The Florida Marlins don’t officially get a new name and logo until this Friday, but they are already working overtime on creating a new identity for their franchise. Over the past few weeks, there has been so much excitement swirling around the Marlins: new stadium, new uniforms, new identity, new payroll, new optimism. They are looking like a team reborn. So long with those small market days; the Marlins have been talking like they’re ready to jump to mid-market status, maintaining a payroll around the $80-100 million level.
So when I first heard this morning’s rumor that the Marlins are preparing to offer Jose Reyes a three-year deal, I had to chuckle to myself. There’s the small market Marlins we know and love (/not really). They can talk the talk all they want, but if they’re not going to make serious offers to any of the players they are “interested” in, little has changed in the end. They can create a short-term stir, but words will only take them so far without corresponding actions.
After the giggles went away, though, I began to have a new-found appreciation for the Marlins. This deal isn’t stupid, nor is it likely to be ignored by Reyes. In fact, a three-year deal may be perfect for him.
It feels odd to consider Reyes signing for only three years, as he’s one of the biggest names on the free agent market this season. The best players on the market rarely sign for fewer than five years, and the contract crowdsourcing here at FanGraphs suggested he’ll sign for around 6 years at $17.5 million per year ($105m total value). That’d make Reyes the highest paid shortstop in baseball at the moment, and would be the second most lucrative contract ever given to a shortstop (by AAV, at least). If he can get a deal like that, why would he ever sign for less?
Two words: maximizing profits. If Reyes signs a six year deal, it will likely be the last major contract he signs. He just finished his age 28 season, meaning with a six year deal, he would become a free agent again after his age 34 season. Could Reyes get another large contract at that point in his career? Certainly. Derek Jeter is currently making $17 million a year from ages 36-38, so anything is possible. I just wouldn’t necessarily bet on Reyes getting that another big deal based on a few points:
- Shortstops don’t generally age well. Even star shortstops normally get moved off the position by the time they hit their mid-to-late 30s, and Reyes would lose a large chunk of his value if he needed to be moved to third base or the outfield. Derek Jeter is the exception to the norm, and we all know there are extenuating circumstances keeping him at short.
- Reyes has a checkered injury history, so I wonder how well he will hold up as he gets older. Fast players age slightly better than other players, but six years is a long time for any player to remain healthy. It seems likely that Reyes would be considered an albatross by the time his six year deal was finished…or at the very least, well overpaid.
If he’s lucky and remains healthy, Reyes’ best-case scenario at that point would be to receive a deal like Jeter’s current one: three years, $17m per season. Market inflation would work in his favor, and he might find a team willing to tack on another year, but I still see that as a very optimistic projection.
What is Reyes decided to sign a three-year deal now, though? The Marlins sound ready to offer him a three-year deal worth over $20 million a year, which would make him the highest paid shortstop (AAV again) ever. More to the point, though, Reyes would have just finished his age 31 season when that contract expires. Coming off three peak seasons, Reyes could be putting himself in a prime position to make another large payday. Assuming he stays healthy and produces over the next few years — it’s easier to stay healthy for three years than six, especially when those years are in the middle of your physical peak — he could hit the market as a star shortstop, and still command a five or six year contract.
Of course, this line of reasoning is risky. He’d be passing on around $40 million right now, with the hope that he could make that back in spades the next time he hits the market. It’d be a relatively safe bet, though, as I think this chart generally shows:
As I said above, a three year, $17m contract at 35 years old seem quite optimistic, and I think Reyes could easily command more than $15m per year when signing his next deal. The market will have grown — thanks in part to his own deal — and he could be just as big a target as he is this offseason. Even if he doesn’t make quite $15m/year in his second deal, it’s also worth remembering that Florida doesn’t charge a personal income tax, so he would be able to retain more of his salary there than he would elsewhere.
So what will Reyes decide to do? Only time will tell, but I think this is a smart move by the Marlins. They may have to shell out more money for Reyes in the short term, but signing him to a three year deal would minimize the risk of his contract becoming a long term burden. And who knows, Reyes may actually find a three-year deal to be quite an attractive possibility.