Let’s not pay Cantu for RBI’s


“I think the most important stat offensively is the RBI. Having four guys in the lineup who can drive in 100 or 90 runs is super.”

– Florida Marlins first baseman Jorge Cantu

As I said yesterday, it appears as if the Marlins would have to be blown away to trade Jorge Cantu, meaning that in all likelihood, he’ll be returning to the Fish next year. Cantu is scheduled to make around $5M next season, but the Marlins apparently see it fit to pay him anyway.

But what are the Marlins paying Cantu for? The team must know that, given that Cantu is in his last season of arbitration, he is essentially a non-asset to anyone but the team. No one will be blowing the Marlins away on a trade offer for Cantu. I have Cantu’s projected surplus value at $2.2M, which is worth a middling pitching prospect in terms of surplus. But what of Cantu’s production? Why is he earning $5M from the Marlins when the team is unwilling to pay Dan Uggla $8-9M for much better production? I have Uggla projected at almost two wins better than Cantu. Even using this season’s value versus Cantu’s projection, Uggla would still be worth 1.5 wins more than Cantu. In the open market, that would be well worth the difference of $3-4M, and even at the Marlins’ WAR rate of $2M/win, the team would still be breaking even (mostly) on going with either move.

Consider the following two players on the Marlins:

Jorge Cantu

2008: .277/.327/.481, .293 BABIP, 5.0% UIBB%, .204 ISOadj, .346 wOBA
2009: .289/.345/.443, .310 BABIP, 6.7% UIBB%, .154 ISOadj, .343 wOBA

Mystery Marlins Player

2008: .260/.316/.488, .299 BABIP, 6.1% UIBB%, .217 ISOadj, .345 wOBA
2009: .270/.321/.469, .306 BABIP, 5.5% UIBB%, .197 ISOadj, .342 wOBA

Both were full-time players, but the mystery guy started a little later in 2008. Of course, if you followed my Offseason Outlooks this year or if you’re very good with your Marlins knowledge (or if you just went to FanGraphs real quick), you would know that the other player is Cody Ross. Essentially, both Cantu and Ross are the same hitter production-wise, though they do it in different ways. Cantu makes a little more contact, Ross hits for a good deal more power. Neither are particularly good at drawing walks.

So why are the Marlins willing to pay $5M for Cantu when they have a player of very similar caliber already? Well of course, the team wants more decent hitters, that’s understandable. But I already pointed out that plenty of players in the free agent market can already do what Cantu does. In other words, there is nothing unique about what Jorge Cantu contributes.

Unless you count RBI’s.

Cantu had 92 RBI’s last year and 100 this season. As you can see, he is a big fan of RBI’s. I am not. I would bet that Ross could drive in a similar number of runners as Cantu if he had Hanley Ramirez and Chris Coghlan on base in front of him as often as Cantu did. In fact, for their careers, Cantu and Ross have driven in baserunners at a similar clip; Cantu has scored 18% of baserunners in his career, while Ross has scored 17% of baserunners during his time in the league. I would venture that the difference between the two would come mostly on the fact that Cantu is a better contact hitter, so in that sense he is perhaps a slightly better “RBI man.” It doesn’t mean the Marlins should spend money for that “special” quality when they could easily have someone like Eric Hinske or Hank Blalock do a similar job for less.

As an organization that does not have a lot of money, there is no reason they should be paying what little they have for RBI’s. Putting a premium on such a worthless stat is a mistake, plain and simple.