Friday, March 29, 2013

Knee-Jerk Reactions: More Mega Deals, This Time with Buster Posey

And the massive contracts continue to roll in. Following in the steps of Adam Wainwright and Justin Verlander, Buster Posey has signed a $167 million, nine-year deal (Andrew Baggarly). Verlander remains the largest deal signed on today, but those two deals are still a combined total of $347 million guaranteed (not counting Posey or Verlander’s $22 million options, or the sorta-less-than-mega $32 million deal Paul Goldschmidt also signed today).

The big difference between Posey’s deal and Wainwright and Verlander’s (other than that the latter two are pitchers) is that Posey was still in his arbitration years, meaning his contract was still fairly cost controlled for the next four years. After 2013 (Posey was set to make $8 million this year originally), would still not be eligible for free agency for another three seasons, after his age-29 season.

That means this is really more of a five year extension. Just based on Posey’s history and how arbitration works, he would be seeing some large figures the next few years ($12.5 million next year, $16.5 M in 2015, and $20 M in 2016). That’s a high amount for arbitration, though (although I’m not sure how inflation in the games has affected the process, and an MVP-winning catcher might have easily set a new high-water mark), so it probably overpays him what he would actually make. In exchange, they get an extra five seasons of control, plus an option for 2022.

That means that the Giants have Posey through his age 34 season, with first chance at his age-35 year. Catcher health is an issue for concern, but how cautious should a team be when buying out a backstop’s early 30s? Well, it depends on what you mean by “cautious”. Posey will be paid $108 in those years; given the $5 million/Win Above Replacement going rate on the free agent market in recent seasons, that would mean he needs to be worth around 21 WAR in those years, or around 4 wins per season.

The bad news? Going by Fangraphs, almost no catchers have accomplished that. Yogi Berra, Jorge Posada, and Bill Dickey all cleared it, and Mike Piazza, Gene Tenace, and Gary Carter came reasonably close. So more or less, Posey would need to be one of the best catchers in history. That’s not unreasonable, actually. Despite a freak injury cutting into a his 2011 season, he’s still managed about 13 WAR in his career, seventeenth all-time. The only other player in even the top thirty with fewer plate appearances is Mike Piazza.

On top of that, as I’ve said in the wake of these other extensions, he probably won’t need to be worth that much-inflation will likely push up the cost of free agent WAR. Projecting performance that far out is already a bit of a guess, let alone guessing what the inflation will have driven free agent contracts to. I suppose my take is similar to the Verlander deal; any deal of this size is going to be a risk, especially for a catcher. But if you had to pick one player to risk it on, that one would probably be Posey.

The one concern I can see is that they may run into Minnesota’s problem with Joe Mauer. The deal isn’t as large, but there’s always the chance of exhausting your funds. Might San Francisco run into that problem?

The contract will ramp up slowly, eventually topping out at about $13 and a half million more per year than he currently making. The Giants made some questionable longer commitments to older players this winter (Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan), but neither will be a deal-breaker. On the plus side of the ledger, Barry Zito goes from $20 million in 2013 to a $7 million buy out for 2014. Tim Lincecum makes $22 million in the final year of his contract this year, then he's off the payroll entirely (barring a new deal). Hunter Pence and Javier Lopez have less major deals, but $13.8 million and $4.25 million (respectively) are not insignificant amounts.

Either way, Just after this season, the Giants will be getting a minimum of about $53 million off the books, with another $7 million coming for the year after. Unless the Giants were already over their intended budget at $131 million last season, money shouldn’t be too much of an issue for them going forward.

It’s even more like the Verlander deal than I first thought-the Giants don’t have an heir apparent at catcher. It even looks like it will have less of a financial impact on the Giants than the Verlander deal has on the Tigers, in that the Tigers are more or less paying to go for a championship now. The Giants built the deal well enough that they can keep a flexible budget to compete going forward.

Overall, this is (again) a really solid deal for both sides. Maybe front offices are just getting smarter? Either way, it’s not a bad thing.

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