The Astros reportedly just signed outfielder Josh Reddick to a 4-year contract worth $52 million, and if you read the article title (you did), then you already know how I feel about it.
There are three components that go into making this deal so awesome for the Astros; with one of the three fulfilled, it’s defensible; with two, it’s a good deal. But having checked off all three boxes on the checklist is what makes this deal such a win for Houston.
This is, obviously, the most important factor. At the end of the day, in baseball, value is value. Even if a player doesn’t fit your team, as long as he’s worth more than his corresponding contract, you’ll be able to move him and get something in exchange.
In a vacuum, forgetting which team signed him, Josh Reddick is worth more than $52 million over four years. He’s one of those sabermetric darlings that doesn’t fill up the popcorn stats that you’ll see in the graphic when he’s up to bat — his career average sits at .255, and he’s hit 12 home runs or fewer in three of the last four seasons.
His value, instead, is spread across many aspects of his game. He has a very advanced approach at the plate, walking nearly as much as he strikes out. In fact, over the last two seasons, Reddick ranks 13th in the majors (min. 1000 PA) in BB/K ratio, sandwiched right between Paul Goldschmidt and Josh Donaldson. He ranks ahead of Anthony Rizzo, Mike Trout, and Mookie Betts, among others. To make a long story short, he employs an approach at the plate that’s very conducive to offense.
But he also owns some power. He once hit 32 home runs in a season, and while that may never happen again (he specifically stated that he was going to make a conscious effort to trade power for contact after that season), his .154 ISO over the last two years is higher than four of the 12 guys that are above him on the BB/K ratio list. With his combination of walks, strikeouts, and power, a reasonable argument could be made that Reddick is one of the ten most well-rounded hitters in the majors.
Of course, he also adds value on the basepaths and in the field. UZR thinks Reddick’s work in the field may have fallen somewhere around league average in recent years, but both Defensive Runs Saved and the Fans’ Scouting Report are still big fans of his defense. As a Dodger fan who watched almost all of his defensive work over the last three months of the season, my eye test says that his defense isn’t quite what it once was, but he’s still comfortably an above-average option there, especially when you factor in his strong, accurate arm.
We’re talking about a left-handed hitting right fielder that walks, doesn’t strike out, has respectable power, and adds value on the bases and in the field? Doesn’t that sound a little bit like pre-2016 Jason Heyward? Of course, Reddick is more of a Heyward-lite, and Heyward hit free agency at a remarkably young age, so the comp isn’t perfect. Few could’ve foreseen the offensive breakdown that Heyward had in 2016, but these types of players that contribute something in a lot of areas are the ones that generally seem to be the best, undervalued buys on the free agent market, and Reddick fits in this category as well.
If we value a win on the open market at roughly $8.5 million, Reddick has to be worth about six wins above replacement over the life of the deal for this to be worth it for the Astros. However, in year one, Steamer has him projected for 2.7 WAR, which is almost half of that entire amount. Reddick has to be worth just 1.5 WAR per season, and it’s easily possible that he justifies his entire contract in the first two years.
Another interesting comp for Reddick’s contract is ex-teammate Andre Ethier, who signed a five-year extension with the Dodgers that began in 2013. Now, Ethier was a slightly better hitter at the time than Reddick is now, but Reddick is probably a better defender. They’re both right fielders that mash righties and come with platoon problems, and they’re probably commensurate in value at their respective stages. However, Ethier got an extra year over Reddick, and he was a year older at the time of the signing. In addition, Ethier got $4 million more per season, and that was without taking into account four year’s worth of inflation and massive TV contracts. The last kicker is that Ethier’s was an extension, so he negotiated his deal under exclusive rights with his current team, while Reddick got the leverage of negotiating with all 30.
In the end, it’d arguably still be fine had Houston signed Reddick to a 3 year, $52 million deal. And as has been noted time and again, free agent performance is rarely linear year-to-year, while salaries usually stay roughly constant. If a player produces exactly as much as his contract is worth, then the player probably overperformed his salaries over the first half of the deal and underperformed over the second half. So it’s reasonable to think that Reddick may not be worth $13 million in 2020, despite the fact that he’ll still be a reasonable 33 years old. But the fact of the matter is that I could argue Reddick being a bargain at 3/$52m, and you’d be stoked if I told you he came with a fourth year for free.
Before the Reddick signing, I’d contend that the Astros had exactly five hitters on their roster that I’d project to be comfortably above average at the plate in 2017 — Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Evan Gattis, and Alex Bregman. Among those five, all five of them happen to hit exclusively from the right-handed side of the plate. The Astros made it clear that their goal this offseason was to acquire left-handed hitting to balance their attack, especially with Colby Rasmus leaving. Reddick fits into that plan perfectly.
The Astros also have just one outfielder (Springer) under contract that most would feel safe deploying as an everyday player, and so the Astros were looking to add outfield help this offseason. Reddick also fits into this plan perfectly.
As I mentioned before, Reddick has platoon issues, and they’re significant. He hit a pitiful .155/.212/.155 versus southpaws in 2016 and a better-but-still-below-average .218/.280/.360 mark for his career. Of course, that’s Reddick’s biggest flaw, and the flip side to that is that his numbers against righties in 2016 (.322/.386/.485) were even better than his career line (.270/.330/.457).
Looking at the Astros’ current roster, Jake Marisnick looks like an ideal platoon partner for Reddick. Of course, Marisnick has been so bad that he also looks like an ideal non-tender candidate, but if he were to remain on the roster, he could form the right-handed half of the platoon with Reddick. Now, they don’t play the same position, but that’s where George Springer comes in. I guess it’s possible that the Reddick signing was a precursor to a Springer trade, and Reddick has played almost exclusively right field over his MLB career. But Springer has the ability to play at least a passable center fielder, and if that’s the Astros’ intention with the Reddick signing, then Springer could slide back over to right field versus lefties with Marisnick playing center. Marisnick still only hits .229/.288/.413 (89 wRC+) against southpaws, but that’s much better than his 39 wRC+ against righties. Thankfully, Marisnick’s elite defense makes his 89 wRC+ a lot more bearable, and his profile becomes very much like Kevin Pillar should Marisnick be held to plate appearances against just lefties.
Astros’ Current Organizational Status
As a team that just missed the playoffs last season, and with a young, exciting core, the Astros are exactly the type of team that should be happy to pay the market rate for a win. Of course, as I argued above, $52 million is probably cheap for Reddick’s win shares at the market rate. But even if Reddick is worth just six wins over the life of the deal, the Astros are at a place on the win curve where it makes sense for them to be purchasing wins at this rate.
Additionally, the Astros have money to spend. Because they built their current roster through a rebuilding process, they have few cumbersome obligations on their payroll. Even with the addition of Reddick and Brian McCann, Houston’s payroll is projected to be just over $100 million. Jeff Luhnow almost assuredly isn’t done spending money, but the point is that this $13 million allocated to Reddick isn’t going to preclude Houston from making other moves.
No one can predict the future. Regarding the Heyward contract I referenced earlier, basically the entire blog nerd community declared it a huge win for the Cubs. One terrible offensive season later, that same contract looks rather unappetizing. Reddick could completely flop as well, and I’ll be here looking ridiculous with egg on my face. But at this point in time, through the statistical, scouting, and other evaluative scopes that I add to my own intuition, this deal looks to me like a brilliant move for the Houston Astros. They just added an above-average player, with a skill set their roster desperately needed, and all without giving up prospects, extending said player past age 33, or giving said player more than $13 million per year, and that’s a process-based win any way you slice it.