Hunter Pence and Arbitration, You Can't Buy Wins (or can you), and Bernardo Fallas makes his debut

In the arbitration arena, it's three up, three down for the Astros. The three players who inked deals were Michael Bourn ($2.4 million plus bonuses), Matt Lindstrom ($1.625 plus bonuses) and Humberto Quintero ($750,000 plus bonuses), thus avoiding arbitration. This leaves Hunter Pence, Wandy Rodriguez and Tim Byrdak as yet to be signed and subject to hearings starting next week. Until then, the players representatives and the Astros' brass have the opportunity to discuss possible contracts for 2010 and possibly beyond.

The discussion of the possibility of locking up Wandy and Hunter long term (or at least longer than one season) was thrown out in our initial discussions concerning arbitration yesterday, with little enthusiasm for inking Pence to an extended contract. My take is that while Hunter is a fan favorite, who has a fairly diversified skill set, he does not project to be a true All Star right fielder.

Being such, I think that it would be acceptable to sign him to a reasonable 4-5 year contract, locking him in for his peak seasons and releasing him when he reaches the dreaded decline years of 31, 32. He has been a bargain for the club in his 2 plus seasons, making little more than $400,000- a pittance for a major leaguer. The way he plays and the attitude he brings to the field every day makes him easy to root for. I think the aggregate affect is that his actual performance on the field is overshadowed a bit by our perceptions of his approach, likability, etc. Once he starts making more money, I would be willing to bet that people will become more critical of his shortcomings. For an outfielder, Pence does pair above average offense (Tom Tango's marcel projection system has Pence's wOBA in the top 100 in the majors in 2010), with superior range and a top flight arm in right field.

For comparison's sake, yesterday, Los Angeles Dodgers' RF Andre Ethier signed a 2 year contract that guarantees he will be paid at least $15.25 million over the life of the deal. An average salary of a bit over $7.5 million is pretty fair for a 2.5 win player who is approaching his peak seasons. If the Astros wanted to do something similar with Hunter, who was nearly a win better (3.3 WAR) in 2009, and a far superior defender, than was Ethier, I couldn't hold it against the Astros. Mr. Ethier stole headlines last season with his numerous walk off hits (which shows why his WPA is ridiculously high), but Pence as evidenced by his WAR was the better all around performer and should prove to be more valuable in the years to come as well. There are more quality outfielders available than at any other position (obviously due to numbers alone), but guys like Luke Scott and Josh Willingham, both 30 years+ and fairly one dimensional, both agreed to deals worth more than $4 million yesterday. Point being that if the Astros don't sign Hunter Pence to an extended contract, he may get a tad expensive in the seasons to come.

Tom Veruducci explored which ML teams in the past decade got the most "bang for their buck", i.e.: he figured out how much in $'s each team spent per victory over the course of ten seasons. The Astros ranked 12th on the list at $927,000 per victory. After the top ten (filled with the expected big market clubs), there is a fairly substantial drop-off until you reach the Phillies, Astros, Cards, Giants, Rangers, D-Backs and White Sox, who all paid somewhere between $935,000 and $900,000 for a victory during the decade. In case you were wondering, our 'Stros ranked 13th in total victories over that time period, with 832, just five wins behind the Mariners total of 837.

Bottom line: from 2000 through 2009, the Astros were 12th in cost per win, and 13th overall in victories...ya get what ya pay for, I suppose.

Newly minted Chronicle Astros beat writer Bernardo Fallas penned his first (I believe) feature story for the paper's webstie, and also opined concerning the three arb eligible Astros who failed to sign contracts on Tuesday. Youth is always welcome in the newspaper biz, and Bernardo seems to fit the bill. He and Zach Levine should be a great team for the paper.

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