In the past five seasons, Jermaine Dye is first among American League outfielders in home runs and second in RBIs, according to STATS LLC.
So, why is it that Dye, 36, remains unsigned?
The answers, major-league executives say, range from Dye’s age to his poor second half last season, his declining defense in right field to his expectations as a free agent. Dye, in an interview with FOXSports.com, addressed each of those concerns Wednesday, making it clear that he is eager to extend his career and prove his critics wrong.
“I can still play this game,” said Dye, who had 27 home runs and 87 RBIs for the White Sox last season. “A lot of guys out there have had pretty good careers — not only good careers, but decent years last year — and they haven’t gotten jobs. It’s very surprising.
“At the same time, you’ve still got to prepare like you’re going to play … It has only been (4½) years since I was the World Series MVP. I’m a winner. Hopefully some teams out there can see that.”
Dye, however, is caught in the crossfire of two recent trends — the reluctance of teams to sign older players and the increased emphasis by clubs on defense this offseason.
The latter trend, in particular, is troubling to Dye and his agent, Bob Bry.
Advanced metrics portray Dye as considerably below-average in right field. Yet, Dye also fared poorly under such measures in 2007, and the White Sox awarded him a two-year, $22 million extension in August of that season.
Just last offseason, the Phillies signed left fielder Raul Ibanez — who was a year older than Dye is now and also a below-average defender — to a three-year, $31.5 million contract.
Dye said his offer from the Cubs was for less than one-tenth of that amount. The Cubs proposed a one-year $3 million contract, Dye said, not the $3.3 million deal that they gave to another free-agent outfielder, Xavier Nady.
While Nady, 31, is five years younger than Dye, he played in only seven games last season before undergoing a second Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
“No doubt, I’ve probably slowed down a little bit (defensively), but not enough to not be getting (attractive) offers,” Dye said.
“I’ve already expressed a willingness to play first base or left field if need be. I’ve taken groundballs at first base a couple of times a week the last five years in Chicago. That transition will be pretty easy.”
Bry, meanwhile, finds it difficult to believe that Dye’s defense is drawing more attention than his chief asset — his home-run power.
Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz are the only American Leaguers to hit more homers than Dye the past five seasons.
“There is compelling evidence that suggests that home runs win games and that the emphasis on defense has reached the level of absurdity when you look at the numbers,” Bry said.
Bry’s evidence is a set of statistics from last season that demonstrate how teams’ winning percentages rose with the number of home runs they hit per game.
Teams that hit zero homers in a game had a .332 winning percentage.
One home run increased the winning percentage to .517, two home runs to .659. If Dye had produced a second half similar to his first last season, teams would be less preoccupied with his defense. But Dye, after batting .280-.382-.573 with 22 homers before the All-Star Game, hit .193-.274-.414 with nine home runs after it.
The problem, Dye said, is that he received less regular playing time after the White Sox’s outfield became more “crowded.”
Left fielder Carlos Quentin returned from plantar fasciitis on July 20. Center fielder Alex Rios joined the team on a waiver claim Aug. 10.
Dye continued playing regularly through August, but his at-bats diminished as his slump continued into September. Five of his seven starts at DH came after Rios joined the team.
“It all boils down to once we got crowded in the outfield and I started playing every couple of days,” Dye said. “Before we got crowded, I was already in a couple-weeks slump. It was just a situation that built up.
“Having everyone rotate between the outfield and DH, doing all that, I think it made it that much tougher than being in the lineup every day, trying to work your way out of a slump. It just kind of piled up and piled up.”
Yet, as badly as Dye struggled, he still finished second on the White Sox in home runs and slugging percentage and third in on-base percentage.
Nady, by contrast, barely played at all.
Center fielder Coco Crisp also lost significant time to injury, undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in June. Yet, the A’s signed Crisp to a one-year, $5.25 million free-agent contract.
Infielder Garrett Atkins, meanwhile, was a bust with the Rockies last season, batting .226-.308-.342. Yet, the Orioles signed him to a one-year, $4.5 million free-agent deal.
Both players are 30, and Crisp is a stellar defender when healthy. But Dye said that interested teams — the Indians are one — would not find him to be unreasonable.
“I just want to be treated fairly,” he said. “I know the market is down. But there are still guys getting money that I feel I’m better than.
“Of course I will have to take less in the right situation. The market shows that. But it’s not about money with me. It’s about being put in a situation where I can go out and win. I’ve made enough money to know it’s about winning.”
Dye noted that free-agent outfielder Johnny Damon, his teammate with the A’s in 2001, also remains unemployed.
“Johnny is a very good friend,” Dye said. “We talk all the time. It’s hard to believe guys like us aren’t signed yet.”