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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Evaluating the Recent Baseball Contract Extensions

The recent flurry of announcements about a number of contract extensions brought to light the different ways that teams value their players and how they plan for the future. As with all baseball contracts, some are better than others, and some are downright unadvisable. With that being said, it’s time to look at these most recent deals and play a little good deal/bad deal.

Player: Salvador Perez
Position: Catcher
Team: Kansas City Royals
Extension: 5 years/$7 million base, with team options and player incentives that could bring it to 8 years/$26.75 million

At first glance this extension was a bit of a head scratcher. Although Perez hit .331 in his major league debut last year, it came it only 39 games, and he has yet to turn 22. He had an interesting, but under the radar career in the minors, hitting a combined .285, but played only 12 games above Triple-A. 

Perez’s best tool is his bat. The big right-handed hitter has the frame for power, but hasn’t shown much of it yet, with his 13 home runs in 2011 more than doubling his previous career total. The bigger concern is his ability to take pitches, as he has drawn just a total of 78 walks in 1500 at bats over his first five professional seasons. He is currently no better than an average defensive catcher, but there are encouraging signs he can be more. He threw out 42% of base stealers in the minors and is far from a finished defensive product.

It seemed odd that the Royals didn’t wait to at least see how Perez went through his first spring training as the team’s starter before offering the deal, but they decided to roll the dice on the young catcher. Even for a small market team like the Royals, this deal is not much of a stretch. The $7 million he will earn over the next five years is comparable to what an average backup catcher makes over their first 5 seasons. The Royals are gambling that at worst he could play on their bench for the foreseeable future, with the payoff being a great deal for the team if he turns into a serviceable starter or better.

VERDICT: Good Deal

Player: Yadier Molina
Position: Catcher
Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Extension: 5 years/$75 million contract that starts in 2013

Molina is the best defensive catcher in baseball and has seen his offense gradually improve over the course of his career. He is so frequently mentioned as underrated that he may now actually be overrated. With Albert Pujols having left during the offseason to sign with the Angels, Molina is now a cornerstone of the franchise and is now tied with Chris Carpenter as their longest tenured member.

Offense was never considered Molina’s forte, but he had his finest season at the plate in 2011, hitting .305 with 14 home runs and 65 RBI- all career highs. However, numbers suggest his vaunted defense took a downward dip at the same time. The 29% of base stealers he threw out was by far his worst figure for a season, and his defensive WAR of 0.7 was the second lowest of his 7 full major league seasons. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to build on his offense, while regaining his stellar defense.

Molina will turn 31 the year his extension kicks in, meaning he will be past the age considered to be peak years (generally ages 25-30) for players. If he gets to a point where he can no longer catch regularly and has to switch positions- most likely to first base- he would be no better than an average player because of his lack of an impact bat. The Cardinals are currently comprised of a number of older veterans like Carpenter, Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran, and Rafael Furcal. Investing so much money into an aging catcher may end up hurting them down the road, and it is hard to imagine that if he hit free agency that another team would have made as high an offer.


Player: Cameron Maybin
Position: Outfielder
Team: San Diego Padres
Extension: 5 years/$25 million through 2016, with club option for 2017 at $7-$8 million

It looked like Maybin was going to be another highly regarded prospect who didn’t live up to his potential, when he was traded twice by the age of 23 after having failed miserably in several major league trials. The last trade brought him to the Padres from the Florida Marlins, in exchange for a couple of relief pitchers- not exactly a great haul for a player once so highly regarded.

Maybin finally started putting his talent together in 201, hitting  all over the lineup and producing a .264 average with 9 home runs and 40 RBI in 137 games. He also stole 40 bases in 48 attempts and played good defense in Petco Park’s spacious center field. He turned out to be the type of player built to play in that stadium because of his speed and athleticism.

The Padres believe that Maybin will only continue to develop. Even with his current level of production, the new contract is justifiable. The Padres have bought out the next five to six seasons at what could a steeply discounted rate. Maybin has shown that he may be capable of being a 15 home run and 50 stolen base threat, which would make him an all star caliber player, something sorely lacking lately in San Diego.

VERDICT: Good Deal

Player: Andrew McCutchen
Position: Outfielder
Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
Extension: 6 years/$51.5 million, with 7th year team option for 14.75 million

The Pirates have not had much to be excited about since Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla were heading the team into the playoffs on a regular basis. Finally, twenty years later there is hope that things may be starting to turn around, with much of that optimism tied to their young outfielder. Still just 25 years old, and with three professional seasons under his belt, he has shown he is a good defensive player capable of at least .275/20 home runs/25 steals per season, with even more being well within the realm of possibility.

Justin Upton is a comparable player who usually gets more press, but McCutchen has put up similar, if not superior numbers. Upton signed his own 6 year, $50 million extension prior to the 2010 season, making McCutchen’s deal more than reasonable given market inflation. When considering a player like Matt Kemp just got an 8 year, $160 million deal, the Pirates got a steal for locking up their own guy, who is not that far behind Kemp in talent, at a third the price.

McCutchen’s new contract locks up the rest of his arbitration eligible seasons along with up to three years of his free agency eligibility, taking him right through the peak of his career. With Pittsburgh having such recent difficulty in developing, keeping, or attracting top notch talent, they have made quite a move by signing McCutchen to be the face of their franchise for the foreseeable future.

VERDICT: Great Deal

The most recent contract extensions show that some teams strive to find a common ground with its young players and veterans. The debate will always rage whether a player could get more on the open market, or if a team pays its veterans with their heart instead of their mind. Ultimately only time will tell what the true value of these contracts are for both sides and if they will be remembered as wise moves or anchors that help hold teams back.


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