Striking development — a team has struck a relative bargain for an outfielder this winter. In a world where Juan Encarnacion and Jacque Jones each got three years guaranteed, and where Jeromy Burnitz is reportedly about to sign a two-year deal worth $6 million a year, this is an excellent move.
Oddly, the Astros didn’t necessarily need an outfielder, if you believe Chris Burke is going to develop into a factor (which I do). But Wilson is a fairly comparable offensive player to the other guys (actually a little more effective), and to get him for fewer dollars and fewer years is simply a better deal. His one huge year was extremely Coors-inflated (302/370/591, 21 HR, 84 RBI at home; 260/316/479, 15 HR, 57 RBI on the road), but even then he hit for decent power.
That’s really the difference between Wilson and a guy like Encarnacion, though Wilson is two years older. Even when you adjust for ballparks, Wilson has more power. He’s not a superstar, but he’s a guy with a lifetime slugging percentage of 483 on the road (Encarnacion’s is 460). None of the guys in this discussion get on base nearly often enough, but if Wilson can slug 5-something at home and 470-480 on the road, then you live with the lower OBP.
It’s a strange contract, with a three-year club option at the end of the year. But from the Astros’ perspective, there’s only $4.5 million guaranteed. From Wilson’s perspective, I don’t really understand how/why he took a deal like this if there were three-year guaranteed contracts available to him. I don’t know whether there were or were not, but you would think any team interested in one of the other guys would be interested in Wilson.
How does this relate to the Cardinals? Throughout the early parts of the winter, I advocated patience and understanding from Cardinals fans, because I thought most of the contracts being handed out by other teams were foolish, and I thought the Cards would make a move a lot like this. And actually, I think the flyers on Junior Spivey and Sidney Ponson both are terrific moves. But all things being equal, if the Cards could have had Wilson for a year and a guaranteed $4.5 million, or Encarnacion (two years younger, similar but somewhat less effective hitter) for three years, I think Wilson would have been a better move.
There are a couple of ways that won’t be true: if Encarnacion’s newfound OBP ability (career-high 349 last year) actually sticks, or if he comes into his own at 30. Neither is impossible, but neither is a certainty, either. I’d love to be wrong, and love to see Encarnacion make his contract look good. I just wouldn’t want to bet on that happening.