Sunday, December 12, 2004

2005 Non-Dodgers: Steve Finley

Consider this:

2004 EqA's:
Hee Seop Choi: .286
Jayson Werth: .282
Shawn Green: .280
Milton Bradley: .274
Steve Finley: .271

If the player ranked last on that list also happened to be the oldest on the list and would be the second-highest paid, would there be much reason to want to add him to the team if the other four were already on the team and there were only four lineup spots available? Only under extraordinary circumstances.

I'm willing to take it on faith that Steve Finley's offensive numbers won't fall off of a cliff next year. After all, his .263 batting average on balls in play was out of step with his career .292 and .301 from 2001-2003 as well as his good line drive rate. His spike in home run power isn't likely to be repeated wholesale, however, so I'd say .285/.340/.470 is about right for him, although in Dodger Stadium that could be more like .275/.325/.455. That's darn good. Unfortunately for Finley, that's not as good as a reasonable projection for any of the other four outfield/first base candidates for the Dodgers.

Maybe Steve Finley's defense is good. The data doesn't indicate that it is, for the most part; he's been terrible according to UZR and was consistently below average over the past several years with Arizona. However, I wouldn't rule out the possibility that the park he played in made his defense look superficially bad; his rate stats in his brief time with LA were well above average, and the only other player to log a full season at The BOB, Devon White, had his worst year defensively. I'm not willing to believe, however, that Finley was worthy of a gold glove or that he was better defensively than Milton Bradley, who was better both rate-statwise and zone rating-wise.

There's just no way that paying Steve Finley to play for the Dodgers in 2005 is a practical strategy. The three young players who could be traded to make way for Finley would all be undervalued in trades: Choi because of his August struggles, Werth because of his elbow, and Bradley because of his history rage-related incidents. With the Dodgers in need of upgrading their rotation and signing a third baseman, anything that would require them to commit a lot of money to Finley would hurt the club.

Finley was a good shot to accept arbitration. The judge wouldn't have ordered Finley to pay bail because he simply wasn't much of a flight risk. Despite various rumors about the Giants and Tigers offering him long, expensive contracts, in the end he settled for $14 million over two seasons. Finley was unlikely to get an expensive contract that stretched into a third year, simple as that, and if he wasn't likely to exceed $15 million over those two years, he could have expected roughly that much by accepting arbitration, since his increased HR/RBI/Run totals and flashy gold glove in 2004 probably would have gotten him in the $8.5m-$9.5m range in arbitration. With the frontrunners for Finley's services at the time reportedly being geriaphiles San Francisco and Detroit, the Dodgers would have only a sandwich pick and a third round pick to gain. Given the depth in the Dodgers farm system, that benefit is swamped by the need to maintain control of the 2005 payroll.

I wonder how big a deal this would be if Steve Finley's game-winning sac fly on October 2 hadn't carried over the wall. When it was hit, everyone was happy that he'd won the game; it becoming a home run was beside the point. But Green, Werth, and Choi all kept the inning alive, with Choi representing the winning run and Werth's hit constituting the most important offensive contribution of the inning. And without Bradley's contributions, the Dodgers likely would have been eliminated in September. It's remarkable that letting Finley go can be considered a callous, unemotional decision when the decision to keep him would require dealing or marginalizing one of the players who contributed more to the team over the course of the season (okay, Choi doesn't meet that standard, but his big double against the Rockies sure hit me harder from an emotional standpoint than Finley's grand slam). No matter what Tom Hanks said, there's room for crying in baseball, but this is neither the time nor the place.

One of these days I'm going to figure out why UZR and RAR2 disagree so violently about fielding. RAR shows Finley as a very competent fielder, albeit not one of the greats. He's unquestionably better than either of Chone Figgins or Garret Anderson.
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