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April 4, 2013

On the Beat

Contractual Matters

by John Perrotto

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Not every player in the major leagues received a contract extension in the final days of spring training. It just seemed that way.

The Tigers tacked five years and $140 million onto right-hander Justin Verlander’s existing deal. Giants catcher and reigning National League MVP Buster Posey got nine years and $167 million. Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus agreed to an eight-year deal for $120 million.

Three nine-figure deals being consummated in the span of three days is pretty amazing. All obviously signal major commitments by both the teams and the players, and seven or eight years from now there is chance those contracts could be payroll albatrosses. We talked to scouts and front-office types about all three players discussed the pros and cons of each contract.

Justin Verlander
Pro:
“He’s clearly among the top three pitchers in the game. He’s 30 years old, so he should have a lot of good years left. He’ll eventually reach the point where his stuff will diminish to the point where you can’t expect him to be a threat to throw a no-hitter every time out or strike out 10 guys. What I like about him, though, is that he is a real student of the game. He has developed an outstanding feel for pitching over the years, and he’s smart enough that he will still succeed when his fastball starts to lose a few ticks.”

Con: “These contracts look really good in the present tense. But let’s look down the road five years. He’ll be 35 then and have a $28 million salary that year and the following year. He’s not going to be the same pitcher he is now. He’s been very durable, but the Tigers have ridden him hard—understandably so—for a long time. What if he’s coming off major surgery by then or he’s fallen to the point where he’s a third or fourth starter? Paying someone like that $28 million is a killer to the payroll. The one thing our industry is getting back to is giving long-term contracts to pitchers, and I don’t think that’s such a good idea because the medical risks are so great.”

Buster Posey
Pro:
“He’s just 26 years old, so he is, theoretically, coming into his prime, and he has already been the Rookie of the Year and the MVP in his first three seasons in the major leagues. You obviously have to love the bat, and he showed last year that he’s over that terrible leg injury he suffered in 2011 and it didn’t affect his catching. And when you sign a guy to this kind of contract, you have to take into account his makeup, and Buster’s makeup is off the charts. He’s an even better person than he is a ballplayer. For me, he’s got Cooperstown written all over him.”

Con: “I think that .336 batting average from last year is an aberration. He’s a very good hitter, but he’s not a .330 hitter. I worry about his offense long-term if he stays at catcher. He’s already playing in a tough hitter’s park, and his power could start to fade quickly if his body starts to break down. Look at Joe Mauer. Everyone was saying a few years ago that he was going to be the greatest catcher in history. He’s still a good player, but not a great one. I could see Posey following the same path. They are paying superstar money to a player whose window of being a superstar could close quickly.”

Elvis Andrus
Pro:
“I love this kid, and I think you’re going to see him blossom into a superstar this year. Even though they play in such a great hitter’s park, I don’t think the Rangers can just sit back and wait for home runs after losing Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli as free agents over the winter. They’re going to have to manufacture more runs, and Andrus can play a pivotal role in that. He’s starting to really understand how to get on a base, and he’s a good base-stealer, too. Throw in the above-average glove, and you’ve got a special player.”

Con: “For me, if you’re going to give a player a $100-million-or-more contract, he has to be a superstar, a real difference maker. When I look at Andrus, I see a good player but not a great player. I don’t look at him and think he’s going to wind up in Cooperstown when his career is over. I don’t even look at him as one of the top players in the game today. He’s not a top-50 player for me.”

---

It read like a headline from The Onion: Robinson Cano fires Scott Boras as agent and hires Jay-Z. Yes, the Yankees’ second baseman parted ways with the most powerful agent in the business. However, it’s not as if Hova is going to leave the immediately leave the recording studio for a face-to-face with Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner.

While Jay-Z wants to begin representing baseball players and will certainly play a role in Cano’s contract negotiations, Brodie Van Wagenen of Creative Artists Agency will serve as the primary agent. Cano is set for free agency at the end of the season, but seemingly everyone in baseball believes he will stay put with the Yankees following the change in agents, including one of his former teammates.

“I think I know Robby pretty well, and I know how much he loves playing in New York and wearing the Yankees’ pinstripes,” the former teammate said. “I can’t imagine him playing anywhere else, and I don’t think Robby ever sees himself leaving the Yankees. I think that’s a big reason he left Boras. He wants to be a Yankee, and he wants the contract talks to have as little acrimony as possible. That’s Robby’s style, and Jay-Z is a New York guy and will make sure it gets done.””

---

The Cubs went 61-101 last season, losing 100 games for just the third time in their 137-year history. However, manager Dale Sveum expects his team to be better this season, and the reasoning goes a little further than just because it would be hard to be worse.

“I think we’re going to score more runs and we’re not going to walk as many people,” Sveum said. “That just killed us last year. We didn’t give ourselves a chance in a lot of games.”

The Cubs were the third-lowest-scoring team in the major leagues last season, with just 3.78 runs a game. They finished ahead of just the Marlins (3.76) and Astros (3.60).

Meanwhile, Cubs pitchers issued 573 walks, which was 29th among the 30 major-league clubs and just one base on ball less than what the Blue Jays surrendered. However, just six pitchers remain on the roster from the club-record 29 the Cubs used last season.

Sveum believes the offseason additions of outfielders Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston will help the offense and newcomers Edwin Jackson, Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva will bolster the rotation.

“We didn’t make a lot of splashy moves over the winter, but we made a lot of solid moves that have made us a better team,” Sveum said. “I feel particularly good about our starting pitching. I think it’s certainly much stronger than it was at the end of last season after we traded Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm. We should be able to give ourselves a chance to win in most games.”

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

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