Gerardo Parra, a super-two player entering his third of four arbitration years, has yet to be signed to a 2014 contract or to an extension. Like Josh Collmenter, Joe Thatcher and Mark Trumbo, Parra filed for arbitration last night (the club and players will exchange figures on Friday). But why haven’t the D-backs signed Parra to a much-anticipated extension, as they did with Brad Ziegler at the end of December?
We can understand why the club hasn’t signed Trumbo yet — he’s a recent enough addition that his representation may not have had much of a chance to talk numbers with Arizona. The Collmenter and Thatcher arbitrations also aren’t particularly interesting, as the team is likely to sign them to one-year deals, and the only issues there are an appropriate dollar figure. But I’ve already done some serious thinking about what a Gerardo Parra extension might look like, and now I’m all the more curious about what the hell’s going on.
So, I’d like to share some of these thoughts, if you don’t mind. Reading tea leaves is a poorer kind of analysis than our regular readers may be used to, but I find thinking about this stuff very interesting, so I hope you won’t hold it against me. Yes, the Parra holdup could be something as simple as the player and club being far apart; after all, there’s no precedent for Parra as a defense-first right fielder in the last ten years. But I’m not convinced of that, and I can think of three other types of reasons why no deal has been struck to date (or why we haven’t heard anything for a while). So in order of likelihood, from lowest to highest:
Parra’s team has not thought the time is right yet
Why would Parra put off talking extension, given that he needs to sign a contract for 2014 one way or another? I don’t think it’s very likely that the explanation is that Parra wants a longer deal, but that the club only wants a one or two year deal. Even if that’s what Parra preferred, he has no leverage to ask for a longer deal. If that’s what was going on, the team would be likely to use an aggressive figure on Friday, choosing to go year to year through arbitration.
A more plausible reason for Parra to wait is to find out if the market rate for his services will increase before Friday, or before arbitration hearings start at the beginning of February. For a free agent competing for landing spots, there are normally three strategies: 1) strike early, while there are still several teams that could fight for your services; 2) wait it out, to see if the market will go up as supply diminishes (a bet that demand is greater than supply); or 3) wait for an individual situation to pan out, be it another player signing that could individually raise the market, or an additional, specific team entering the fray (after failing to sign one of its own players, for instance). Of course, none of these strategies can be applied exactly to Parra’s situation, but they do shed some light.
The most important talent that Parra brings to the table is his defense, but while clubs are doing better at valuing defense properly, defense still lags behind offense for the dollar signs. For that reason, I really wonder if Parra is waiting for a defense-first player to sign — especially if that player is a defense-first player at a typically offense-first position, like right field. Despite an offensive outburst in 2013, James Loney has had that reputation — but after first seeking an AAV of $9M-$10M per season I thought might be appropriate for Parra’s free agent seasons, Loney eventually agreed to a 3 year, $21M deal to go back to Tampa Bay. Again, waiting for a specific player to sign would make sense, but honestly, I can’t identify a player that would change Parra’s probable market price. It’s possible that Parra’s team is banking on something I just haven’t thought of (feel free to suggest something in the comments), but I tend to doubt that it’s Parra holding up this process.
Arizona prefers to sign Parra to an extension
If the two sides are currently negotiating over dollars or years, it doesn’t make sense to characterize the situation as either the club or player holding up the process. But one possibility for why no extension has been reached is that Parra is ready and willing to sign a deal for 2014, or for the next two seasons, but does not want to sign a deal that covers any free agent seasons. That would make sense.
Although the D-backs control Parra for the 2015 season, they can’t expect to sign him at a discount for 2016 and beyond if they wait until next year. A deal in the three year range would probably be ideal, and it could be that the club is trying to model a Parra extension on the Ziegler one (although Ziegler is one year ahead of Parra on the arb ladder). Would a guaranteed salary for 2015 entice Parra to give Arizona an option for 2016 that could delay his free agency?
I don’t see it. Parra will start the season at age 26 (before turning 27 in May), and there could be a pretty big difference between hitting the market at almost-29 and hitting it at almost-30. Parra has also been very durable, so in light of the fact that he will almost certainly be signed for more than $4M for the 2014 season, he may not value the certainty of a guarantee as much as, say, a pitcher. It could be that Arizona greatly prefers to sign Parra to an extension, and if that’s true, and if Parra would rather not, Arizona has little incentive not to wait it out and see if Parra’s mind can be changed. It’s possible. It’s just not as likely as the next explanation.
Arizona is waiting for more information on Cody Ross
Doesn’t this make a whole lot of sense? Ross recently resumed baseball activities, and it may be that by the time arb hearings are rolling around in 2-3 weeks, Arizona will have a lot more information as to Ross’s likely prognosis, as to how early he can return, and as to how often he’s likely to play during the season (I’ve wondered if he’d end up a Eric Chavez-style half time player). Ross’s contract (two more years at $9.5M per, with a $1M buyout for 2016) can’t be moved until he shows he can play, and even if he does, it could still be the case that Ross’s contract is worth more to Arizona than it would be to other teams (making him less than ideal as a trade candidate). There’s just a wide range of possibilities left with Ross, and if his defense is half as good as it was last season, he’ll still be an above-average player who can help the team as a regular, or as a player who starts five games a week.
Considering the window is pretty small, why would Arizona wait on Ross? One reason is playing time. Mark Trumbo will not cede many starts to any player, after the club shipped out a boatload of value to get him. That means that Parra, A.J. Pollock and Ross will share CF and RF, and even if Ross gets the short end of the stick, that would greatly impact Parra’s playing time. Parra’s defense is so good that it really does make sense to start him, even against lefties. But there’s room to exploit a platoon advantage — Ross does bat right handed, and Arizona could seek to limit Parra’s starts against lefties. The Chicago Cubs did this brilliantly with Nate Schierholtz, whose numbers against lefties (.170 BA) were quite a bit worse than Parra’s; despite getting 503 PA overall, Schierholtz had only 66 PA against lefties (13% of his PA). If Arizona expected to play Parra as more of a part time player (75% of starts?), you couldn’t blame them if they tried to get Parra to accept a salary commensurate with that playing time.
Another reason to wait on Ross, however, is to determine whether Parra can be traded. Really, think about it: even after the departure of Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson, Arizona has 6 players for 4 positions again (Parra, Pollock, Ross, Trumbo, Chavez and Martin Prado). If Ross is not moveable, Trumbo’s here to stay, Pollock is the only true CF, and the team is committed to Prado… could Parra be the part of the roster that gives? I have no idea how highly the Arizona front office values Parra’s defensive contribution, and to be fair, although Parra has been consistently above average in defensive metrics, sample sizes make them somewhat volatile year to year.
It actually seems fairly likely to me that Arizona could be waiting on Ross to see if Parra should get moved. Consider Prado. Eric Chavez is going to play more often than 10% of starts, so his playing time will come at a greater cost than Prado rest days. But where the hell will Prado play? Sure, there’ll be the occasional Trumbo rest day, and sure, Prado could start at second on Hill off days (although the Owings/Gregorius/Pennington share is more likely to spill over to second). But we’d expect Chavez to play more than that by design, and not just through injury (since his half-time status is due to injury risk and age, he’s not a guy who could step in to start all games of a DL stint).
Martin Prado has played only two innings in right field in his career. If he were to play there in 2014, it would probably only happen after some work in spring training (which is something I’ll be very interested to see, although the Parra situation will probably have played out by then). But if Ross is something of a 50% or 50%+ player, isn’t he the perfect complement to Chavez? If Parra was off the roster, I have to admit that shuttling Prado from 3B to RF would make sense, as Chavez and Ross could effectively platoon.
There’s enough here to make me worry that Arizona has designs to trade Parra if he doesn’t agree to a contract on club terms. But again, I’m just reading some tea leaves here, and I could be way off base. So what do you think? Please vote in the poll in the sidebar, and comment with other possibilities if you like.
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