Tuesday was an extremely busy day for the Indians’ front office. With the deadline for players and teams to submit arbitration figures at noon EST, five of the Tribe’s seven arbitration-eligible players bypassed the arbitration process and agreed to contracts for 2012.
Of the players to come to terms with Cleveland, Jack Hannahan got the smallest payday with a one-year, $1.135 million deal. But the low price shouldn’t be seen as an indicator of the deal’s significance. Given how much Hannahan is worth to the Indians, a salary figure that barely reaches seven digits is a drop in the bucket.
Last year, Hannahan filled the Indians’ Opening Day gap at third base and then spelled Lonnie Chisenhall as he went through some growing pains in his first taste of MLB action. Anecdotally, his clutch hitting, veteran leadership, consistent production, and phenomenal Gold Glove-caliber defense were huge reasons why the Indians got off to such a hot start.
Yes, Hannahan is a bench player, but there’s a difference between a replacement player and a replacement-level player. FanGraphs had him at 2.4 wins above replacement in his part-time duty; prorate his production over a full season and he’d have been worth 3.5 wins.
Assuming that a marginal win is worth $5 million in the current player market, Hannahan’s 2012 salary works out to about a quarter of a win’s worth of production. Even if Hannahan doesn’t hit as well this year or sees his playing time reduced as Chisenhall (hopefully) grows into his position, he shouldn’t have any trouble making this deal look good.
At his 2011 rate of 3.5 fWAR per 162 games, it would take Hannahan only about 10 games to earn his keep. Even at his less impressive career average of 2.1 fWAR per full season, he’d give the Indians a solid return on their investment in just three weeks worth of playing time.
Of course, there’s a difference between an arbitration-year deal and a contract a player could score on the free agent market. First-year arbitration-eligible players like Hannahan usually earn about 40 percent of what they would get in a real contract year. Even so, that would peg Hannahan’s value at $2.8 million—still a great deal for what Cleveland’s getting from him.
It’s not a surprise that the Indians are getting a bargain here—that’s the beauty of the arbitration process (from the team’s standpoint, anyway). But Hannahan’s contract is an especially valuable deal for the Tribe, and he’ll do way more than sing for his supper in 2012.