Most of the free agents on the market this winter have already been linked via rumor to most of the teams. The Red Sox, for example, have been linked to almost every single free agent of note. But two free agents, Mark DeRosa and Placido Polanco, have been linked to more teams than most. And while Placido Polanco appears likely to return to Philadelphia (at least, that's the rumor of the hour), no shortage of teams has inquired about his availability.
DeRosa and Polanco can both play second or third base. But that's about where the similarities end. So what is it about these two players in particular that has made them hot stove darlings? One factor is certainly the weak nature of this year's free agent class (especially up the middle). But surely that can't be the only reason.
My suspicion is that it has to do with the liquidity of the market at the price points for Polanco and DeRosa. So even though their talents are distributed much differently, they both represent a price/production point that could be both valuable and affordable to most teams.
Let's compare the two players to find out why.
DeRosa is slightly older (by seven and a half months), but they are relatively comparable. I have taken their three year weighted averages (5-4-3) for several metrics. The final column is three year weighted WAR plus non-SB base running wins (taken from BP). Note that these are not intended to be projections, but rather a smoothed out indication of recent performance.
|wOBA||2B UZR||3B UZR||BRAR||WAR+BRR/10|
Polanco is clearly the better defender. Though he has little experience at third base, the shift from second to third is likely to boost him from above average to superior. However, Tango's Fan Scouting Report does caution some worry about his throwing strength. Nevertheless, Polanco could easily be worth a win above average as a third baseman or a half a win above average at second.
DeRosa is a weaker defender, and is likely to be below average at both second and third. However, DeRosa has been a slightly better base runner and hitter. The two hitters also profile differently: DeRosa is more patient (8.6% career walk rate) than Polanco (5.4%), although their overall OBP is nearly identical (.343-.348, advantage Polanco) because of Polanco's superior contact rate.
Polanco was a Type A free agent who was not offered arbitration (don't even get me started), and the decision not to make him an offer certainly increased his attractiveness to potential suitors. DeRosa is a Type B free agent who was offered arbitration, but unless he accepts it will not have any impact on the decisions of other teams pursuing him (although the Cardinals would get a sandwich-round pick, the signing team would not forfeit any picks themselves).
Over the past three years, Polanco has had the slight advantage, as UZR is high on his defense and he has acquitted himself well with the bat. Both players are buoyed by one especially good year (2008 for DeRosa, 2007 for Polanco), but they are both coming off down years, which could hurt their value on the open market. Teams may be scared off by their advanced age. But I don't think they will.
A good guess would put these guys no lower than about one and a half wins. That is going to be worth around $6M, estimating conservatively. How many teams out there could use an upgrade at either second or third base and can afford $6M per year? I'll set the over/under at 10--you tell me if that's too high or too low. And while there may be other factors that separate the two players (the Seidman Law of Hot Stove Hoopla, for example), my guess is that both of these players will get two to three year deals worth about $6M dollars per year.
However, simply because so many teams are interested, we should not infer that the players are in especially high demand. After all, keep supply constant, the greater demand implies higher prices. And neither of these guys is going to crack the double digit millions barrier. So when you hear Polanco and DeRosa attached to teams by rumors, remember that they aren't overvalued compared to the premium free agents any more than a Toyota is overvalued compared to a Lexus because more consumers are interested in the former than the latter.