Monday, April 16, 2007

Freel locked up through 2009; good or bad?

According to, Freel has been signed to a two-year extension until 2009. The monetary value hasn't yet been disclosed.

I'm really torn about this one. On one hand, I love Freel. He's the most fun guy on the roster to watch, and he brings that scrappy fire to the field that many players in the majors, let alone on the Reds, lack. I love his contact-hit, bunt, run, get-em-over-get-em-in philosophy to the game (as opposed to close-my-eyes-and-whale-and-pray-it-goes-over-the-wall). He's probably the only prototypical leadoff guy we've got.

On the other hand, though, he's 31 now, and by the time his contract expires, he'll be 33. He's nearing that cliff in the early-30s that players like him hit. Contact hitters and aggressive baserunners often see a sharp decline in their skills at this age. We might be seeing that already this year (.243 AVG, 4 SB through 12 games). His OBP is still .349, but with the way he plays defense and plays the game overall, I can't imagine him preventing that inevitable topple from the mountain for long.

Sluggers can play into their 40s because all they've got to do is press some weights (or shoot up, their choice), swing a bat as hard as they can, and transfer to first base or the American League when their brittle legs can't carry their Cro-Magnon bodies anymore to play athletically-minded defense. Guys like Rickey Henderson are an exception, but a rare exception.

See Ichiro. Three years removed from his record-breaking hit mark, his stock in fantasy leagues has fallen dramatically. Why? He's 33. Everyone is predicting his fall from the top very soon, if it hasn't already happened. So far, he's hitting .290. A pretty big fall from his .372 mark of 2004. It's early, sure, but even guys like Ichiro start their decline at some point, and scrappy contact hitters like Freel and Ichiro almost universally experience this much earlier than other players.

Not to mention, where are they going to play him? If Josh Hamilton continues to perform, you can't keep him out of the lineup (especially if Freel continues to struggle). Griffey's contract expires after 2008, but by that point, Jay Bruce should be about ready to come up. If Freel's contract ends up being a two-year, $2 million or $3 million contract, he's definitely worth keeping around as an 82-game guy. But expecting him to continue to perform at the level warranting a multimillion-dollar contract (as he will almost certainly get, given his popularity in Cincinnati--just see what Casey was getting, despite the fact that he couldn't hit for power and hit into about 500 double plays per season) is ludicrous. His current contract is two-years, $3 million. If everything doesn't stay status quo, he should be getting a cut. Nothing against Freel in terms of his personality or playing style, but we can't expect him to steal 40 bases a year and make a diving catch every game now that he's crossed the 30-year mark.

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