Is Gregor Blanco the Most Underpaid Player in Major League Baseball?
I saw a blurb on mlbtraderumors.com today, in which San Francisco Giants GM Bobby Evans said that now that the team has signed two starters, it will focus on adding a left-fielder, because in spite of all the performance Gregor Blanco has given the Giants the last four seasons, management thinks the team would be stronger with Blanco in a fourth outfielder role.
While I don’t necessarily disagree with Evans’ opinion — the Giants could definitely use another right-handed hitting corner outfielder with some pop and Blanco makes a terrific super-sub — it did get me thinking about what Blanco is worth and, in contrast, what he’s getting paid.
According to fangraphs, Blanco has been worth a whopping $70.2 million over the last four seasons and has never been worth less than $15.4 million in any of his four Giants’ seasons. The reasons for Blanco’s high values should be pretty obvious to anybody with a knowledge of sabrmetrics: he plays great defense, he gets on base a lot and he runs well.
Blanco’s defensive value was down last year, probably due to the fact that he’s getting older, but his on-base percentage was a career high .368, as was his .781 OPS.
Meanwhile, the Giants have paid Blanco a grand total of $8 million for the last four seasons and will only be paying him $3.9 million in 2016. Part of this low salary is due to the facts that Blanco is not seen as an everyday player, even if he ends up playing like one, and he hasn’t reached free agency.
More of it has to do with the fact that players of Blanco’s type (defense at the corner positions, speed, OBP, no power) simply are underpaid as a group. Arbitration salaries are determined in substantial part by past arbitration awards, which over-valued things like batting average, home runs and RBIs, and had no way to value plus defensive contributions.
Also, teams (with only a couple of notable exceptions) don’t fully value these kinds of players either. A perfect example is Nori Aoki, who the Giants decided was too expensive to exercise a $5.5 million option earlier this off-season. Since then, the Mets have signed former Giant Alejandro De Aza for either a guaranteed $4.5 million or $5.75 million, depending on which of the early reports you believe.
In short, the only thing that can be said in favor of the Giants’ decision to cut Aoki loose is that he and Blanco have exactly the same skill sets, and the Giants, based on the ballpark they play in, can almost always use another right-handed hitting corner outfielder with pop.
In today’s game and salary structures, almost all teams need at least a couple of players like Blanco, who aren’t paid anywhere near their actual value, in order to field a winner. What bothers me about Blanco is that given his age (he’ll be 32 in 2016), a down year in 2016 could destroy his one true opportunity to really get paid when he becomes a free agent next off-season.
On the other hand, it’s a little hard to feel too sorry for a kid from Venezuela who will make more than $12 million (don’t forget those World Series checks) over a five year period. By any rational standard, he’s made it, even if he’s relegated to being only a rich man, rather than a rich, rich. rich man.