Why hasn’t anyone signed Jurickson Profar yet?

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s talk about free agents. Almost every team could use one, either to serve in a starting role or to provide an upgrade over players currently fourth or fifth on the depth chart. It’s no surprise that reigning AL MVP Aaron Judge got the biggest contract of any outfielder this winter, but 11 soaked up average annual values ​​of at least $10 million. Along with a variety of part-timers and minor leaguers, nearly every major league player has found a home for the season. Most of the remaining free agents, like Alex Dickerson and Jackie Bradley Jr., project to be around replacement level for 2023. But there is one outlier, someone who just posted a career-best 2.5 WAR and projected from our readers on a 3-year, $30 million contract – Jurickson Profar. No other unsigned player is projected to make even a third of that, but as teams begin to finalize their rosters during spring training, Profar still doesn’t know which uniform he’ll be playing on the upcoming Opening Day.

Entering the offseason, we ranked Profar as the 36th best free agent in the class after his $10 million mutual option with the Padres was declined. Neighboring players on that list include Michael Brantley, Brandon Drury and Josh Bell. All three are signed and will make a combined $37 million in 2023. So what makes teams hesitant to add Profar to their roster?

Let’s compare him to the aforementioned trio of Brantley, Drury and Bell. In fact, Profar is quite comparable to Brantley and Bell, who both play a position down the defensive spectrum. Both are also much better hitters than Profar. Brantley’s wRC+ hasn’t dipped below 120 in five years, while Bell’s mark sits at 121 as of early 2021. On the other hand, Profar’s 110 wRC+ last year was his highest in a full season, and the mark his career mark at 94 is significantly worse than Bradley’s or Bell’s. Other outfielders like JD Martinez and Michael Conforto also signed in that price range. In other words, if a team was looking for an everyday left fielder that wouldn’t break the bank, Profar probably wouldn’t be their first call.

If teams weren’t interested in Profar in an everyday role, then how about bringing him in as a part-time player? While Profar was exclusively a left fielder last year, he has significant experience at all four infield positions. Certainly a league average bat that you can plug in and play five different positions would be useful on a competitive team. Last season’s Phillies nearly won the World Series despite letting Didi Gregorius (58 wRC+) and Johan Camargo (74 wRC+) combine for nearly 400 plate appearances, and almost every other team is deficient at least somewhere in the outfield. Drury’s two-year, $17 million contract with the Angels shows the value teams place on a multi-position skill set. Despite entering 2022 with just 0.6 career WAR, Drury experienced a burst of power, hitting 28 homers and amassing 3 WAR despite not having a dedicated starting spot. Instead, he took over wherever he was needed, appearing in five different positions as the Reds and Padres did everything they could to maximize his presence in the batting order.

So why did the Angels pick Drury over Profar? The pitching systems view them similarly (both have a 104 Steamer wRC+), and while Los Angeles might just have preferred a power hitter, Drury’s ability in the interior certainly surpasses Profar’s. Despite having to carry a suitcase of different gloves, Drury tallied a +1 RAA around the diamond. Profar’s last extended game in the infield came in 2019, when he was Oakland’s everyday second baseman. That didn’t go so well, as he finished with a -5 RAA (and a staggering -20 DRS). Last season, he split time between third base and shortstop with even worse results. While Profar has significant experience in many positions, this has never translated into success recently. And since moving overseas, he’s slowed down a step both in the field and on the base paths. Since early 2021, Profar’s speed has dropped from just above average to just below, with his speed deteriorating by a full grade:

Jurickson Profar Speed ​​Metrics

Time Home to 1st Sprint speed Sprint speed percentage BaseRuns
2018 4.32 27.6 63 4
2019 4.4 26.7 46 1.8
2020 4.36 27 55 2.7
2021 4.51 26.3 34 -1.9
2022 4.48 26.6 32 -1.4

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

So Profar might not be the guy you want to fill in all over the field when there are higher quality defensive options, but the bat is still legit, right? It’s not as good as full-time starters like Bell and Brantley, but you can certainly carve out a role for Profar where he produces well above average. But maybe not. As the free agent market began to wind down, Michael Baumann wrote about the remaining crop of outfielders, headlined by Profar and longtime Diamondback David Peralta. Peralta’s 104 wRC+ and 1.7 WAR last season were slightly worse than Profar’s, but that didn’t stop the Dodgers from signing him to a one-year deal. Why; Peralta has a clear offensive use case for right-handed pitching: He had a 116 wRC+ against right-handers last season and has a 121 career mark. A team with the right complementary pieces can do more with Peralta’s 400 plate appearances than Profar’s 600, who doesn’t have significant platoon split. It’s also important to compare Profar not only to players as a whole, but to other left fielders. While his 2022 stature would be impressive enough for a middle infielder, corners are expected to shoulder more of the offensive load and generally hit better than arms or center fielders:

Jurickson Profar wOBA Squad Split

Division Profar League average Average LF
vs. LHP 0.328 0.313 0.319
vs. RHP 0.317 0.309 0.318

While Profar’s overall offensive numbers have been pretty solid, they seem a little less impressive compared to others in the top tier, especially given that he doesn’t specialize in either hand. In fact, ZiPS and Steamer predicted wRC+ would be below league average for lefties. Combined with his -4 RAA at the position, it’s not hard to see why a contending team wouldn’t want to give 150 starts to someone who doesn’t contribute either offensively or defensively. Recently, I’ve written about players like Austin Slater and Dylan Moore, whose combination of excellent platoon hitting, solid baserunning, and stellar defense at multiple positions make them incredibly useful in a wide variety of situations. Because of their versatile usage, they combined for 4.2 WAR last season in fewer plate appearances than Profar alone. Indeed, Profar’s profile is almost the opposite of Slater and Moore. While he has no glaring weaknesses in his game, his potential team also has no way to deploy him exclusively in favorable situations.

Of course, none of this is to say that Profar is a bad player. Above-average players with his level of plate discipline don’t grow on trees, but the fact that he was a level below many other starting outfielders and lacked the specific skill set needed to be an effective role player probably dropped him. the team’s priority lists this offseason. However, he’s almost certain to be offered a major league contract before Opening Day rolls around – of all remaining free agents, his projected 1 WAR ranks second only to Jose Iglesias, while his 2022 total WAR tops the competition. As players believed to belong on the roster get injured or perform poorly in spring training, teams could call up Profar. While it may not have been their first choice, it’s far from their worst.

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