Transaction Analysis: Ray Durham

As the arbitration deadline loomed, the Giants made a surprising move, resigning second baseman Ray Durham. The oft-injured infielder was a consistently good hitter when he was healthy, but was resigning him a good idea with a young player in the wings?

Date of Birth: 11/30/1971 Position: 2B Height: 5'8" Weight: 191 Bats: S Throws: R
San Francisco 2003 .285 .366 .441 .807 410 61 117 30 5 8 33 50 82 7 7
San Francisco 2004 .282 .364 .484 .848 471 95 133 28 8 17 65 57 60 10 4
San Francisco 2005 .290 .356 .429 .785 497 67 144 33 0 12 62 48 59 6 3
San Francisco 2006 .293 .360 .538 .898 498 79 146 30 7 26 93 51 61 7 2

The Contract: 2 years, $14.5 million.  2007 Salary: $7M.  2008 Salary: $7.5M.

It's unlikely that Durham's new contract with the San Francisco Giants will begin as his previous one did.  After signing for the 2003 season, Durham homered in his first at bat in the first game of the season, giving the Giants a lead they wouldn't relinquish all season long as they stayed in first place from wire to wire.

No, this stint won't start out that way.  If only because Durham became a different player than he was signed to be.

The Giants signed Durham in 2003 to be a leadoff man, but the Durham the Giants got was different from the player that had stolen more than 20 bases for 7 straight years.  Durham, who had been healthy his entire career, suffered the first of many nagging leg injuries that came to hamper his career and reputation.

But while Durham lost speed, he also began to develop power.  His second year with the Giants, he posted a career high .484 slugging percentage.  And while he played through injuries in 2005 to a Giants-high games played total of 142, his power was sapped.  But in 2006, he bounced back, posting a career high in home runs and collecting more than 75 RBI for the first time in his career.  The latter was a result of Durham becoming a valued middle of the order hitter rather than leadoff, batting primarily 5th in the order, behind Bonds.

But he only reached 10 stolen bases once in 4 years with the Giants, despite being signed for his speed.

So what do the Giants expect out of Durham this time around?

This time, the Giants are fully aware of his injury issues, and they know he won't be a lock to play even 140 games.  But Durham's health did improve the most recent two years, so he'd not expected to be the man of glass people seem to think he is.

The Giants are expecting Durham to be a big part of the middle of the order, however.  Whether or not the Giants sign Bonds to return, Durham will be an important part of the order.  Durham's mold will fit the new direction the Giants have seemed to lean, valuing speedy players.  Durham's home run power may never top 25 again, but he backs it up with a number of extra base hits, with 30 doubles or more in 3 of 4 years with the Giants, and 5 or more triples in 3 of 4 years.  Durham also keeps a high on base percentage and doesn't strike out often at all.

As for the cost, in this free agent market which has seen many contracts generally considered bloated, Durham's contract is strangely affordable.  In fact, Durham will see no raise from his $7M salary he was paid in 2006, and only a $500K increase in 2008.  As hitters with similar values and flaws have regularly gotten double-digit millions per year, Durham's deal feels like a hometown discount.

However, where this deal's most notable downside is that at second base, the Giants had one of the few young position players worth considering starting.  Young Kevin Frandsen had rocketed through the system, and followed up an injury marred 2006 debut with a spectacular fall season, showing improvements in areas he was weak like taking walks and stealing bases.  As strong a case as he made, Sabean once again decided not to simply hand over a starting job to a rookie.'s Take: The deal itself is a good one.  Durham was one of the better hitters on the market, and his deal was arguably underpaid greatly in this market.  He has been remarkably consistent the past 4 years, despite injury, and it can reasonably be expected that it won't drop off precipitously in the next two years.

But there is still some hesitation over the signing due to Frandsen.  Some people count among this deals' casualties the 2 draft picks the Giants would have gotten in compensation, had they offered arbitration and Durham signed elsewhere.  That is foolish and short-sighted, as Durham was very likely to take arbitration if it were offered.  But not giving Frandsen a shot certainly seems to counter the announced youth movement Sabean spoke of.

All is not lost for Frandsen, however.  He needs only look at one of the other Giant signings, Rich Aurilia, to see how a player interned under multiple order players before becoming a respected, if not celebrated, major leaguer.  And the infielder deals are short, and Frandsen's versatility is high.  The contracts of Omar Vizquel and the rumored-resigned Pedro Feliz will end after 2007, and Aurilia and Durham's contracts will expire after 2008.  So the signing of Durham is not necessarily a death knell for rebuilding, but perhaps a cautious approach to bringing young players up.  And Durham is known for, if nothing else, not playing every game in a season.

In the meantime, Durham will provide a consistent presence in the order, when healthy.  And the contract is reasonable enough that it shouldn't hinder future signings or rebuilding efforts, nor is it long enough that it'll truly block anyone.  For what the Giants will get, it's a good deal.  But the questions of what they could have had without it will haunt the Giants, particularly if Durham's consistency ends at 35.

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