Yesterday at FanGraphs, Bryan Smith discussed what we might see from Jesus Montero in his cost-controlled years. He comes to the obvious conclusion that Montero offers much more value to the team as a catcher–even a part time one–than as a designated hitter. This is really a great article and the comments section is also worth the read.
Smith takes the highs and lows out of comparisons for Montero and reaches two relatively fair comparisons: Paul Konerko and Billy Butler. Going further down that path, Smith says we could expect the following out of Montero’s cost controlled years (the WAR number is assuming Montero is a full time DH):
Pick the middle ground, and I think this gives us a nice idea of what Montero might be able to do offensively. He’ll align closer with Butler in terms of BABIP and BB, closer with Konerko in strikeout rate and extra-base hit allotment. Overall, a player in the .290/.350/.500 range for his team-controlled seasons. Essentially, the player Konerko was in 2002 is what I envision for Montero. This .369 wOBA would have put him on par with Robinson Cano in last year’s Yankee lineup. He would be worth about 25 batting runs above replacement.
That is, choosing the Butler/Konerko path for Montero – which I think nicely middles the Dopirak/Stokes path and the Thomas/Cabrera path – means that Montero is +25 runs, +0 fielding, +20 replacement and -15 for positional adjustment. Overall, we’re looking at a 3-win player.
A three win player for cost controlled years is definitely valuable and would be nice to have. Of course, there’s always the chance Montero is more valuable than that. That would happen if Montero sticks behind the plate or his bat plays better than an .850 OPS/.369 wOBA. Of those two things, I’d say the latter is more likely.
Let’s assume, then, that Montero ends up as a DH but hits better than a .369 wOBA. His bat has draw comparisons to Frank Thomas, but that’s a bit ambitious (.416 wOBA). Instead, I think we should see Montero’s ultimate upside as somewhere in the Miguel Cabrera range. His career wOBA is .389. The average wOBA of his “floor”, the .369 from the Smith article, and the .389 I’ve (rather arbitrarily) decided on, is .379. For the record, that wOBA would’ve been the third highest among DHs in 2009 (behind Adam Lind’s .394 and Jason Kubel’s .384). Assuming 650 PAs at DH only, let’s project Montero’s possible WAR using the calculations used here. For position adjustment, I’m going to use Hideki Matsui’s -12.7 position adjustment at DH. I use this because he’s the player who spent all of his time time at DHs in 2009. The other guys on the FanGraphs DH leaderboard all played at another position in 2009 (even David Ortiz, six games at 1B).
Again, assuming 650 PAs with a .379 wOBA and a -12.7 position adjustment, Montero comes out as a 3.11 WAR player. A 3.11 WAR would’ve been tied for second, again behind Adam Lind, for DH value. Obviously, we’re all hoping for much more than that out of Montero (and let’s be honest, it’s possible that he plays much better than that, even if he’s a below average or worse, think Mike Piazza/Jorge Posada, defensive catcher), but if he put up 3.11 WAR during his cost controlled years, the Yankees could be getting good value out of him.