Buster Posey, the Giants, and a Long-Term Deal

Buster Posey will be a San Francisco Giant at least through the end of the 2016 season. The upcoming season will be his first as an arbitration-eligible player. He’ll have three more of those before he becomes a free agent. That is, unless Posey and the Giants agree to a long-term contract that buys out one or more of his free-agent years. Should Posey commit to the Giants long-term? Should the Giants commit to Posey? What kind of deal makes sense?

Hard to believe, sometimes, but the reigning National League most valuable player has played in only 305 major-league games and amassed only 1,255 plate appearances. His first major-league at bat came on Sept. 11, 2009, during a brief September call-up. (He struck out). In 2010, the Giants didn’t call Posey up from the minors until late May, as Bengie Molina continued to handle the everyday catching duties. Even then, Posey played first base for a month before the Giants traded Molina to the Rangers and installed Posey behind the dish.

In 443 plate appearances in 108 games, Posey hit .305/.357/.505 with 18 home runs. His 134 wRC+ tied him with Ryan Braun for 15th-best in the National League. Posey was named National League Rookie of the Year and guided the Giants’ vaunted pitching staff during the team’s World Series run. He earned $400,000 but delivered $16.7 million in value with a 4.2 WAR.

Posey’s 2011 campaign was cut short by the devastating ankle and leg injury he suffered in a home plate collision with Scott Cousins on May 25. In his 45 games that season, Posey dropped off from his sensational rookie numbers and hit only .284/.368/.389 in 185 plate appearances. The power numbers, in particular, looked concerning but may very well have stabilized during a full season. Posey earned $575,000 but delivered $8 million worth of value in just two months of playing time.

And then there’s 2012. National League Batting Champion*. National League MVP. National League Comeback Player of the Year. World Series champion. Posey played 148 games and had 610 plate appearances and he did the most with them. He hit .336/.408/.509 with 24 home runs. He led the National League with 8 WAR, and if his base running wasn’t so poorly rated, his WAR could have reached 10. The Giants paid him $615,000 and he gave his team $36 million in value.

What does all of this mean for a possible long-term deal between Posey and the Giants?

Let’s start first with what Posey’s salary is likely to be over the next four seasons if determined by the arbitration process. My colleague Matt Swartz developed an arbitration projection model for MLB Trade Rumors. You can (and should) read the details of Matt’s model in the series of posts here.  In short, Matt explains that arbitration panels continue to focus on “old-school” statistics when looking for “comparable players” and place an emphasis on playing time. Swartz projected Posey to earn $5.9 million in arbitration for the 2013 season. I wonder if that’s a bit low considering Ryan Howard‘s $10 million arbitration award for the 2008 season.

Like Posey, Howard was the NL Rookie of the Year (in 2005) and the NL MVP (in 2006) before his first year of arbitration eligibility. But in his first three full seasons (plus 19 games in 2004), Howard had 1,742 plate appearances in 411 games — 100-plus more games and 500-plus more plate appearances than Posey. Howard hit .280/.377/.593 with 119 home runs and 353 RBI. In his first three seasons, Posey hit .308/.377/.484 with 46 home runs and 119 RBI. Posey doesn’t compare when it comes to home runs and RBI, but he plays a much more demanding position.

Even if we accept Swartz’s $5.9 million for 2013, things get even trickier going forward. If Posey continues to produce at 2012 levels, there won’t be many “comparable players” with similar service time whose salaries were determined by arbitration. Click here for a list of the top hitters under 30 years old, ranked by WAR, for the combined 2010-2012 seasons. Posey is 12th, and that’s with 400+ fewer plate appearances than every other player on the list: Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Robinson Cano, Braun, Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, Michael Bourn, Chase Headley, Ryan Zimmerman and Yadier Molina.

Of all of those players, only Cabrera went to arbitration and only for one year. In 2007, his first year of arbitration eligibility, Cabrera was awarded $7.4 million against the Marlins. Every player on that list — save for Headley and Bourn — signed multi-year deals with their teams covering at least their arbitration-eligible seasons; in some cases, the deals bought out several free-agent years. Headley and Bourn have gone year-to-year and Bourn is now a free agent.

Swartz’s highest position-player arbitration projections for 2013 are Hunter Pence, at $13.8 million in his last year of eligibility; Jacoby Ellsbury, at $8.1 million in his last year of eligibility; and Headley, at $8.3 million, in his third year of eligibility. These numbers will rise for comparable players in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

If Posey continues to produce in his next 2,500 plate appearances as he has in his first 1,255, and he stays healthy, it’s not hard to imagine arbitration figures for him in 2014-2016 going from $10 million to $15 million to $20 million. If so, that would be $51 million for his four years of arbitration eligibility. Could be more, could be less. But that’s a reasonable figure to work with.

With those numbers in mind, does it make sense for the Giants to buy out Posey’s arbitration-eligible years for somewhere in the range of $45 million? A bit below my very rough arbitration projections, but an $11.25 million AAV would be higher than the AAV for Cano, Longoria, Braun, McCutchen, Pedroia, Zimmerman and Molina in their arbitration-year contracts. Only Cabrera’s and Votto’s deals — which covered some arbitration years and some free-agent years — had higher AAVs. This kind of deal gives the Giants cost certainty and protects Posey financially against the risk of injury or a drop-off in production.

And what about a deal covering one or more of Posey’s free-agent years? This is where things get interesting. Much of Posey’s value derives from his work behind the plate. After his 2011 injury, there was some talk (inside and outside the organization) of moving Posey to a less-demanding position. He was the regular catcher in 2012, but only for 114 games. He played 29 games at first base, games manager Bruce Bochy often referred to as Posey’s “days off.” Rumors continue to swirl that eventually the Giants would like to move Posey to another position to keep his bat in the lineup everyday. Posey continues to say he loves catching and he wants to remain in that position. We can only speculate what’s really going on, but if the two sides have a differing views of Posey’s future position, that may be the biggest impediment to a long-term deal. If the Giants won’t commit to Posey as catcher — and he wants to stay behind the dish — money may not be enough to keep Posey in San Francisco after 2016.

Perhaps a sensible approach is a contract extending into Posey’s first year of free agency. Take the four-year/$45 million option and add another year at $22 million. Or $25 million. Or structure the deal with a total value of $70 million for five years, with $5 million of total paid up front as a signing bonus. Posey locks in one year of free-agent-type money but retains flexibility should he and the team part ways over a future position. The Giants retain their franchise player — and marketing magnet — at least one additional year at an escalating but not unexpected salary.

Currently, the Giants are committed to only two players for 2017: Matt Cain, at $20.8 million and Madison Bumgarner, at $11.7 million. Adding Posey to that list, even at $25 million, makes sense for the franchise’s foundation.

It also makes sense for the Giants to wait at least one more year before committing big dollars and many years to Posey. His value is off the charts right now, but his 1,255 plate appearances are still a relatively small sample on which to craft $70 million deal. Even at $6 million-plus, Posey’s 2013 salary won’t break the bank. And an extra year of playing time will give the team more information on which to assess the merits and value of a long-term contract.



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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


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Sparkles Peterson
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Sparkles Peterson
3 years 8 months ago

When Ryan Howard went for his first arbitration case, it was reported that somehow his age and the years the Phillies kept him in the high minors were considered relevant to the arbitration case, which would make him an outlier for comparison.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 8 months ago

A very good article, as usual from you. Your suggestion in the last paragraph of the Giants waiting one more year before making a big money commitment to Posey is very sensible. That, of course, does not mean the Giants will do so.

Albert C.
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Albert C.
3 years 8 months ago

What’s your secret formula for determining value? Looks like a WAR moves from 4 to 4.5 from 2010 to 2012 and you and Mr. Cameron beg to differ on perceived value.

Eric R
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Eric R
3 years 8 months ago

A win costs more in later years because of inflation…

Albert C.
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Albert C.
3 years 8 months ago

you’re missing the point Eric R. I believe Cameron had a win a 5 million a few years ago and is up to 6-6.5 “because of inflation”. Wendy is operating with a different formula. Maybe it’s right. Maybe her calculator broke. Maybe she’ll elucidate her formula.

Albert C.
Guest
Albert C.
3 years 8 months ago

Locking up Posey for 10 years wouldn’t be foolhardy, but as you said, it would seem a lot more prudent to wait another year. Then again, Posey could have another monster year with 30 HRs and more RBIs given Pagan, Scutaro and Sandoval should be on base 34,34 and 36% respectively.

Great point about the relative cost of moving him off the premium position. Hadn’t accounted for that. Moving him off catcher (eventually) seems the prudent move. Yadier Molina seems the exception. Most catcher’s offensive set takes a dump with wear and tear.

Mac
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Mac
3 years 8 months ago

Since you brought it up, I took a look and all the Molina’s seem impervious to major drops in performance after years at C. Maybe that’s why they never run the bases well – saving those knees on the basepaths for career longevity at catcher.

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
3 years 8 months ago

Posey also has value as the “new face of the Giants”, his success is concurrent with the Giants success. I hope they do sign him, at some point, to a long term contract.

Dwright5
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Dwright5
3 years 8 months ago

It probably should be noted that going into his 4th year Posey is 26. Howard was 28. Makes a huge difference when you’re talking a long term contract, and why Howard’s was so bad at the time. (even worse now)

maqman
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maqman
3 years 8 months ago

I’d be interested in a post relating to the actual current, and next couple of years, 1 win value. New media deals are flushing millions in new revenue to teams and free agent and win values can’t help but escalate. Much of the economy is hurting but that’s not the case with The Show.

BJsWorld
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BJsWorld
3 years 8 months ago

I don’t see enough savings from the Giants side to make this commitment. Given Posey’s position I only lock him up long term if I can get more savings. Saving $5M total through 3 years of arbitration is chump change. Should Posey get injured at any time during those three years OR if he reverts back to 2011 levels then it’s a huge overpay. Conversely, if Posey continues to dominate and play out of his mind then I don’t think you will see his numbers reach much more than what you laid out.

At the end of the day, all of the risk seems to be on the Giants side using the structure provided above.

Matt
Guest
Matt
3 years 8 months ago

Agreed,

The deal laid out in the article seems to heavily undervalue the cost of risk. No way the Giants should even consider those numbers.

Also, the writer makes a good point that the arbitration awards are based off of traditional statistics and not modern metrics, but then proceeds to set a value on an arbitration eligible player using modern metrics. This doesn’t make any sense.

If you inflate the 5.9mil slightly (due to the MVP award – which will likely factor in any arbitration hearing) all the way up to 7 mil and then apply that onto the 40-60-80 scale then you are looking at 7mil-10.5mil-14mil assuming Poseys number remain fairly similar (perhaps a little higher with inflation of salaries). this gives you 30.5mil far below the 45 mil which would extremely lopsided for Posey – and this isn’t even taking into account the discount granted to the giants for offering a multi-year deal to a catcher who already missed most of a year due to a catching related injury.

Need to throw out the $45 mil which is more accurate to what he ‘should’ earn and make the values more realistic. The Giants consider offering Posey something in the $45-50 range for 4 years and go year to year if he turns it down.

Eric R
Guest
Eric R
3 years 8 months ago

“He led the National League with 8 WAR, and if his base running wasn’t so poorly rated, his WAR could have reached 10. ”

He had a BSR of -4.9; to get to 10 WAR total by adjusting only his baserunning, wouldn’t he have to be ~+15? If so, that’d be one of the best baserunning seasons of the last 100 years:

1986 Coleman 15.7
1962 Wills 15.6
1983 Henderson 14.0
2007 Pierre 13.2
2011 Bourn 13.1
1988 Henderson 13.0
2010 Pierre 12.4

And it’s not like he was significantly better before 2012:
2012 610 PA, -4.9 BSR
2009-2011 645 PA, -2.3 BSR

chuckb
Member
chuckb
3 years 8 months ago

I’m glad you caught that as well. Making him an average base runner improves his WAR only slightly. He’s not Mike Trout on the bases and the assumption that he could have been is way off base (no pun intended).

chuckb
Member
chuckb
3 years 8 months ago

I’m sorry; it’s simply not reasonable to expect Posey to be an 8 WAR player for the next 3 seasons. You wrote at least twice in this article, “if he continues to put up 2012’s numbers,” and then based the arbitration awards on his being an 8 WAR player. Why not use ZIPS projections for him or anything other than simply assuming he’s going to continue as an 8 WAR player?

chuckb
Member
chuckb
3 years 8 months ago

ZIPS has Posey pegged for a .363 wOBA which puts him somewhere around 25 wRAA (down from 48 last year) and puts him in the neighborhood of a 5.5 – 6 WAR player. Sounds about right to me.

Albert C.
Guest
Albert C.
3 years 8 months ago

So what’s the value of that WAR again? 4.5 or 6 + ? Are there 2 scales? High players are worth 4-5mil/WAR and relievers and lower end guys are worth 6/WAR. Seems a lot of FG writers roll with the higher end. Maybe I’m just a confused person.

rogue_actuary
Member
Member
rogue_actuary
3 years 8 months ago

Interpreted “if he continues to put up 2012’s numbers…” as referencing his aribitration-relevant numbers. Namely, batting average and the counting states of HRs, RBI, and Runs.

And also not necessarily at those exact same levels, but at levels approaching those heights. For example, Posey could hit the same number of HR, knock in and score more runs, and match his batting average, while only ringing up 5.5 – 6.0 WAR.

Stan "The Boy" Taylor
Member
Stan "The Boy" Taylor
3 years 6 months ago

9 years, $167. You just missed

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