Yes, you’ve heard it right. The Giants just signed the guy that slammed his face into a wall.
Gritty. Warrior Mentality. Tough. Hard-Nosed. Plays the game right.
All of these words have been used to describe Aaron Rowand who just inked a 5-year deal worth $60M to play center field for the Giants. Usually upon hearing such praise for a player’s intangibles, I feel a little queasy because most of the time, intangibles are a substitute for talent. A poor substitute that baseball writers like to fall in love with and fawn over like 12-year olds gazing at the newest pop sensation on MTV.
The following exchange has never happened to Barry Bonds or <insert your choice of prolific slugger here>.
Guy: “Hey Barry, do you think you could be just a little more gritty?”
Barry Bonds: “Dude, what are you talking about?”
Guy: “Yeah, like, I’d like to see you get your uniform a little more dirty, or perhaps you could run face first into the outfield wall once or twice, ya know, because you’re playing the game the right way.”
Bonds: “Uhmm, Security…”
Guy: “No, Seriously, Bare-Bare, maybe try acting just a little more, ya know, hard-nosed!”
Bonds: “Or maybe I could just hit the hell out of the ball.”
Guy: “That works.”
Bonds: /smacks dingers
Wrapped up in that terrific dialogue is my point. Great players don’t have to use words like “hard-nosed” and “gritty” to define how good they are, instead, they go out and play the game insanely well. So well, that any slob can see that they are witnessing greatness, that they don’t have to be told about how great the player is, inside they already know it. That’s how I’ve always felt while watching Bonds or Pujols, my brain chugging away in an effort to understand just how amazing these guys are. My eyes peeled, watching the whip-like bat of Bonds, slashing through the strike zone to punish any baseball that it came into contact with, or watching Pujols and his amazing plate coverage, being able to make hard contact no matter where the pitcher threw the ball.
That’s why when a team signs a guy like Rowand and tries to spin off his “intangibles” mixed with his “character”, it makes me a little cautious. No doubt that in 2007 Rowand had an amazing year. He OPS’d just under .900 with a final number of .889. He hit 27 home runs and bashed 45 doubles. He hit over .300 and his on-base percentage was .374. He made the All-Star team and I got to watch him make the final out at AT&T when he flew out to RF with the bases loaded to end the game. His defensive reputation has been earned for years of playing a great center field. His OPS+ of 123 was second only to his 2004 season which was only a little bit better at 130.
His defense, which might not be as good as it was in his Chicago days, is still pretty good and above average. From 2005-2007 Rowand was a +21 fielder when going by the Fielding Bible. That’s good for 9th best CF in the major leagues over that time period. If you go by BP’s FRAA he was +5 last year. If you go by UZR he was a +14 fielder in 2007. Rowand is still pretty good with the glove.
My biggest concern with Rowand is going to be his hitting at AT&T. Everyone knows that Philadelphia is a hitters paradise and Rowand did hit well at Philly in 2007, posting a overall line of (.319/.380/.557) monster numbers for a center fielder. But, in his career year, he hit well on the road too with a line of (.307/.361/.475) which is a little closer to his career line of (.286/.343/.462). The Giants would be thrilled to get that type of line out of Rowand for at least the first three years of this deal.
I can sum up what I like about this deal and what I don’t like:
What I like
- Defense?: From a defensive standpoint alone, the Giants are a better team with Rowand playing center field. Dave Roberts was one of the worst fielding players in the majors last year to have played in center – he rated as a -19 by the Fielding Bible good for 3rd worst – and an outfield of Schierholtz/Rowand/Winn looks to be strong all around. As long as Rowand can continue to be a above average fielder, the Giants are going to save some runs.
- Keeping the young 1-2: Maybe what I like the most about this deal is that now that Rowand has signed, Sabean has taken both Cain and Lincecum off the table. I’d much rather pay Rowand $12M a year to keep Cain and Lincecum on the team – and to help them defensively – than to trade Lincecum for three years of Rios from the Blue Jays. 5 years is a little long for Rowand but I’ll take that everyday over the alternative of losing Cain or Lincecum.
- Time to go: With Rowand on the team Dave Roberts should be trade bait. Roberts didn’t have a place before this trade and now he definitely doesn’t have one. Rajai Davis can do everything Roberts can do but cheaper. If the Giants can trade Roberts and some salary to a team for a low-level prospect, I would do it. There’s also a chance that Winn could get moved if the right offer came along but I think he’ll stick because he plays a really good RF at AT&T and sadly he’s one of the better hitters on the Giants right now.
What I don’t like
- Mucking with the lineup: Listening to the conference call today, it sounds like Bochy is having ideas of playing Roberts in LF. This is something I can’t stand. Sure, Roberts is going to be a good defensive LF – he was good in ’06 when he played LF for the Padres – but with the Giants rebuilding, there’s no reason to start Roberts over Lewis or Schierholtz. I especially think that Nate has earned a shot to start in LF for the Giants in ’08. Heck, I’d even be happy to see Fred Lewis get some AB’s. I know Bochy has ties with Roberts but its time to either trade him or reduce his role.
- Can he hit?: Can Rowand hit at AT&T? He’s played his whole career in hitters parks – Chicago and Philadelphia – and has looked very human at times in each of them. In his 5 years playing for the White Sox, he only OPS+’d over 100 three times. During his 2 years in Philadelphia, he only OPS+’d over 100 one time. He probably isn’t going to OPS over .800 but if he can stay in the mid-750′s it wouldn’t be so bad as long as his defense was still good.
- Deal length: I’d feel more comfortable with a deal in the 3-4 year range, especially with how Rowand throws his body around. I think the Andruw Jones to the Dodgers deal looks better and better each day. Too bad Andruw turned down a contract to the Giants. You’ve got to hope that Rowand can OPS near .750 for at least the first three years of the deal.
Even though a lot of people like to describe Rowand with all the intangible-laden adjectives, he’s been a pretty good player in his career. But it’s amazing how shockingly similar he is career-wise to Randy Winn. Winn’s career OPS+ of 102 isn’t that far off from Rowand’s OPS+ of 106. Remember, Winn has also played in some tough parks for hitters, namely Safeco Field and AT&T. Whether or not this deal looks good in a couple of years is going to be debatable, but I think if you’re a Giants fan you take the good news that Lincecum and Cain will still be on the team for 2008 and hopefully beyond. For that, I can live with Aaron Rowand in the mean time.