That’s the question that Mets blogger James Kannengieser asks. Not too long ago it’s a question that the Braves were facing, but now it’s the Mets problem (boy, it feels good to write that). At the time, I generated some estimates of Francoeur’s worth that projected he was worth around $12 million, and should expect around $3 million in an arbitration award. Understandably, this upset some people (including me) for the sake of the sheer size of the number. Now that the question of Francoeur’s worth is relevant again, I want to revisit the question.
Let me first begin by stating that my initial estimate was too high—way too high. I was giving credit for non-marginal revenue contributions and over-weighting defense. I’ve spent much of the past year tearing down and rebuilding my system for valuing players for a book project on valuing players. Though I have corrected the model, the foundation of the model is still the same. I use team revenues to estimate the value of winning, estimate player contributions to winning, and then impute player marginal revenue products (MRPs) from these estimates.
In 2009—including his awful time with the Braves, and his good stint with the Mets—I estimate that he was worth $6.8 million. Arbitration-eligible position players tend to earn approximately 74% less than their MRP estimates; thus, in arbitration Francoeur might expect to receive around
$1.8 million. That’s $1.6 million less that his 2009 salary. Even if the Mets are able to successfully convince an arbitrator that Francoeur is worth $1.8 million, the Collective Bargaining Agreement limits the salary reduction to 20%: $2.7 million. But, that’s not relevant to the Mets. Sure, they wish he hadn’t been signed to a bigger deal. The question is: is he worth $2.7 million?
The $6.8 million estimate says he’s worth well more than that, but the estimate is misleading. The MRP estimates give credit for the playing time, and Francoeur’s managers have played him far too much. A lot has been made of Francoeur’s dismal 2008 and 2009 with the Braves. Just as he was never as good as his 2005 rookie campaign nor his 2009 stint with the Mets, I don’t believe Francouer was that bad. For his career, Francoeur has an OPS of .743, his career OPS+ of 92 is equal to his overall 2009 performance. He’s no Natural, but he is a useful player who can serve in a platoon/reserve role. But, that’s not how the Braves or the Mets used him. Since his first full season in the majors he’s averaged 666 plate appearance a year. While this number may be appropriate for the anti-Christ, it’s not the number of PAs that any manager should be giving Jeff Francoeur. Jeff Francoeur should probably play 50% of what he has played, cutting his MRP estimate in half. With that in mind, Jeff Francouer is really a $3–$4 million player, depending on how good he really is. The good news for my estimates is that managers have strong incentives not to make such mistakes when filling out their line-up cards; but because they do, it’s important to interpret the raw estimates with care.
If the Mets non-tender Francoeur, they will likely end up having to spend about what they are paying him to replace him on the free agent market. Given that he seems to be popular with fans, media, and players; it’s probably worth keeping him around at that price, even if he ends up winning an arbitration award similar to this season’s salary. If he has a bad year, you cut him loose. If he has a good year, then you can take him to arbitration one more year, maybe even sign him to a long-run deal. Non-tendering him wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, and given the hold he seems to have on his managers, it might be best to not give his skipper the opportunity to put him in the line-up. The one thing that I would not recommend is signing him to a long-run deal now. What’s the rush? The worst thing that happens by not going long-term is that he has a good season and he gets a deserved raise in arbitration. And if Francoeur is desperate to sign a long-run deal—as he was hinting at the end of the season—then that is probably an indication that he doesn’t think he’s going to get much better either.