Posted by Steve
By all accounts, the Brewers have had a great off-season. Doug Melvin deserves a ton of credit for turning the team into a contender, and 2011 has the potential to be a great year. Something has seemingly slipped through the cracks, though, and it threatens to result in a huge step backward after this season: Rickie Weeks has set a deadline of Spring Training to negotiate a contract extension.
Signing Rickie Weeks has never really seemed a top priority to the Brewers, although plenty of fans felt it should be. There’s actually a thread about extending weeks on Brewerfan that started April 10 of last season, and at that time, the Brewers could have had him dirt cheap. Now it seems the Brewers are still trying to act like they have a ton of leverage, despite the fact they don’t have much at all.
Take this concerning post from Adam McCalvy, for example. Gord Ash has some interesting–okay, I’ll just say it–incorrect assessments of their situation with Rickie Weeks. Here’s a particularly worrisome quote:
We still have time, but if there’s a belief on Genske’s [Weeks' agent] side that Rickie Weeks is similar to Dan Uggla, then we’re going to have a problem.
This is in reference to the 5-year $62 million deal Dan Uggla just signed with the Braves. Saying Rickie Weeks is a very good second baseman shouldn’t be a controversial statement, but maybe this one is: There’s a huge problem with saying Weeks isn’t on Dan Uggla’s level, because Weeks deserves to be paid more than Uggla.
Please allow me to explain why.
There’s little doubt Weeks is elite. He’s easily a top 5 second baseman, and likely top 3. His WAR of 6.1 was second in baseball among second baseman last season and 13th (!) among all players at any position. He was the Brewers’ best player last season. Even in the three seasons prior to 2010, he still performed at a level above average.
Not that Dan Uggla should be an end-all-be-all, but since Gord went out of his way to bring him up, we might as well make the comparison.
Yes, Uggla had a better offensive season than Weeks, but he was not as valuable, because he cannot play second base. Uggla was way, way below average defensively, while Fangraphs had Weeks as slightly above average. Not only that, but Weeks is two and a half years younger than Uggla!
So Weeks was a better player than Uggla last year, and is two and a half years younger…. You tell me who should get more money.
The maddening thing is that every impression we’ve been given is if the Brewers duplicated Uggla’s offer to Weeks, he’d sign it in a second. That’s a very fair price for Weeks, yet the Brewers just won’t do it. Let’s look at another quote from Gord.
He’s looking at the player Rickie was this year and [assuming] he will be that going forward. Clearly, Rickie is a player we really value in terms of his dedication and his professionalism and his approach to the game, but we’ve had some uneven history here in terms of performance.
No, we haven’t. Rickie’s production has always been good to great. The only thing uneven has been his health. His defense turned around after 2008, and his offensive performance has been well above average in each season since 2007. Clearly, Gord is saying Rickie hasn’t earned Uggla’s contract because he has missed a significant amount of time.
How about one last quote?
“The facts are that Uggla is in a different salary level — he’s an elite player. He can compare himself to some Hall of Fame players. He’s had an historic start. Rickie — we love him, but he’s not to that level yet.”
Basically, Gord is saying Rickie doesn’t deserve Uggla’s money because he hasn’t accomplished what Uggla has to this point. My response: Why should that matter one bit?
This is a huge problem with contracts that are given out all across the league. Players are paid for what they’ve done when they should really be paid for what they’ll do. That Uggla has had a better career to this point is irrelevant. The question the Brewers need to answer is who will be the better player over the course of the next five years. Based on defense and age, all signs point to Rickie.
Yes, Weeks had some injuries. But the only concern there should be whether he’d be able to produce at a high level again. Last year he showed beyond all doubt that he can. There’s no reason to look at some injuries that held him out in 2007 and 2009 and hold them against him in 2012 and beyond.
I know I’m reaching the point of rambling here, but I can’t overstate Rickie’s importance enough. The Brewers offered Prince Fielder $100 million, and Weeks is the better player! Sure, Prince is a better hitter, but Weeks is a better all-around player. It’s all based on position scarcity. Put it this way. If you had a great hitter who could play any position at an elite level, you’d pick catcher–it’s the most difficult position to play, and it’s why Joe Mauer is so freaking valuable. After catcher you’d pick shortstop, and then second base. Weeks plays a difficult position at an acceptable level, and it’s why his bat is so much more valuable than if he played left field or first base.
From a Brewers perspective specifically, they pretty much need to re-sign Weeks. Fielder is as good as gone, so they’ll need to keep Weeks’ bat in the lineup if they don’t want a huge drop-off after this season. Additionally, I’m sure the Brewers would like to re-sign Zack Greinke and even Shawn Marcum. Well, good luck convincing them to stay if both Fielder and Weeks leave the team.
To this point, the Brewers have botched their handling of Rickie Weeks, but there’s still time to rectify it. They just need to recognize that he’s an elite player and pay him accordingly.