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November 20, 2014

Skewed Left

Saving on Stanton?

by Zachary Levine

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That the Marlins are backloading Giancarlo Stanton’s contract in order to go out and sign players now is a nice story. It might also be true—there’s fair reason to doubt it, given the Marlins’ dubious history when it comes to spending—but giving him $6.5 million in 2015 rather than the $25 million average annual value of the deal frees up space to make a better run in 2015.

And Stanton is saying all the right things. At his Wednesday press conference, the takeaway line was “We’ve got to trust that we are all in it to win it,” a trust that seemed to be all but gone when Stanton was sniping at his own front office after the post-2012 liquidation sale.

So it’s a nice sentiment that this is where the money is going. But even if they never sign a sole free agent this offseason, the Marlins are also saving tons of money just by rearranging it.

Yes, there’s inflation – the actual currency type of inflation rather than the baseball salary type. That’s been the focus of much of the effort to coax this figure down from the $325 million sticker shocker. It’s also been used to put this in the context of Alex Rodriguez’s $252 million deal, which because it was signed in 2000, is actually worth more in today’s U.S. dollars than Stanton’s deal.

If you consider inflation to be 2.4 percent as in the link above, the contract would indeed be worth $277 million given the salary breakdown at Cot’s MLB Contracts. The contract, if it had been set at $25 million every year for 13 years and adjusted for inflation, would be $283.7 million, so the effect of the backloading would be $6.7 million in current pre-tax dollars.

But while considering inflation is nice when talking about purchasing power, the real value of backloading this contract, which is worth well into the eight figures to the Marlins, is so much more than inflation.

If you’re Stanton, you want the money now not because inflation is going to happen—that actually doesn’t matter at all if you’re just saving the money. But you want the money now because you can grow that money at a rate considerably higher than inflation as we know it in the United States in the 21st century. That’s true of the team as well. Not only can they use the money to sign other players, but even if they revert to their Fishy ways, they can grow that money at well above two percent.

At what rate should this money be discounted? Well, if that were an easy question, investment bankers wouldn’t drive nice cars.

But for the sake of getting to the point, we’ll use a rate of 10 percent, which is almost exactly the geometric average annual return of the S&P 500.

A hundred dollar bill today could be invested, and based on historical returns, it would be expected to be worth $110 in a year. So a risk-neutral party would be indifferent between getting $100 today, $110 next year or $121 two years from now. (I’ve already written on how baseball players aren’t really risk neutral, but a guaranteed nine-figure deal brings a player much closer to that point than, say, Jonathan Singleton without a major-league contract would be.)

Anyway, instead of simply adjusting for inflation, the discount factor for future dollars multiplies by 1/(1.1)t where t is the number of years into the future.

And that’s where the impact of the backloading really starts to be felt. On the right is the contract if it had been just $25 every year with the AAV discounted by the yearly discount factor. On the left is the actual contract, which comes out $20.8 million short in present value.

Year

Discount factor

Salary ($M)

Discounted salary ($M)

AAV ($M)

Discounted AAV ($M)

2015

0.91

6.5

5.9

25

22.7

2016

0.83

9

7.4

25

20.7

2017

0.75

14.5

10.9

25

18.8

2018

0.68

25

17.1

25

17.1

2019

0.62

26

16.1

25

15.5

2020

0.56

26

14.7

25

14.1

2021

0.51

29

14.9

25

12.8

2022

0.47

29

13.5

25

11.7

2023

0.42

32

13.6

25

10.6

2024

0.39

32

12.3

25

9.6

2025

0.35

32

11.2

25

8.8

2026

0.32

29

9.2

25

8.0

2027

0.29

25

7.2

25

7.2

2028

0.26

10*

2.6

TOTAL

325

156.8

325

177.6

*Buyout alternative to a $25 million 2028 salary.

The backloading killed about 12 percent of the value compared to a flat pay schedule, so if this really was Stanton’s idea to help the team grow, it’s a big sacrifice.

And if the concession to this was really the opt-out clause, it’s almost impossible for that to be made up through the opt-out.

In fact, for the opt-out after the 2020 season to make up for the backloaded-ness in present value terms, it would have to be pretty big. Not the 31.1 million per year that it would take had this not been adjusted for present value to get him back to the same spot that the backloading does. But actually, over seven years of constant salary, it would have to average $38.4 million per year because of the discounting of future earnings.

Putting some value on the no-trade clause mitigates that difference somewhat, but the no-trade is actually hampered by the backloading anyway.

Of course, this is likely an oversimplification of the negotiation. There’s nothing to say the teams were ever deciding between $25 million every year and this format, and it’s quite possible that he wouldn’t have received $325 million had it been the $177.6 million in present value instead of the $156.8.

It’s not just a matter of building now, though. It’s real decrease in value.

Precedent would show that if Stanton is terrible in year 10 and making $32 million, we’re all laughing at the Marlins. But the fact is, backloading is actually good for the team, even if it’s for 25 years.

While we’re on the subject of laughing at a team, naturally we can’t finish a discussion of time value of money without a Bobby Bonilla mention. Bonilla was owed $5.9 million for the 2000 season, but instead, he got $1.19 million every year from 2011 to 2035. That series of payments nominally $1.19M x 25 = $29.75M, discounted back to 2000 at 10 percent, would be worth $1.32 million in 2000 or less than a quarter of what Bonilla was actually owed for that season. The Mets did fine.

Zachary Levine is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Zachary's other articles. You can contact Zachary by clicking here

Related Content:  Miami Marlins

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