Resigning Ken Griffey, Jr.

Ken Griffey, Jr. has reportedly re-signed with the Seattle Mariners for a contract roughly equivalent to that which he made last season.  His contract last year had a base salary of $2 million, and he made $3.15 million with incentives. According to Fangraphs, Griffey was worth 0.2 Wins Above Replacement last season, which they say is worth approximately $700,000. (This is derived from the minimum salary of $400,000. I will do a post soon on the concept of replacement level that will get into this point a little more.) This number is in line with recent performance, as he accounted for 0.2 WAR in 2007 and 0.4 in 2008. So what would it take for the Griffey deal to be a worthwhile investment?

Let us start with a series of starting points in order to approach the question:

    1. Griffey’s signing uses up one roster spot that could be given to another player.
    2. The player replaced would have to be paid at least $400,000.
    3. Griffey, then, must be worth at least $1.6 million more than this hypothetical other player in order to be a worthwhile investment.
    4. In order to be worth $1.6 million more than his hypothetical replacement, Griffey would need to contribute 0.4 WAR more than his replacement.

      What is the likelihood that this fourth point will come to pass? For starters, Griffey has not contributed more than 0.5 WAR (0.1 for the replacement player + 0.4 to justify Griffey’s salary) since 2005. Only twice since 2002 has he played that well. Griffey contributing 0.5 WAR, then, seems nearly impossible.

      To consider the impact fully, we also need to get a better sense of what is being given up. Last season, the Mariners had 24 players on their roster at some point in the season who were earning the league minimum. How did those players do?

      Gutierrez 5.9 Feierabend N/A Tuiasosopo 0
      Morrow 0.2 Jimenez N/A Halman N/A
      Wilson 0.5 Vargas 0.4 Carp 0.4
      Olson -0.8 LaHair N/A Vega N/A
      Rowland-Smith 1.5 White 0.7 Jakubauskas 0
      Aardsma 1.9 Johnson 0.4 Manuel N/A
      Lowe 1.3 Hernandez N/A Kelley 0
      Hannahan 0.6 Thomas N/A French -0.2

      Treating all N/A’s as 0 (they did not appear in any games for the Mariners last season), these 24 players averaged 0.53 WAR, more than Griffey achieved by himself.  0.5 WAR translates to $2 million.  If this is the true baseline, Griffey would need to be a 1WAR player to be worth his salary.  (That underestimates things slightly.  If Griffey played well enough to be worth 1.0 WAR, some of his incentives would surely kick in, meaning that he would need to be even better.) If Griffey repeats his performance from this year and minimum salary players repeated theirs, Griffey would represent an opportunity cost of $2.8 million ($1.6 million needed to justify his salary + $1.2 million worse than his likely replacement). That is, Griffey, doing better than he likely will next season, would cost the Mariners the salary equivalent of 7 players making the major league minimum.

      Truth be told, this is all underestimating the negative impact of Griffey. Unless he is able to generate a great deal of revenue that has no connection to his playing ability, he also hurts the team by producing less wins. As a rule, teams that win more draw more fans and make more money. Griffey keeps that from happening. To sum up, this signing makes no sense, hurts the Mariners, and will contribute to the deterioration of Griffey’s deservedly fabulous legacy.

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