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Estimating a Miguel Montero Extension

Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero narrowly avoided his arbitration hearing today, agreeing with the club to a one-year, $5.9 million deal for 2012 — i.e. Montero’s last year of team-control.

Per Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, both the Diamondbacks and Montero are interested in discussing a long-term deal to keep the catcher in Phoenix for the foreseeable future.

Projecting a market-value contract for the Montero depends on what you think about his true-talent level. He finished fourth per WAR among catchers last season (counting Mike Napoli as a catcher) — and is sixth among catchers between 2009 and ’11. Still, a lot of that value comes from Montero’s strong 2011.

The FAN projections currently have Montero at 4.6 WAR in 550 plate appearances for 2012. Both numbers appear slightly optimistic: the former would be a career-high mark; the latter would fall short of Montero’s career-high plate-appearance total (from 2011) by just three. A more likely outcome is something in the 3.5-4.0 WAR range — i.e. about halfway between his three-year average of 3.0 WAR/year and peak of 4.3 in 2011. For the sake of this exercise, let’s say 4.0 for 2012, with a decline of 0.5 WAR each year after that (with the idea that catchers start their declines a couple years earlier than other field players).

In terms of years, analogous deals aren’t particularly easy to find. Probably the three most similar players to Montero — in terms of production and age — are Brian McCann, Yadier Molina, and Kurt Suzuki. Yet, all three of those players are still working on contract extensions that bought out their arbitration years and the first couple years of free agency. Carlos Ruiz, while several years older, is also still working on a deal that bought out his arb years. Napoli is also in his last year of arbitration.

Given the early declines of catchers, it’s unlikely that the Diamondbacks would be unwilling to sign Montero to anything longer than three years.

In the event that the two sides were to replace the recently signed one-year deal, here’s an estimate of what a three-year contract might look like for Montero (assuming ca. $5 million per win this year and 5% inflation):

Year	WAR	$/Win	Salary
2012	4.0	5.00	$20.0
2013	3.5	5.25	$18.4	
2014	3.0	5.52	$16.6
Total	10.5	----	$55.0

At first blush, that figure ($55.0 million) seems quite large. Considering that the last year of arbitration typically fetches a player about 80% of his market value, Montero’s $5.9 agreement would suggest something closer to ca. $7.5 million. That figure is more appropriate for a player worth about 1.5 WAR and would project to “only” $25 million over three years. If that represents Arizona’s ceiling, it’s very possible that Montero could find more money elsewhere.