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Polanco Signs Extension

Placido Polanco signed a four-year extension today. The deal will pay him $18.4 million over the next four seasons. His per-season average of $4.6 million is the same as his 2005 salary, determined in arbitration with the Phillies, and makes me speculate that the negotiations were relatively acrimony-free. (A nod to BYB member chrvoel for posting the news to this site practically as it was announced.)

There's a lot to like about the deal, which will keep Polanco in Tiger stripes until he's 33. The most important one is his defense. Polanco plays exceptionally well at second and third, and passably well at shortstop. According to Baseball Prospectus' Polanco page (available for free until the end of Wednesday), Polanco was worth four Defensive Wins in 2004, a number that far surpasses the total put up by either 2004 Gold Glover (Bret Boone and Luis Castillo). Polanco also provides excellent plate discipline and OBP at the top of the Tigers' lineup, something the team sorely lacked even before Brandon Inge's frightening reversion to the mean. The move was a nice PR gesture, too, coming just two days after the team unloaded new fan fave Kyle Farnsworth.

How does the salary -- $4.6 million per - stack up with those of comparable MLB second basemen? It's significantly less than Jose Vidro's $7.5 million per annum or Ray Durham's $7 million option for 2006, but significantly more than Mark Loretta's two-year, $5.75 million deal. It's about the same as Castillo will make. All-in-all, it's not any kind of bargain, but it's not entirely out of line with what baseball's other above-average veteran second-sackers will make. (By the way, this under-construction site was useful in pulling together even this small amount of salary info. Contract data is easy to find for basketball, but has been a bear to track down for baseball.)

There's something to dislike about the deal as well: its length. Returning to Baseball Prospectus for a minute, the best resource for projecting baseball performance into the future, we should expect Polanco's offense to decline every year for the life of the contract and to decline sharply after next season. His defense will get worse too, and sooner. The Prospectus numbers were run before this season, however, and Polanco has already matched his predicted 2004 offensive output. That means that if Prospectus re-predicted Polanco's future, the numbers would be different, and presumably more optimistic. Still, it seems unlikely that Polanco will be worth his $4.6 million in 2009, the last year of his deal - he'll probably be quite Walewanderish. Something about him just doesn't bode well for graceful aging.

2009 is a long way off, however. A two-year, $9.2 million contract would have been vastly more preferable, but Polanco is a good player who provides skills the Tigers don't have now and don't have on the immediate minor-league horizon. Perhaps a shorter deal wasn't possible, or perhaps the Tigers are believers in Polanco's baseball longevity. The contract is certainly good news for the 2006 Tigers, even if it might burden their successors a little bit.

In BYB housekeeping news, Polanco is now clearly a member of the Next Relevant Tiger Team. Brandon Inge is hanging on by a thread, as every day he looks less and less like the third baseman for a contending team. Do you still believe in Inge? Am I jumping off the bandwagon too soon? The NRTT now looks like this:

C -- Ivan Rodriguez
1B -- Chris Shelton
2B -- Placido Polanco
3B -- Brandon Inge
SS -- Carlos Guillen
LF -- [open]
CF -- [open]
RF -- Magglio Ordonez
DH -- [open]

SP -- [open]
SP -- Jeremy Bonderman
SP -- [open]
SP -- Nate Robertson
SP -- [open]

RP -- [open]
RP -- Franklyn German
RP -- Jamie Walker
RP -- Fernando Rodney
RP -- [open]
RP -- [open]

An ace starter and a big bopper of a left fielder would sure be nice, but there aren't many teams that would refuse either of those.