Re-evaluating 2014’s contract extensions

Getty Images/Mark Cunningham - Is Miguel Cabrera's contract extension sneakily one of the worst in baseball?
Getty Images/Mark Cunningham – Is Miguel Cabrera’s contract extension sneakily one of the worst in baseball?

By Ollie Connolly and Edward Overend

Hindsight in life and sports is the most wonderful thing. So we’ve decided to look back at 2014 and the contract extensions that were handed out, removing ourselves from the first 24-48 hours of online hysteria. For the purposes of proper clarity and interest we’ve discussed the biggest name players who signed deals of at least three-years and who signed between Januray 2014 and October 2014 giving us enough time and clarity to properly evaluate the deals.

Below is an email exchange between myself and Ed Overend as we re-evaluate the aforementioned contract extensions of 2014.

Miguel Cabrera – Detroit Tigers – $248m – 8-years (2 options)

OC: Let’s start with the best hitter in baseball.

When Cabrera initially signed his deal I understood it. It was an organisation taking care of the most important player in the clubhouse, on the field and maybe all of baseball. He was racking up career year after career year. I thought the years were excessive but it stunk of a back end ‘thanks for your service and loyalty’ contract.

Now, I look at the deal and I’m aghast at how much I overlooked its potential damage. Sure Miggy remains an elite player, future hall of famer, every accolade you can throw at him. But he’s also now on the books into his 40’s, his power numbers alarmingly dipped to their lowest since his rookie year and he just underwent major ankle surgery at the age of 31.

It may be very over reactionary. But can we bet on Cabrera being Cabrera again for a consistent three year stretch?

EO: First of all, I’m not sure how any player can be looked upon as a sure fire bet to be consistent over three years. It’s why these contracts are such a gamble in the first place. Who’s to know what injuries lie just around the corner?

However, whilst there is a school of thought that Miggy’s body type won’t last, look at the longevity of David Ortiz. At no point has Cabrera ever relied on his speed to get him hits. He ought to be looked upon as a DH moving forward and that is where he probably ends up sooner rather than later. While he disappointed last year, despite injury he still put up a near .900 OPS, none too shabby. 

DH’s that rely on their eye and selective hitting can go on for years, like an Edgar Martinez and I see no reason why a healthier Cabrera can return to the dominance he had. 8 years is an awful long time remaining on the deal but, certainly for the next few years, I feel his obituary is being written a little early.

OC: I agree. I don’t think it’s by any means the end of Cabrera. However this offseason’s surgery does concern me.

As for the contract, I still can’t fully grasp why they Tigers panicked and agreed to an extension two-years before they needed too unless Cabrera and his representation put some pressure on them. Does it make any sense to you?

EO: None at all. Absolute madness. Where’s he going? Nowhere. He’s obviously happy in Detroit, hence he signed a long term deal in the first place. It’s not even as though at the time somebody had overtaken him as having the biggest deal in baseball, although Stanton now has. I can’t think of one reason why they did it when they did.

Mike Trout – Los Angeles Angels – $144.5m – 6-years

OC: This deal was the best deal in baseball the day it was signed and will remain the best until it ends. Mike Trout is simply the best player in baseball and he’s locked into a long term deal. Of course Angels fans have some concerns that Trout may leave at the end of the six years and many wished it would be a ten or twelve year deal. But you’re digging really deep to try and find any negatives with this one. The Angels have enough horrible contracts that you have to congratulate them for getting Trout to commit long term whether it’s for four years or forty years.

EO: Absolutely right. Unlike a lot of these long term deals, Trout is still going to be in the middle of his prime when it ends. It even may be the 2nd largest contract of his career! The guy has put up an astonishing first 3 full years in the league and only seems to be improving, scary as that may be.

The biggest fear, of course, is injury, especially as like his peer Bryce Harper, he seems to play the outfield with zero thought for his body. However, he has cut down on his stolen bases, which should help in this regard. I always find a decline in bags swiped to come when a player is confident he’ll keep his place without them.

All in all, the Trout contract is an absolute bargain for the Angels. You can’t criticise Trout for taking the deal though as it guarantees he is set for life and he doesn’t have to fear making it through all those arb eligible years. A win for both sides in my view.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds
Getty Images/Joe Robbins – Votto’s contract is one of the most interesting in baseball

Joey Votto – Cincinnati Reds – $225m – 10 years

EO: Here’s an interesting one. When this deal was signed, to me it looked fine. Maybe a bit long but fine. Votto was walking much more than anyone else in the league, he could flat out hit and his defence at 1B was pretty good. Now, after an injury ravaged season, all kinds of questions abound, not the least of which is where has his power gone. He was never going to be a consistent 35/40 home run guy but last year he hit one every 37 ABs. Is it all down to injury and will he rebound?

OC: This is one of the most interesting ones to me too.

I’m putting all my chips and faith into the middle of the table in defense of Votto. Sure he missed over 100 games, his power dipped and most worryingly he hit .255. But I’m not willing to call the extension a disaster till we see a second year of declining performance.

The worrying thing to me is the seemingly ‘chronic’ nature of the quad strain as oppose to a ‘freakish’ injury. However I’ll reserve judgement until we see how smoothly he moves during spring ball. We have to remember just how good a hitter Votto is. He led the league in four of the past five years in on base percentage and has been a consistent 25 home run hitter.

He’s truly special, with a hall of fame ark. I’m fine with Cincy ponying up the money to lock him down.

EO: I’d like to agree. That OBP is absurd and anyone with that eye has to get back to form sooner rather than later. He’s almost unique these days in combining a very high walk rate and a very high batting average and is one of my favourite batters to watch. I hope it works out for the Reds. Unlike some of the teams that have handed out these mega deals, they really do not have the financial clout to afford one to go horribly wrong. 

Ryan Braun – Milwaukee Brewers – $105m – 5 years from 2016

EO: Mr Popular, Ryan Braun! From being one of the real stars of the league, he went to being one of the true villains, as much for lying as for taking PEDs. 

Coming off his suspension, last year has to be regarded as a bit of a disaster – power decline, speed decline, OBP? You guessed it decline! For someone who contributed in all sorts of ways previously this has to call into question the Brewers decision to extend him coming off a ban. They probably thought they could get him for a bargain at the time. Could it have been a case of being a little too cute for the man I like to call the ‘Hebrewer’?

OC: This one is an absolute disaster. Of course Brewers fans will apologise for Braun. They’ll claim it was a down year and point to our previous points on Cabrera and Votto. But this one is different. He was busted for PED use and hit just 19 home runs last year. That’s a staggering decline (or not if you believe what you read). There’s also a collapse in his OBP, not just power, and his average has fallen closer to .250 than .300. There is just no defending this deal and it hasn’t even truly started yet. It runs till 2022, are you kidding me? It’s a disaster for Milwaukee and I can’t foresee any other club being dumb enough to make a move, no matter how cheap the price would be, for Braun.

EO: Always a difficult one for small market teams isn’t it? They feel they have to keep their stars but when it doesn’t work out it can cripple the franchise for years. Joe Mauer is another example of a guy that the Twins felt they couldn’t afford to let leave and now looks like a noose round his team’s neck. I’d be staggered if we ever get one more season of Braun’s best, let alone multiple.

OC: It really comes down to valuing wins above marketing and superstars. I completely give the Brewers a pass at this point because (I’m guessing) they had no idea the PED suspension was coming down to completely disrupt Braun’s career. But these smaller market teams, and I’ve talked about Mauer at length, have to get to the point around age 30, 31 where they sell of their stars to the bigger market clubs for a bevy of top prospects. Relying on one star going into their mid to late 30’s just will not work.

EO: exactly. It’s no accident that the Rays have managed to stay very competitive over a number of years. Especially with their pitching, they have backed away from signing the mega deal and traded away pieces whilst they still have value, Price and Shields being prime examples. They’ve also signed players up to long term deals as soon as they’ve hit the league, thereby getting them on the cheap. Evan Longoria is the poster child for this strategy. It’ll be interesting to see now they’ve extended him whether they get lucky. 

Atlanta Braves – Julio Tehran – 6-years $32.4m – Andrelton Simmons – 7-years $58m – Freedie Freeman – 8-years $135m – Craig Kimbrel – 4-years $42m

OC: I am flabbergasted by how well Atlanta did here.

They’ve extended the core of their club for a total of 25-years and $267.4m. That’s less than the Giancarlo Stanton Marlins contract. It’s truly unbelievable. Every contract is near perfect, they’ve locked in all four through their primes and at a great price for each.

EO: Atlanta are an interesting one. Last offseason, all these extensions, this one lots of high profile guys out the door. I agree to the most part with your assessment. In Freeman, Teheran and Simmons, they have 3 exceptional players who are also very young to have the level of experience in the bigs that they do. I think a bit too much has been expected of Simmons’ bat but his defence is outstanding. Along with Adeiny Hechavarria at Miami, he has the best glove of any young shortstop in the game. Freeman could be the next Votto, he is that good. Teheran, has a fantastic WHIP, showing great control and whilst he may not be the strikeout pitcher first thought, his last two seasons have been very promising.

Where I do have an issue is Kimbrel. There is no doubt his dominance. He is THE shutdown closer in the game. However, one of my biggest bugbears is spending any money on the bullpen. Year after year, bullpens can be muddled together and turn out fine. Saves are such a ridiculous stat it’s untrue. Last year, my team the Mariners, spent $15m/2 on Fernando Rodney when Danny Farquhar had been more than fine in the role to finish off 2013. Young guys with live arms and perhaps a little lack of variation can be found all over the league. It just annoys me.

OC: I understand where you’re coming from. Particularly with regards to free agent relief pitchers e.g. David Robertson. But Kimbrel is the best in the game. He’s signed through four years and the fourth is a team option. His contract averages out to just above $10.5m a year which is a lot. But if you put it into the context of the team discounts they got from the other players they extended I think it’s an absolute bargain.

Getty Images - Michael Brantley is on his way to being one of the best bargains in baseball
Getty Images – Michael Brantley is on his way to being one of the best bargains in baseball

Michael Brantley – Cleveland Indians – $25m – 4 years

EO: Let’s move onto a deal where the team has got an absolute steal. The Indians gave Michael Brantley a four year deal and he then went on to produce a career year. That deal would be double at least if it was to have been negotiated now.  Do you see Brantley’s year as a forebear of things to come or a bit of a fluke?

OC: I don’t think it’s a complete outlier though I do think it was a career year. As you mentioned the contract came at the perfect time for the Indians. I do think we can see him hit .290-.300 over the next couple of years along with 85 RBIs, 15 HRs, 180 Hs and 45 walks. He’s coming truly into the prime of his career and he’s one guy I’m genuinely excited to see grow this year and next and I never thought I’d say that.

EO: One of those players who never garnered much attention. Just there in the lineup every day doing nothing to create headlines. Didn’t help that he plays in the market he does. Then Boom! As a keen fantasy player he came out of nowhere last season and ended up I think as a top 10 guy on ESPN’s player rater. Now I know fantasy has its flaws, but to be that much of a difference maker, Brantley had to have contributed across the board. It’s not like he’s an elite home run hitter or base stealer, just a very good all round player.

Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers – $215m -7-years

EO: Best pitcher in baseball by a mile. One of the greatest ever. Dodgers have unlimited funds. Move on!

OC: Surprised this wasn’t closer to $300m. Great deal for everyone. Move on!

Yan Gomes – Cleveland Indians – $23m – 6-years

OC: It looks like another ridiculous bargain for the Indians again. What a breakout year for Gomes both with the bat – 135 Hs, 21 HRs, 74 RBIs, 24 BBs, .278 Avg, .313 OBP – and behind the plate. We’ll see how this progresses in the coming years but it really has the makings to be one of the biggest bargains in all of baseball.

EO: Catching is such an undervalued commodity, which is a ridiculous thing to say when it is so highly valued in the draft. It really is a strange pool of players. You’ve got big big deals for the likes of Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, Brian McCann and recently Russell Martin and then around the league a bunch of journeymen paid not very much at all. 

It is a position that only recently are we beginning to truly understand how much it affects a team. A bad defensive catcher, who can’t frame pitching well is as harmful to his team as anyone on the roster.

Gomes is a rare thing. He can hit as well as look after his staff. At less than $4m a year this has to be one of the very best deals in all of baseball. Maybe it’s because he’s from a non-traditional country, Brazil, but the Indians should be absolutely thrilled with him.

Homer Bailey – Cincinnati Reds – $105m – 6-years
EO: This is one of these infuriating contracts to me. An early draft pick (no 7 overall). Hit the majors at 21. Has the stuff as 2 no hitter’s shows. Yet, how you can justify this amount of money for a guy who has been below league average (ERA+ of 96) over his career is beyond me. 

He’s one of those who each year is touted as a potential break out yet it doesn’t happen.

OC: I agree, it’s a really frustrating deal. I think at the team even Masahiro Tanaka was stunned by how much money they gave him and even their owner expressed ‘reservation’ at giving a pitcher a long term deal. Suffice to say in 2014 his starts were down, WHIP was up and Ks way down. It’s not looking good. Best bet for the Reds let him go to a team in desperate need of front end rotation help (Red Sox) or pray that a pretty good pitcher becomes a dominant one.

Let us know your feelings on 2014’s contract extensions @CTBPod and follow Ollie @OllieUKEZ and Ed @EdwardOverend

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