With apologies to Marc Krauss, the wait is over. The Houston Astros -- who have been surprisingly competent over the last month -- have called up their hottest prospect since, well, George Springer. First baseman Jon Singleton, Baseball Prospectus's No. 57 prospect pre-2014, has gotten the call to the show. But that's not all -- Singleton will be coming to Houston with a fatter paycheck than one might usually expect.
Singleton's callup comes with a five-year, $10 million dollar extension that buys out his first two arbitration years, an unheard-of move that makes him the first guy to get an extension with zero days of MLB experience.
What makes Singleton's extension so interesting is this: not only does it cover him before he even plays a game in the majors, but it also seems to be heavily performance-based. According to MLB Daily Dish's report, the contract is guaranteed for five years and $10 million -- but Jon Heyman is reporting additional club options of $2.5 million, $5 million, and $13 million (in what would be his first year of free agency). In addition, there's about $5 million available in bonuses and awards.
So here's your rapid analysis: I have a very difficult time seeing any way that this contract does not work out for the Astros. The first five years are, to put it bluntly, a joke. A ballplayer usually makes something like half a million dollars per year in their pre-arbitration years, and over those three seasons, Singleton will effectively make two million instead. This is -- even to a low-payroll team like the Astros -- basically a rounding error.
After that, there's two arbitration years where Singleton will again, effectively, make two million dollars per year. If he's above-replacement, this is a great deal. Arbitration pays for home runs, Singleton projects to hit home runs, and even guys like Brandon Belt, who are undervalued by the arbitration system, still get $3 million in their first year off rookie pay.
Now, if Singleton hits like early-career Ryan Howard, the arbitration dollars will get stupidly high. I'm not projecting Singleton to put up 40+ homers from the jump, but the potential is there. Hitting 20-30 bombs a season -- even with a high strikeout rate or iffy OBP -- would result in probably $15 million in future arbitration salaries alone. So the Astros will likely be paying less than Singleton would earn without an extension, if he meets fairly reasonable expectations.
An even-handed PECOTA projection system sees Singleton as worth a win or two over the next 10 years. A win in free agency is currently worth something like $6 million or $7 million dollars, with that value likely to come up over the next few years. So in addition to Singleton being locked up below the market value for his talents -- even when they're the only buyer for his services -- it's also fairly likely that Singleton will be making less than he's worth, if he meets those same fairly reasonable expectations.
Basically, if Singleton works out, the Astros will have him at a below-market value until which time they choose to cut him a new contract -- which will either be before his prime, or right around his prime. And given that I'd guess players of his type peak early (large, slugging first basemen), they're probably getting his best years.
This new contract doesn't pay Jon Singleton much more than he'd make with reasonable arbitration predictions, and it pays him little enough that the team will squeeze lots of surplus value out of the guy -- potentially by a large amount. If Jon Singleton is a star, then this will be an Evan Longoria / Mike Trout type of steal. If Jon Singleton is another Ike Davis, then this was still probably a great move by the Astros.
Don't get me wrong -- this may not be the right type of move for every team to make on every top-10 prospect in their system. Or, maybe, like any pitchers. But Singleton's got a good pedigree and a fairly low performance floor. Put good money on the fact that this will not be the last time we see this happen, and if (or when) this deal looks great in hindsight, prepare for other teams to make similar moves with their own talented minor leaguers.
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