There has been a lot of speculation whether David Wright will remain a New York Met. While the club still has a $16 million option on the 29-year-old third baseman for next season, Wright has been mentioned as a contract-extension candidate.
Whether he stays with the Mets — or he’s dealt to another team — it seems likely Wright would be locked up before hitting the free-agent market. Assuming that’s the case, he should be in for a large payday. Wright, however, could be looking for an extension in the $100 million range. And though Wright has been stellar throughout his career, $100 million is far from a guarantee.
So whose career could we compare to Wright’s? When we sort by similar third basemen, he’s in pretty elite company:
The above chart shows the top six WAR-earning third basemen, since 2000, and their production between their age-22 and age-29 season. Wright just entered his age-29 season, so his WAR total should increase — barring an injury or complete loss of skills. While this chart gives us a great idea of how awesome Wright has been during his career, it’s not especially helpful when determining what type of contract extension he should receive.
There’s absolutely no way Wright — or anyone else, for that matter — will receive the $275 million extension that Alex Rodriguez signed in 2008. Miguel Cabrera’s eight-year, $152 million extension isn’t much better, either, since Cabrera signed that deal as a 25-year-old. Scott Rolen may have signed his $90 million extension around the same age as Wright, but that deal was made in 2003. In fact, the market has changed so much since 2003 that it’s nearly impossible to compare it to deals handed out on the current market. Eric Chavez’s $66 million contract falls into the same category. And Adrian Beltre has only gotten free-agent deals, which makes him a poor comparison.
To determine a more accurate comparison for Wright, we can look at recent deals that third basemen have signed. Earlier this year, both Ryan Zimmerman and Pablo Sandoval agreed to contract extensions. Sandoval is a poor comparison, though, since his extension just bought out his arbitration years. And while Zimmerman’s deal with the Washington Nationals isn’t perfect, it’s probably the best option we have.
This February, Zimmerman signed an eight-year, $126 million extension. Zimmerman was coming off his age-26 season, meaning the length and money for that deal might not completely translate to Wright — especially considering how much Wright has struggled the last two years.
After averaging 6.19 WAR in his first five season, Wright has averaged just 2.95 WAR the past two years. Much of that drop in production can be attributed to a back injury, which limited Wright to just 102 games last season. If Wright hopes to make $100 million, he’s going to have to show that he’s over his injury. Another season of simply adequate production would substantially drive down Wright’s price.
When we look at how each player compares to each other through their age-26 seasons, Wright emerges as the better player.
What’s interesting about Zimmerman’s contract extension is that it actually won’t kick-in until Zimmerman begins his age-29 season. Zimmerman was already under contract with the Nationals through 2013, so the extension was tacked on to his current deal. So when Zimmerman turns 29, he’ll make $14 million; Wright, by comparison, will make $15.2 million this year.
Following his age-29 season, Zimmerman will be paid $86 million during the next five years. That’s probably about what Wright should expect if he stays healthy, but struggles to produce great numbers. Teams will probably shy away from offering him big money since he would be two full seasons removed from his last strong year. If Wright is able to churn out a bounce-back season, he’ll be in good shape entering extension talks. And since Wright was better than Zimmerman early in his career, there’s a good chance Wright will ask for more money and potentially an additional year.
Provided that Wright is able to rebound, asking for a six-year, $100 million contract extension wouldn’t be out of the question. Based on how much value Wright produces this year, it’s possible that the number could rise to about $120 million. But if Wright struggles — or his back issues return — there’s no chance his extension will reach $100 million.
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