good over the next two years as he has been for the last four. Predicting one and two years down the road is much, much easier than predicting four or more years.

And the Rays are only going to be paying him $8 mil per season! That’s truly incredible, especially considering that Raul Ibanez is going to be making more money per season, and is signed for more years. $8 million per season has not been anywhere close to the going rate for free agents of Burrell’s caliber in recent years. To put this deal in perspective, the cost-conscious Minnesota Twins signed Michael Cuddyer to a three-year, $24 million (that’s $8 million per season for those of who you failed second grade math) extension one year ago. And he was still under the team’s control at the time. So the Twins decided that they should extend Cuddyer because, at the time, paying him $24 million over three years was actually saving the team money.

Think about that: Pat Burrell is getting paid the same amount of money per season, for one less season, than Michael Cuddyer, even though Burrell was a free agent when he signed his contract, and Cuddyer was not.

(Incidentally, when he signed his deal, Cuddyer was coming off of his second best season, in which he hit .276/.356/.433. The previous year he had hit .284/.362/.504 – eerily similar to Burrell’s line last year of .250/.367/.507, no? Of course, Cuddyer’s OPS+ over the previous four years were 95, 97, 99, and 97).

The Rays mitigate risk by inking Burrell to only a two year deal, and are able to retain a semblance of financial flexibility by getting him for only $8 mil per year. Beyond that, he’s twice as good as the already-decent guys who DHed last season, and fits the exact description of what the Rays need: a right-handed hitting, high-OBP guy with pop.

It’s difficult to improve a team that made it to the World Series and had a third-order Pythagorean record of 97-65. But by replacing Edwin Jackson with David Price, adding Matt Joyce as a right fielder and inserting Pat Burrell as the DH, the Rays have done just that.

Don’t give the division to the Yankees just yet.

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