Speaking of the Strong and Adaptable

Falling out of the playoff race is the absolute worst thing for this website. I don't mean in terms of visits, clicks, and views either. The network worries about those things, I don't. Right now, there are three daily content choices, 1) write about a current trend or observation, 2) write about something that may happen in the off-season, 3) do not write at all. Usually I fall in between 1 and 2 and it's a fine line to walk. The off-season is a long, dark, lonely cave.  Wasting all the matches now gives less hope for survival.  Being such, I'll spark one today and tackle an underlining question about next year's team: who will the fourth outfielder be?

Gabe Kapler is not what you think he is. He looks like the epitome of the dumb jock. Bald head, huge muscles, expressionless face 99% of the time. Then you hear him talk, or read some of his quotes, or talk to people who talk to him, and he's not that guy. Unlike his play, he seems very in control of his thoughts and emotions. This is a bit surprising to say the least and I couldn't believe Jonah Keri when he first shared this experience until I witnessed it myself.

Sure, he encompasses gritty play and sometimes his ballerina act in the outfield gets tiresome, but I've grown to enjoy his play more often than not. Mostly because he kills left-handed pitching like he should. In 143 plate appearances against southpaws to date, Kapler has 35 hits (21 of which are of the extra base variety), 23 walks (only 15 strikeouts), and a line of .299/.406/.590. That is phenomenal and when you add that his defense isn't half bad either, you have a bargain for the million-plus the Rays paid him.

Now, Kapler has struggled in limited exposure against righties. A .115/.164/.115 is repulsive, still his BABIP against them is .167, a figure unlikely to sustain. A week ago he turned 34-years-old and I'm sure the line of suitors for him will be decent if he so chooses to continue playing. Or he could return.

The problem with this is that the Rays outfield is again stacked. It's funny how these things work out. Three years ago, the Rays had too many outfielders: Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes, Jonny Gomes - okay, "outfielder" - and the transitioning B.J. Upton. Last year people said they didn't have enough and they had to acquire Nathan Haynes and Gabe Gross during the season, plus sign Eric Hinske. Now, the Rays are right back to the point where it's overkill. Crawford and Upton remain, the rest are long gone, and Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings, Gross, and Fernando Perez are presumably looking for roster spots on the 2010 team.

That doesn't leave a ton of room for a 34-year-old whose best utility is his ability to do what most of the baseball corner outfield population can do: hit lefties. You figure Joyce sticks, Jennings goes to Durham, Gross changes addresses, and that leaves Kapler/Perez fighting for the outfield bench spot. This battle, if it comes to be, drips of intrigue.

I'm not going to compare Kapler's intelligence to Perez' -- just as I'm unlikely to compare Perez' body fat percentage to Kapler's -- but I think I'm reasonable in stating that both would finish in an upper percentile if MLB were to hold a league-wide IQ testing ‘contest'. Given Perez' history in center field and his speed and range combination, he figures to be a plus defender, probably edging Kapler by a few runs over a full season. Perez is coming off a wrist injury and even prior to that there were murmurs the Rays didn't like him switch-hitting. In a little over 600 Triple-A plate appearances Perez has hit.287/.363/.391 and since 2005 has hit .299/.368/.470 against southpaws.

It's fair to say Kapler is the superior hitter and Perez the superior fielder. So where do you draw the line on either? As mentioned, Perez is younger - cheaper too - and not yet out of options. This means, he can be sent up and down next season as the Rays please without being offered to waivers.  

Okay, so let's look at the numbers. In statistical terms, if we assume Kapler will OPS .950 (Ed note: Kapler's last three years actually have him with a .965 OPS against lefties, but I wanted to prove my point by contracting the difference into something more reasonable and round) and Perez .800 in 200 plate appearances, then Perez must be 12 runs better defensively to register as the better player. Let's say Perez is +8 on defense and the difference is four runs. That's a pretty marginal difference, all told, but since wins are worth about 4.84 million, and this is 0.4 of a win, we can see that Kapler is worth 1.94 million more than Perez - at least based on our projections which I'm not claiming are anywhere near accurate.  That means our logical test on whether Kapler should be re-signed or not is pretty simple. It comes down to this equation:

X - 400,000 = 1.94 million

Where X is Kapler's proposed salary, 400,000 is Perez' salary, and 1.94 million is the predetermined value of the performance gap. The Rays could go cost efficient and just say to heck with Kapler, or they could keep him around and reap the quantitative and qualitative benefits.

I guess it really comes down to one thing: whether Sunburst Entertainment wants to pursue poetry and classical music or muscle shirts and hunk calendars.

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