NASHVILLE -- The number of landing spots in the game of centerfielder musical chairs has dwindled by one. The Giants re-signed Angel Pagan, retaining him via a four-year, $40 million deal that covers his age 32-35 seasons. That leaves Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn still looking for landing spots, and the Reds and Phillies among the teams seeking solutions in center.
Pagan joins B.J. Upton as centerfielders to recently come off the market, and though Pagan is older and therefore a risk to go into decline at some point during the life of the deal, his pact with the Giants looks like a bargain when compared to the five-year, $75.25 million deal to which the Braves signed Upton last week. Pagan's deal is two-thirds the annual cost than Upton's, and goes to a player who has been more valuable on both sides of the ball over the last four seasons.
Acquired by the Giants in a trade with the Mets for Ramon Ramirez and Andres Torres last Dec. 7, Pagan hit .288/.338/.440 with eight homers, an NL-high 15 triples and 29 steals, all for a price tag just south of $5 million. That looked like a steal compared to what the Mets got from Torres (.230/.327/.337 with three homers), who took over the middle pasture management chores for the Giants during the previous two years. Adjusted for the extremely pitcher-friendly environment of AT&T Park, Pagan put up a career-high .290 True Average.
Defensively, Baseball Prospectus rated his glovework at 11 Fielding Runs Above Average en route to a season worth 4.7 Wins Above Replacement Player. While the Defensive Runs Saved metric begged to differ when it came to his work afield (-6 runs), Baseball-Reference.com's Wins Above Replacement valued him at 4.0 WAR. Either way, that's a championship-caliber contribution from an up-the-middle player. Via either value metric, only Buster Posey and Melky Cabrera among Giants position players made a larger contribution.
Pagan and Upton make for an interesting contrast between a late-bloomer who debuted in the majors at 24 but didn't become a regular until the middle of his age 27 season, and a No. 2 overall pick who debuted at 19, became a regular at 22 and reached free agency at an age where Pagan was just coming into his own. Both have been toiling in offense-suppressing environments that take bites out of their numbers, which clouds the comparison enough to makes using True Average, which adjusts for park and league scoring environments, the preferable way to go. Pagan has hit .285/.337/.427 with 32 homers and 112 steals in 2,200 plate appearances during that span, good for a .278 True Average, while Upton has hit .242/.316/.420 with 80 homers and 151 steals in 2,509 PA, for a .267 True Average in about half a season more playing time during that span. Even with less playing time, Pagan has around a 19-run edge on the offensive side according to Value Over Replacement Player, 115.3 to 96.4.
In terms of defense, FRAA pegs Pagan as worth 19 runs above average over the past four years, and Upton as two runs below average. DRS places Pagan at 23 runs above average over that time, with huge defensive years in 2009 and 2010 but falloffs since then, while it pegs Upton at −30 in that span, with his 2010 showing of −19 runs the biggest negative hit. Ultimate Zone Rating paints both in similarly flattering light, with 12 runs above average for the former and eight above average for the latter during that span.
Both WARP and WAR peg Pagan at worth 3.5 wins per year over the past four years, with WARP valuing Upton at 2.5 wins a year, and WAR at 1.8 — roughly half as much. Note that the comparison omits Upton's strong 2007 and 2008 seasons, in which he put up on-base percentages above .380 and was worth more according to either metric. That failure to live up to his early promise was part of why his time in Tampa Bay was so tumultuous, but it's the glimmer of recapturing that upside that enticed the Braves. Pagan is older and with a lower ceiling, but he's got the stronger track record even if he is a bit of a stretch for a leadoff hitter given a career .333 OBP. Four years is a long time, but for the Giants to lock him up on the terms that they did is a win for Sabean relative to the current centerfield market, and an even bigger one relative to the Giants' recent past. Even with a $5 million signing bonus, Pagan won't make more than $12 million in any year over the life of his deal. By comparison, Aaron Rowand, the last player at the position to whom Sabean gave big money, was paid $13.6 million in both 2010 and 2011, and was such a bust over the life of his 2008-2012 deal (4.6 WARP) that he was released with one year and one month still remaining, creating the void that Pagan eventually filled. Sabean gets to keep a good player while pocketing the price difference between his old centerfielder and his new one. It's tough to complain about that.