This week Charlie Blackmon decided to forgo one of the most loaded free agent classes in history and sign a six-year, $108 million deal, which continues the Rockies’ preference of keeping star players in Colorado. In the past, Colorado handed out long-term extensions to Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki, and Carlos González.
The Blackmon deal includes 2018, and it also contains opt-outs after the fourth and fifth years. He will only make $10 million in the final year of the deal, but that can get as high as $18 million with incentives that he can earn over the life of the contract.
The deal comes as a bit of a surprise, because you rarely see a player agree to an extension in a contract year. When looking at it from the perspective of Blackmon, it makes sense why he would want to go this route. He is a late bloomer, and as a result will be 32 years old when he hits free agency. He would undoubtedly have a qualifying offer attached to him, which would have a negative impact on his ability to maximize his own value, and he is likely to move from center field to a corner some time within the next few years, lowering his value as well.
Most of all, the latest round of free agency should give any player pause. Perhaps it will turn out to be an anomaly, but aside from behemoths such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, we could see a continuation of the market suppressing players’ salaries.
Furthermore, there have been reports of teams treating free agent negotiations like arbitration cases. They are brazenly telling prospective free agents what they can’t do in order to negotiate a lower salary, something that was hardly industry practice a few short years ago.
Make no mistake about it, this deal is not as team-friendly as it might seem. In fact, Blackmon might have had trouble getting close to this amount on the open market.
Charlie Blackmon was excellent last year. He was a top ten, or even a top five player in the National League, depending on how you rate his defense. He slashed .331/.399/.601 with 37 home runs. Adjusting for the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field, you still get a 141 wRC+ and 6.0 bWAR. He even adds a little baserunning value according to BsR. He does get caught stealing a lot, but he runs the bases well and hits into few double plays. He hit well in 2016 as well, posting a.324/.381/.552 line, good for a 131 wRC+. He is also off to a great start to this year, with eight hits and three walks in 27 PA, including two doubles and four home runs. It’s a small sample for sure, but not atypical for someone with Blackmon’s expectations.
Of course, when talking about a Rockies’ hitter, you have to mention the home/road splits. Unsurprisingly, Blackmon was out of this world at Coors Field in 2017, hitting a Ruthian .391/.466/.773. Adjusting for park effects, that is still a 185 wRC+. On the road, however, Blackmon was just average. He hit .276/.337/.447 outside Colorado. Strangely, it was not just park effects. He struck out roughly 50 percent more often on the road, and he walked less than 2⁄3 as often as he did in Coors. Interestingly enough, his home/road splits were nearly identical in 2016 by wOBA.
Over Blackmon’s entire career, he was still an average hitter away from home. Going back to what I mentioned about teams readily telling players what they can’t do in order to justify paying less, they would undoubtedly bring up Blackmon’s road numbers during a negotiation. You can imagine how that could go: “Why should we break the bank for a 32-year-old who is probably going to end up as an average offensive corner outfielder, and can’t produce half of the time?”
Blackmon compares surprisingly well to Lorenzo Cain. Like Blackmon, Cain’s contract covers his age-32 through age-36 years. Cain had accumulated 15.5 bWAR in the previous years, while Blackmon had 13.0 bWAR. Cain was the best center fielder on the market this past offseason. Unless A.J. Pollock has a repeat of his 2015 season, Blackmon would have been the best center fielder on the market this winter. Cain signed for five years and $80 million. Not counting the part of the contract that covers 2018, Blackmon just signed for five years and $96 million.
Put all that together, and it becomes apparent why Blackmon took the deal presented to him. No one wants to get “Moosed.”
It is possible that Blackmon could have done better had he hit free agency, however, given everything laid out here, it seems like it would have been awfully risky to try, particularly with a guarantee dangled in front of him.
When considering the context of Cain’s contract, Blackmon did really well here. Taking nine figures and staying where you are comfortable makes a lot of sense. I think that his agent did a great job in advising him and negotiating this deal.
It is a good deal from the Rockies’ perspective as well. Blackmon is getting old, but he has been durable since 2014, playing in at least 143 games every year. Even if his performance ages poorly, he should be good enough on the front end of the contract to make up for down years in the latter years.
The Rockies have done plenty in their history worthy of criticism. One thing they have a history of being good at is taking care of their stars. I am sure Rockies fans hope they can get something done next with Nolan Arenado.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.