Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Under the Radar - Jayson Nix

On Monday (but officially reported on Thursday), the Chicago White Sox signed ex-Colorado Rockies second basemen Jayson Nix to a one year minor league contract. While last week officially kicked off the offseason, the value moves figure to take some time before they begin rolling in.

This, however, is not the case with the Jayson Nix signing.

Nix, a 26 year old second basemen, has went from being a highly regarded prospect, to a non-factor, back to a 'keep an eye on' candidate. While playing in Colorado's system, Nix has shown a fair amount of pop in his bat, coupled with decent speed and base stealing abilities.

What Nix is best known for, however, is his glove. Rewinding back to early in the 2008 year, Kevin Goldstein asserted that Nix had won the second base job with his glove. His fielding was so good, that as a full time second basemen, Goldstein figured Nix to be one of the top fielders in the game.

Goldstein concludes that Nix is a "superb" fielder, with great hands, and quick enough to get to a lot of balls in the hole.

Looking back at Nix's prospect card, where he rated as a 2 star prospect, we see that he is given praise for having 'plus speed' and 'gap power' as his main hitting tools. While these tools would obviously be better suited in the National League and at Coors Field, US Cellular Field is one of the next best locations for Nix to rejuvenate his career.

What is it that makes this move so special that it is worthy of being written about? Let us consider the free agent market for second basemen (courtesy MLBTradeRumors):
  • Willie Bloomquist (31)
  • Craig Counsell (38)
  • Ray Durham (37)
  • Damion Easley (39)
  • David Eckstein (34)
  • Mark Grudzielanek (39) - Type B
  • Jerry Hairston Jr. (33)
  • Orlando Hudson (31) - Type A
  • Tadahito Iguchi (34)
  • Jeff Kent (41) - Type B
  • Felipe Lopez (29)
  • Mark Loretta (37) - Type B
  • Ramon Martinez (36)
  • Pablo Ozuna (34)
  • Nick Punto (31)
  • Luis Rivas (29)
Let's first look at this list from an age/potential perspective. The age of the players is next to their respective names in brackets, and as you can see, there are only two players whom are under the age of 31. In fact, the majority of the players on this list are age 34 or older, and what a team will get out of these players is difficult to know.

Of the two players still in the prime years of their career, neither are substantially superior with the bat then Nix.

Next, let us look at the fielding abilities of the players available. According to The Fielding Bible, Jeff Kent, Ray Durham, Felipe Lopez, and David Eckstein were among the worst fielders in all of Major League Baseball during the 2008 season. Despite being better hitters, the cost, plus iron gloves, will certainly balance out the values, even favoring Nix.

Lastly, the offensive output that each player can be expected to provide. While it will take a major step forward for Nix to become a force with his bat, it is reasonable to assume league average production. That said, how many players from the list of free agents can we knock off that will be substantially worse then league average? Luis Rivas, Nick Punto, Ramon Martinez, Pablo Ozuna, Tadahito Iguchi, Damion Easley, Craig Counsell, and Willie Bloomquist can all be knocked off the list. Not one of these players can be counted on for an OPS above .650, let alone cracking .700.

From a list of 16, we have knocked off 12 players. Which means there is an argument suggesting that Nix was one of the top 5 available free agent second basemen. Under the Radar, however, is first and foremost concerned with value. Value is not only concerned with what a player will provide for a specific franchise in terms of wins and losses, but also cost.

Let's take a look at how Nix's one year, minor league contract looks compared to what the estimated contracts of the remaining players will look like.

Orlando Hudson is the most intriguing player from this list, mostly because of his glove. However, Hudson will presumably cost a multi-year deal of at least $5M per season. With Mark Ellis off of the market, Hudson is actually the best all around second basemen. After earning $6.25M in 2008, it is unlikely that the best available second basemen takes a paycut.

The next most intriguing player that remains is Mark Grudzielanek. Grudzielanek is a fine defensive second basemen, and has been receiving an under market contract from the Royals recently. While he is unlikely to resign with the Royals, he is also unlikely to find another starting job simply due to his age and the fact that he is coming off of an injury plagued season.

The second available Mark, Mark Loretta. Loretta is a poor-man's Grudzielanek who has cashed in from two surprising seasons in San Diego. He is a lock to hit for league average numbers, but doesn't have the glove of Nix, Hudson, or Grudzielanek. Loretta is a nice player to have, but like Grudzielanek, is at a point in his career that he cannot be depended on to be an everyday player.

Jerry Hairston Jr chose the perfect year to drop in career high statistics. While Hairston has always had the tools to be a capable Major Leaguer, for one reason or another he has been perpetually misfortunate. Hairston's career BABIP is 50 points lower then his expected figure of .338. For a player with his speed, and a better then league average strikeout to walk ratio, one would think Hairston would be a more highly coveted free agent.

The problem is, Hairston has failed to stay healthy, and is a fairly weak fielder. His role is better served as a utility player that can fill any role on a given night, but isn't forced into full time action.

While Hudson is the only player who will conceivably be a superior everyday second basemen, his cost and commitment make him less valuable then Nix. Loretta, Grudzielanek, and Hairston would be superior acquisitions if a team could depend on each player for full tiem roles. But at their age, or with their specific flaws, not one of those players can be counted on for more then 100 games.

At age 26, Jayson Nix is in the perfect situation. He is being brough aboard for his glove. The Chicago White Sox are a tremendous offensive team, and will consider anything Nix adds with his bat as a bonus. In addition to this, White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams picked up a player that is young enough to develope into any everyday second basemen for the next 3 to 4 seasons.

That the cost for Nix is so little, while the reward has such a high ceiling, coupled with the poor class of free agent second basemen, Kenny Williams may have just nabbed himself the most valuable free agent of the Hot Stove League.

BallHype: hype it up!


Edwin said...

The Rockies showed a remarkable lack of patience with all their second base prospects last year, none more so than Nix. Why were they asking a prospect with a minor league .500 slugging percentage to take walks in the 8 hole exactly? Great move for the Sox with no liability.

Brandon Heikoop said...

Thanks for reading Edwin.

Taking walks isn't a big deal, but why they simply let him go at the end of the season is beyond me.

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