Is Matt Duffy Making Joaquin Arias Expendable?

Matt Duffy is a name that not many San Francisco Giants fans knew about at the beginning of last season. He began the 2014 season with the Giants’ Double-A affiliate, the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Duffy was then called up and played in his first Major League game on August 1st, 2014, when the Giants were in desperate need of a spark and some help at the second base position.

Joe Panik ultimately became that everyday second baseman that the Giants desperately needed, but Duffy found another important role on the Giants. He became a valuable pinch hitter, base runner, and bench player. In 34 games and 60 at-bats in 2014, Duffy hit .267 with eight RBI.

Duffy impressed in his short time with the Giants in 2014, but he would have to compete for a roster spot heading into the 2015 season. Although he was more than deserving of a spot, his biggest competition was Ehire Adrianza, as he was out of minor league options and it appeared as if the Giants would not want to cut him due to the possibility of him being picked up by another team, such as a rival NL West team.

Duffy set out to make the decision regarding the open roster spot a tough one for the Giants, and that he did. Duffy greatly outplayed Adrianza in Spring Training. He hit .361 and had a .400 on-base percentage, .639 slugging percentage, three home runs, and 15 RBI in 26 games and 61 at-bats. He also won the Barney Nugent Award, which is an award given each spring to the most impressive player in his first Major League camp.

So far in 2015, Duffy is hitting .270 with one home run and seven RBI. In addition to his offensive production, he’s added the ability to play first base to his resume.

Now that Duffy can play all four infield positions and he’s continued to prove his worth as a backup infielder, pinch hitter, and base runner, does his emergence make Joaquin Arias expendable?

Arias, like Duffy, can play all four infielder positions and is average defensively, but he is not as offensively productive as Duffy is, as Duffy can hit for average, has more success as a pinch hitter, and has slightly more power than Arias does.

Arias has more Major League experience (and experience with the Giants) than Duffy does though, and he’s also on a guaranteed contract. He will make $1.45 million this season no matter what, whereas Duffy is set to make $509,000 in 2015. However, for the Giants, $1.45 million isn’t a significant amount, so if they truly feel that Duffy has exceeded Arias in value, they might be willing to cut Arias, even if it means they have to pay Arias that guaranteed amount.

The Giants already let Adrianza go, which might suggest that, for the Giants, offense is more important for a bench player than their defense is. With Travis Ishikawa coming back in the near future and other future roster decisions that will need to be made, perhaps it’s time for the Giants to cut ties with Arias, even if he is on a guaranteed contract.

When examining the value of each player, it’s important to take a look at the WAR (wins above replacement) stat, which is a key stat for backups because it displays their worth as a backup and for the team.

In 2014, Duffy had a -0.1 WAR, and Arias had a -0.4 WAR. In 2012, Arias’ best statistical season (he hit .270 with five home runs and 34 RBI in 112 games), he had a 1.0 WAR. In 2013, another solid season from Arias (he hit .271 with one home run and 19 RBI in 102 games), he had a 0.8 WAR.

Arias was productive and highly valuable as a backup infielder in 2012 and 2013, but his stock really slipped in 2014. Duffy’s WAR last season wasn’t impressive, but he played in a limited amount of games and he is younger and has less Major League experience.

By comparison, Duffy is currently 0.3 WAR more valuable than Arias is. Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles wrote near the end of Spring Training, when the position battle for the last bench spot was still going on, about these two players’ worth to the Giants, and he brought up this discrepancy in WAR as a reason why Duffy is more valuable to this Giants team this season.

The difference between the two players might be an extra win. It might very well be negligible, though. And if the difference is negligible, the Giants will save $507,500 by sticking with Arias (the major league minimum they would be paying Duffy).

What does $500,000 buy in baseball today? It was easier to answer this in the past because that money might have been the difference between a draftee going to college and or signing with the Giants. It’s harder to buy out a college commitment under the new draft rules, so that $500,000 will have to be applied somewhere else. It’s probably not going to be the tipping point for the next Jon Lester or Yoan Moncada, but it will help the Giants’ ledger in some capacity. If the difference between the two players is negligible over 200 at-bats, an extra half-million is a fine tiebreaker.

You have to decide if that difference is negligible, then. An extra .3 WAR, or whatever, or an extra $507,500 for the WAR chest? Tick tock, tick tock. Tick tock, tick tock.

I’ll go with Team Duffy because I don’t think the Giants are in a position to give away a fraction of a win if they can help it. They’ll need to scrap and claw for those .3 WARs. They’ll need to have .3 WAR worth of grit and desire.

Brisbee perfectly displayed each player’s value to the Giants. Realistically, a backup infielder isn’t going to make or break a season, but they could account for one win or one loss, as Brisbee suggested.

The Giants might not actually waive Arias, because they might find a way to keep both Arias and Duffy on the roster as Ishikawa and others on the DL are activated. However, it’s interesting to point out Duffy’s worth and how it might have already exceeded Arias’ current worth. Arias was a valuable asset in 2012 and 2013, but his stock has fallen, as Duffy’s has risen.