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August 2, 2013

Pebble Hunting

Are Early Extensions Still Club Friendly?

by Sam Miller


It’s not always easy finding something to say about a fresh new contract extension. Most of them appear to be basically club-friendly, and follow a template set by previous players. Furthermore, they generally cover so much time that it’s even more impossible than usual to predict just what the player is likely to do that far out, and just what the team is likely to need that far out. Shoot, a lot of times they don’t even kick in until a time far enough into the future that our predictive powers go poof.

But we’re a few years into the extension era, and a lot of these moves are starting to have actual histories to judge. At the very least, we can look at the extensions signed two years ago and decide anew whether the teams should be happy or disappointed with the extensions they’ve signed. We can see whether these turn out as universally club-friendly as I tend to expect.

From Nov. 30, 2010 through the end of 2011, nearly 30 pre-free agency players signed extensions that bought out free agency years. Fourteen of those players were signed at least three years before their teams had to act—players with three or fewer years of service time, or players who had already signed extensions that were at least three years from culminating. In each case, the team forfeited their right to wait and see in exchange for future cost certainty and, presumably, a discount. Let’s look at the 14.

Troy Tulowitzki: Seven years, $134 million, signed three years before his previous deal expired.
Since then: In two and a half years, Tulowitzki has produced 8.5 WARP, and he has probably been the best shortstop in baseball in that time. He also hasn’t produced a single season that would crack his career top three, and he has played 61 percent of his team’s games.
Outlook: The injuries are worrisome, but he’s not in danger of losing his hold on the position, and he’s having the best offensive season of his career. Seems likely that he’d get more than seven years and $134 million if he were a free agent this winter, even with the injuries. I’d give him that much, and I don’t even have a place for him to play.
Would they sign him today for what he’s owed? Yes.

Jay Bruce: Six years, $51 million, with a club option, signed four years before free agency.
Since then: Bruce has produced 8.6 WARP, which, you’ve quickly realized, means he has been as valuable as Troy Tulowitzki. He also hasn’t come close to matching the career-high he had set in 2010, but there’s an outside chance that he could top it with two excellent months to end this season.
Outlook: Bruce hasn’t developed into a superstar, but he has been as consistent as anybody: 124, 118, 119, 121 go the OPS+’s since 2010. PECOTA seems him as a 3- or 3.5-win player right now, and he’s young enough that that projection should hold through the life of the deal. If they pick up the 2017 option, he’ll be paid $47 million and should produce 12 to 15 wins. So that’s a bargain. (Furthermore, he was a Super Two, and the Reds have certainly saved money on his first three arbitration years.)
Would they sign him today for what he’s owed? Yes

Carlos Gonzalez: Seven years, $80 million, signed four years before free agency.
Since then: At 7.8 wins, he’s been around Jay Bruce’s level, though his perceived value is likely higher still. This is arguably his best season. He has dealt with multiple injuries, but in small doses.
Outlook: PECOTA sees him as a tick below a three-win player, but other metrics like his defense more and a .324/.379/.620 line on the road this year has quieted accusations that he’s a park creation. He’s 27. He’s owed $63 million over the next four years, and unlike Bruce’s case, the final season isn’t a club option.
Would they sign him today for what he’s owed: Certainly, and factoring in future inflation, it would be justified.

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Manufactured Runs: SAB... (08/02)
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