Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Mauer Mandate

It's almost as if he were channeling the President when the spectacular catcher of the Minnesota Twins, with one year to go before free agency, hit the motherlode of catcher contracts with a $184 million 8 year extension beginning in 2011. Add that to the $12.5 million he is due this year, that makes $196.5 million over 9 years for an average salary of $21.83 million. And if anyone is worth it, outside the Alex Rodriguez arena, Mauer might just be that man. A catcher with emerging power and a high average bat, the 2009 MVP was only 26 years old when 2010 began, and should provide a stable Hall of Fame level bat for the Twins for the next decade.

But just why did Minnesota break the bank for Mauer at the level they did? And is there no prohibition of salaries in the entertainment business (not only sports but music and tv/movie as well) in an era when many Minnesotans are losing their jobs or homes?

Mauer is a special case for the Twins, the hometown hero chosen as the first pick in the draft over other higher profile players, who turned around and made that pick look like gold. His contract was running out at a time when the Twins are ready to contend for years, and this is the year they are moving into newly minted Target Field with higher dollars to spend because of the new park. So suddenly, they were thinking in Yankee dollars? Well, it seems that might be the case.

Outside of the contract given in the last decade to Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens, most contracts for high caliber players begin in the range of $18 million per year, however, there seems to be the special case of two each year that pushes that number to start around $22 million. Think Santana, Sabathia, Teixiera, and now Mauer. Now Rodriguez and Clemens were above those numbers, actually above $25 million per year for both, so are we actually seeing a retrenching of that figure back a couple million dollars or an extension of the $18 million per year player forward. Both Rodriguez and Clemens had accomplished more in their career than that foursome. They were either Hall of Fame or nearly Hall of Fame worthy at the time of their contracts, especially in Clemens' case. That's not where Santana, Sabathia, Teixeira, or Mauer are today. They will need the years within the large contract to be Hall of Fame worthy to make it to Cooperstown down the line.

We have the tendency to question whether players at this level are worth an almost doubling of the slightly lesser player who might make it to the All-Star game level. Is Mauer worth 50% more than Chase Utley? Is he 50% better as a player or helpful to his team winning? We have our doubts. But it's not like we think, or the PEVA or SPRO projection system denotes, a salary that is not expensive. For us, Mauer is worth $140 million over the next 7 years, including 2010, only slightly lower on average than the $21.83 million of his current contract and the extension. So it's really just a quibble on the reasons of why and whether it makes sense from an overall payroll sense. For a team like the Yankees, it really doesn't matter. They can afford the next $15 million player just as well as that last $22 million one. But for a team like the Twins, even in the rarified air of a Target Field, that won't necessarily be the case. Or maybe the landscape is changing so much, that Minnesota is the new Bronx. Doubtful, but I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Best Ever Book

Yeh, we know, it's the cause of a lot of debate around water coolers, or wine coolers, maybe even a water bottle or two, and especially around a ballpark. Who was the best player of all-time? What pitcher had the best season in franchise history? Can a reliever actually be considered better for their career than the best starting pitcher for your favorite squad? What about the postseason and the bests there? Well, worry no more. Get Stat Geek Baseball, the Best Ever Book, the first publication printed in both paperback and ebook from us here at baseballevaluation.com.

It's 271 pages of best ever lists, over 100 of them, plus explanations and a whole lot more. You can buy it an amazon.com, plus see a bit of the book with their Inside the Book feature. You can get it at your local bookstore, or buy the ebook from us through our link on the Best Ever Book page.

Check us out. Buy the book. There are career best lists for every franchise in history, even the long gone ones.

Makes a great gift for that baseball fan in your life or yourself.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Anatomy of a Pre Free Agent Contract

We get so carried away during the offseason Hot Stove talk about where the free agents of the year are going to land and how much money they will get, that sometimes we forget about those deals made by clubs to their players, locking them up long-term before they reach that status. And many times those deals are misunderstood. Misunderstood because many in the public try to compare them to the deals made when a player reaches free agency, the time when maximum dollars have to be paid, because the leverage in the situation has now tipped over to the player's side. But that's not the case with a contract prior to free agency, and especially prior to being arbitration eligible. That's not the case at all.

Free agency starts when a player reaches 6 years of Major League Service Time. Major League Service time is calculated as the number of days in a season when the player is considered on the major league roster, including time spent on the disabled list. If a player has 172 days of service time in a year, it is considered a full year. The arbitration clock begins for all players when they reach 3 years of Major League Service Time, plus the top 1/6 of players, with the most MLST, who have reached 2 years of Major League Service Time. But enough for definitions (there are caveats in the Super Two category, also, but we won't get into that).

Let's take one example of a pre-free agency contract. Let's look at the recent six year deal given to Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Justin Upton is a 2.060 MLST player, therefore in the last year of his pre-arbitration time. Next season, 2011, he would be arbitration eligible. So when Arizona recently signed him to a 6 year contract for $51.5 million, they were buying out one year of pre-arbitration, three years of arbitration eligible service, and two years of free agency.

How did that break down?
2010 - $1.25 million signing bonus; $500,000 salary.
2011 - $4.25 million.
2012 - $6.75 million.
2013 - $9.75 million.
2014 - $14.25 million.
2015 - $14.50 million.

Now, what Arizona is really doing, is taking a large gamble. Upton has a lot of ability, but has yet to max that ability out. His 2009 season was great, and at only 22 years of age, batting 0.300 with 26 HR and 86 RBI. However, it was his first very good season. There are a ton of baseball players in the history of the game who've had one very good season, but never continued to progress in the way this contract suggests.

But did Arizona overpay? Should they have waited another year or two to extend him that far out?

The answer is yes.

Justin Upton deserved a multi-year deal, in our opinion, using the baseballevaluation decision model SPRO salary projection, but only one that bought out a couple years of arbitration, not extending into the free agency period yet.

SPRO
2010 - $459,000
2011 - $2.096 million
2012 - $2.892 million

But aren't the SPRO numbers too low?

Perhaps. We are not projecting his stats forward, but going on what he has already done. With a 2009 PEVA of slightly over 9 at 9.035, Upton has not yet broken into the top echelon of players. Yes, he has that potential. And 2010 might be the year that potential is realized. Just hasn't been yet. And we hope it does, not only for the sake of those fans of the Arizona Diamondbacks, but for the pocketbook of those who extended him that far in the future. Remember, for Upton to warrant the free agent numbers they extended him to, he has to become not only a perennial All-Star, but a veritable superstar in the game. That might happen, but we still think, from a contract standpoint, that it was pushed too far and too soon. Only time will tell how it all works out.