Last week, I took a look at some of baseball's worst long-term contracts, concluding that Ryan Howard's deal with the Phillies was the worst of all. This week, I thought I'd be a little more positive and take a look at some of the best long-term contracts in baseball.
In case you missed last week's article, here is a refresher on how I will be evaluating these contracts:
- I am arbitrarily defining "long-term contracts" as contracts that have at least four guaranteed (non-option) years. In my analysis, I will be analyzing contracts in their entirety. This means that I will look at how players have performed relative to their contract so far, as well as how they are expected to perform going forward. I will only be looking at current contracts for players that are still in the major leagues.
- For each player listed, I have included data from Cot's Baseball Contracts, including contract terms (number of years and overall dollar figure), the years the contract encompasses, earnings to-date (ETD), value to-date (VTD), surplus/deficit value, and money still owed.
- The player's earnings to-date is the amount of money the player has received so far on his current contract. This figure includes one-third of the player's 2015 salary. The player's value-to-date is based on FanGraphs dollar values, which multiplies their WAR by the market value of a win on the free agent market. The surplus/deficit value is simply the player's value minus his earnings. All dollar figures are in millions.
One thing that you may notice about the contracts discussed in this article is that they all cover at least some portion of a player's arbitration years. This should not be a surprise, since player salaries are limited due to the arbitration process. With the exception of Super Two players, pre-arbitration players make the league minimum for three years before being eligible for arbitration. They then have three years of arbitration, with their salary steadily increasing each year. One approximation used to estimate how much a player should make in their arbitration years is the 40/60/80 rule, where a player makes 40 percent of what he would earn on the free agent market in his first arbitration year, 60 percent in his second year, and 80 percent in his third year.
It is important to keep this information in mind when looking at these contracts. Many of these contracts are so good because teams have taken advantage of their ability to pay a player less than market value for a player's first six years. In many of these cases, teams chose to guarantee a player's arbitration years with a long-term contract, instead of going through the process year-to-year.Teams that do this are taking a risk, since they will no longer have the option of non-tendering a player who gets injured or has a big drop in performance. On the other hand, teams may also benefit by locking in a talented player at a low cost. If the player breaks out, the team is not obligated to pay him any more money than before.
Keeping all of that in mind, here is a look at the contracts:
1. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays made a bold move in giving Longoria an extention shortly after he was called up in 2008, and he has not disappointed. The contract was originally for six years and $17.5 million, but it included three team options, all of which have been picked up. In effect, this contract has covered Longoria's entire major league career, and up to this point, Longoria has been worth 40.7 fWAR, an impressive total for a player who turns 30 in October. That equates to over $275 million in value for the Rays, more than ten times what they have paid him up to this point.
The Rays have already given Longoria another extension, a six-year, $100 million deal which begins in 2017. Given the rapidly increasing salaries around the industry, this contract may look like a bargain in a couple years, even for a player in his decline years.
2. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates' decision to sign McCutchen before the 2012 season was a stroke of genius. McCutchen promptly put up three straight seasons with at least 6.8 fWAR, including an MVP campaign in 2013. He has already provided more than three times the value of his total contract, and he is still signed through 2017, with a $14.5 million club option in 2018.
3. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Like Longoria, Braun signed an extension less than a year into his major league career, and it has worked out extremely well for the small-market Brewers. For years, Braun was one of the best offensive players in all of baseball, producing so much value on offense that his below-average defense in left field barely mattered. If Braun hadn't been suspended in 2013 and injured in 2014, he may very well have been at the top of this list.
With that being said, Braun is under contract for at least another five years after this season, on a new five-year, $105 million extension. He already 31 and is on pace for a three win season in 2015, which is a noticeable drop from previous years. The Brewers may end up regretting this second extension, depending on how much Braun declines over the next few years. Even so, the surplus value on his first extension is so high that the Brewers will still come out ahead in the end.
4. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs signed Rizzo early in the 2013 season, before he had really made a name for himself outside of prospect rankings. Rizzo subsequently had a breakout year in 2014, and his start to 2015 suggests that last year was not a fluke. At age 25, he is already looking like a perennial MVP candidate, and he is under contract through at least 2019. This deal looks even better when you consider the fact that it includes two $14.5 million team options for 2020 and 2021.
5. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks gave Goldschmidt an extension just over a year into his major league career, and in the first season and a half of the deal, he has been worth more than the total value of his contract. So far in 2015, he is on pace for his second top-three finish in the NL MVP race in three years, after his 2014 season was cut short by injury. He is signed through his age-31 season, and the Diamondbacks have a very reasonable $14.5 million team option for 2019. This contract will probably go down as one of the few bright spots of the Kevin Towers era in Arizona.
6. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
In all honesty, I had no idea where to put Trout on this list. On one hand, he is the best player in baseball and has been worth around $60-80 million per year each of the last three years by Fangraphs' dollar/WAR measure. On the other hand, his extension just started this season, and he is still owed nearly $140 million through 2020. Assuming Trout doesn't fall off a cliff or suffer a catastrophic injury, he will be worth much more than he is being paid over the course of this contract. He has a chance of accruing all $144.5 million in value in just two years and making me look like a fool for not ranking him #1 on this list. For now, though, I'm going to be a bit cautious until we see more of Trout's contract play out.
7. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Unlike Trout's contract, Cabrera's is nearly over, with a bigger (and much more questionable) extension set to take effect starting next year. The Tigers gave Cabrera his first extension just months after acquiring him from the Marlins, and in his time with the Tigers, he has lead all of baseball in with a total fWAR of 41.3. Unlike other players on this list, Cabrera was already an established player when he signed his contract, which is why the total value of his deal is so high. Cabrera has lived up to expectations (and then some) by providing nearly $150 million in surplus value up to this point.
With that being said, I think it should be noted that Cabrera's next extension looks terrible. I almost included it on my list of worst contracts before I realized that it hadn't even started yet. Cabrera is already 32 and is signed for $248 million through 2023. What Cabrera has done with the Tigers over the last eight years is historic, but it doesn't mean that he can keep doing it forever.
8. Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays/Oakland Athletics
The Rays signed Zobrist to an extension after he put up an eight win season in 2009. While Zobrist was not quite able to repeat this level of production, he has still been an excellent player over the last several years, providing value through a combination of above average offense and excellent defense all over the diamond. He has struggled a bit in 2015, but his underperformance can't erase the fact that the Rays got Zobrist at an incredible bargain before flipping him to the A's for some prospects.
9. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
The White Sox took a gamble on Sale by signing him to an extension after just one year in the rotation. Since signing the extension, Sale has been one of the best pitchers in the American League, accumulating a ridiculously high amount of surplus value in just over two years. As long as Sale stays healthy, this deal will continue to be an incredible bargain for the next few years.
10. Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians
Signing a player to an extension right before he has a breakout year is always a formula for success, and this is what the Indians did with Brantley. In the first year of his extension, Brantley put up an MVP caliber season, surpassing anything the Indians could have expected from him. With his strong start to the 2015 season, Brantley has shown that last season was probably not a fluke. The affordable 2018 option attached to the end of his contract makes this deal look even better for the Indians going forward.
Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
Jonathon Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
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