After eight years in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform, Adam Lind faces the possibility that he’ll hit free agency within the next two months.
The Blue Jays could choose to pay Lind a $2 million buyout and look elsewhere for offence instead of exercising his $7 million contract option for 2014.
Some are tempted to let Lind go. Dirk Hayhurst recently made the case that the Blue Jays should pursue Justin Morneau in free agency instead of exercising Lind’s option.
Yet Lind can hit right-handed pitching, and the free agent market isn’t exactly overflowing with flawless hitters available for bargain prices. It’s not hard to make the case that the Blue Jays should bring Lind back.
SUCCESS VS. RIGHTIES: Let’s start with the question of what Lind offers the Blue Jays. He’s a distinctly above-average hitter when facing right-handed pitching. While his detractors will say Lind only produces for a month or two at a time, that’s not quite fair.
Lind has an .895 OPS against right-handed pitching this year — 21st among the 249 MLB players to face right-handers at least 200 times. That’s distinctly above-average, and it’s not just a one-year trend.
Over the course of the last four years — the period following Lind’s breakout 35-home run season — he ranks among the MLB leaders in OPS against right-handed pitching with an .824 mark that ties him with Alex Rodriguez, Aramis Ramirez and Chase Utley.
There’s every reason to believe Lind adds considerable value against right-handers. Now 30, he’s young enough to continue hitting right-handers in future seasons.
LIND’S LIMITATIONS: However, his .512 OPS against left-handed pitching ranks among the worst in baseball over the four-year period from 2010-13. This year has not been an exception. While Lind has shown promise against left-handers at times, the data suggests he remains well below average against southpaws.
Furthermore, Lind has limited value as a defensive player or baserunner. He plays some first base in Toronto, but his days as an outfielder are over, and he steals less than one base per season, on average.
His value begins and ends with his bat — in particular his ability to hit right-handers.
DOLLAR VALUE: Personnel decisions are never made in a bubble. Rather, teams assess values relative to other players and contracts around MLB.
So how much does the industry value left-handed hitters with large platoon splits when they reach free agency around the age of 30?
There’s no simple answer, since many of the first base/designated hitter types who reached free agency last off-season arrived on the open market following down years (e.g. Luke Scott, James Loney, Carlos Pena).
Two years ago, Pena and Jason Kubel signed contracts that provide some insight into Lind’s value. Pena was 33 at the time; Kubel was 29. Like Lind, they are left-handed hitters who hit right-handed pitching and struggle against left-handed pitching.
Kubel obtained $8 million per season ($16 million for two years) and Pena obtained $7.25 million per season ($7.25 million for one year). Neither player represents a perfect comparison for Lind, but these contracts still show that the industry values left-handed bats above $5 million per season, even when those players struggle against southpaws and offer limited defensive value.
In that context, Lind’s $7 million option seems reasonable, especially considering that his $2 million buyout is a sunk cost. Plus, if the Blue Jays exercise Lind’s option, they’ll have the chance to keep him in Toronto beyond 2014. His contract includes a $7.5 million club option for 2015 and an $8 million club option for 2016.
Does that make Lind a bargain? Not really, especially given the way he has slowed down during the second half of the season. It’s not a slam dunk decision in the way that Casey Janssen’s $4 million option likely will be.
But Lind’s option looks reasonable, especially in a market that lacks top talent and will soon be infused with additional television revenues.
NO GUARANTEES: Even though the Blue Jays could justify bringing Lind back at $7 million, there’s no guarantee they will choose to do so. He battled back soreness in 2012 and part of 2013. That may represent a concern for a team that has dealt with numerous injuries in the last two years.
Plus, after such a disappointing season the Blue Jays have publicly said they plan to make changes. They could elect to shake things up by letting the laid-back Lind leave and acquiring someone else.
With four weeks remaining in the season, there are rational arguments to be made for and against retaining Lind. That in itself is an accomplishment for a player who was off of the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster little more than a year ago.