Oakland Extends Cahill

Locking up young players shortly after they reach the majors is all the rage these days in Major League Baseball. It should come as no surprise then that the Oakland Athletics locked up Trevor Cahill on Monday. Looking to build on his breakout season, Cahill signed a 5 year deal worth approximately $30.5 million. Oakland also holds two team options on Cahill valued at $13 million and $13.5 million. Despite Cahill’s 2010 breakout, he’s been a popular regression candidate this season. With that in mind, was Cahill a good candidate for an extension?

There have been a number of young pitchers locked up to similar deals recently, meaning we have a lot of comparable contracts to look at when evaluating this deal. Cahill’s recent extension is shockingly similar to that of Jon Lester, Ricky Romero, Clay Buchholz and Yovani Gallardo. Each one of those pitchers signed five-year extensions for about $30 million (to a tee). Cahill, however, doesn’t compare favorably when he’s put up against those pitchers. By the time each of the above pitchers had signed their extensions, all of them had posted a higher single season WAR than Cahill. Cahill also carries the lowest K/9 rate of all these starters, which isn’t necessarily something to be concerned about with Cahill.

Even if he rates as the worst of the above group (which is, admittedly, a pretty strong group of pitcher), his deal is team-friendly. As many FanGraphs’ readers are aware, 1 win is worth approximately $5 million. Last season, Cahill was worth 2.2 WAR, good for a little over $10 million. For those of you counting at home, Cahill earned more than a third of his new contract in 2010. Even though he’s a candidate for regression this season, Cahill has the skills that should make this deal a bargain for the A’s.

If Cahill can improve on his breakout season, Oakland will have a complete steal on their hands. Only 23, Cahill’s strikeouts in the minors haven’t translated to the big leagues quite yet. If he does manage to find his strikeout pitch, however, Cahill has the potential to be one of the strongest starters in the AL. For a pitcher like Cahill, who was always regarded as a top prospect, it would be foolish to completely count out further improvement.

If Cahill can increase his strikeout rate, Oakland should have no problem exercising his options. As Dave Cameron explained recently, adding team options to the end of a deal often benefits the team. If Cahill turns into a pumpkin, Oakland isn’t bogged down by a terrible contract. If Cahill continues to excel, however, Oakland will severely underpay him over the length of this deal (and the prime of his career).

As with most of these types of contracts, the team comes out on top again. Cahill may have a few more concerns than some of the other pitchers that received similar deals, but that shouldn’t stop him from outperforming his recent extension (barring a devastating injury). The fact that Oakland holds two team options on Cahill further sweetens the deal for the A’s. Even if Cahill is terrible over the course of the contract, Oakland won’t pay him much per season and can decline his option once he reaches that point.

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

21 Responses to “Oakland Extends Cahill”

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  1. Bryce says:

    Cahill isn’t a free agent, so $5M/win isn’t the right comparison point. How does this contract stack up against what the A’s would have been paying him if they’d gone year-to-year?

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    • wickethewok says:

      Plus, can the A’s afford to pay $5M/win?

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      Exactly. It’s not a bargain if better players at the same point in their careers have gotten similar contracts.

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      • Mr wOBAto says:

        So only one team can get a Bargain? If Bryce Harper signs a Longoria deal and reaches his ceiling the Natinels don’t get a bargain?

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      • Sam says:

        You say “exactly,” but you miss the point.

        The questions are 1) whether or not the A’s are likely to save money buy buying out the arbitration years as opposed to going year-to-year with Cahill, and 2) how much value is added by guaranteeing a free agent year and team options on two additional years.

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      • Matt says:

        It’s a bargain if it saves you money. If Cahill is an average (2 WAR/year) pitcher over the course of the deal, then it’s about right. That’s assuming the standard Fangraphs .4/.6/.8 arb compensation, which would mean the team was buying 2.8 years of performance (arb years + 1 free agent year) for 30 million. At 2 WAR/year and $5 million per win, that’s a slight overpay, but inflation probably evens it out.

        If Cahill does indeed bring his K rate up closer to his minor league levels, as danmerqury’s article over at AN suggests may be a possibility, then this is going to be a big bargain, even without considering the option years. Maybe not relative to Lester’s contract, but definitely so in that it will save the team a lot of money.

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  2. Matt says:

    I was surprised by how much guaranteed money Cahill got in this deal, because his past major league performance does not stack up well at all against those comps. The A’s must really think he’s going to bring his MLB K rate up closer to what he did in the minors.

    Could end up being an interesting example of blending sabermetrics with scouting to get the best possible projection for a player. If his K rate does spike this year, it’ll look like a genius move; in that case waiting would have cost the club big.

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  3. I think the point is this, even if Cahill is due for regression (which I think he is) and tops out as a fourth starter it is still a good deal. The arbitrators would have said here is a kid with 18 wins and Cy Young votes, and wouldn’t give two craps about his sabermetrics not being top-notch. I like the deal, I think Cahill is a tinkerer and I think he will continue to improve. Comparing him to Romero, Lester or Gallardo, he is two years younger. So that I think explains why he got more than those guys – though I figured he’d have come in at around 5/27.5.

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  4. Young Gung says:

    Everyone is quick to stamp Cahill along with someone like David Price for regression. I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but I think one thing that gets overlooked/discounted sometimes is that these type of pitchers are solid prospects that are not in their prime, or near their peak. Now Cahill’s #’s may have been a bit high, but to expect sizeable regression from someone like him you have to assume he pitches EXACTLY like he did last year. He’s too young in his career to assume that he won’t try to improve or make some type of adjustment.

    I think the deal was good, and knowing the A’s they’ll have value if they can contend and if they can’t I’m sure there are some contenders that would gladly ship solid prospects for Cahill considering his contract.

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  5. William O'Brien says:

    15 Ks in 12.6 IP so far. That rate won’t continue, but even a bump up to ~6.5 to 7 K/9 will go a long way if he keeps the lower walk rate from 2010/2011.

    The As probably expect to put out a quality defense over the length of the deal, so a groundballer like Cahill can get away with a worse FIP than the others and still prevent runs at a similar rate.

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  6. Danmay says:

    Just a few things I want to point out:

    1. Cahill accumulated 4.0 WAR according to B-Ref in 2010.

    2. I will echo what William said above; he has 15Ks already this year. Over at Athletics Nation danmerqury has shown the pitch f/x for 2009, 2010, and 2011 and can clearly show a change in Cahill’s pitch unsage. Mainly that he has been tinkering with his curve and using it more so far in 2011. Nothing conclusive, but definitely a good sign.

    3. If Cahill wasn’t a regression canidate (which I agree, he is) then his sub-3 ERA would make this contract look laughable cheap. Point is, I think his being overrated by traditional metrics has lead to his actual talent being underrated.

    4. I’m surprised that you didn’t spend more time comparing him to Bucholtz, becaus there careers have been remarkable similar, even if Bucholtz didn’t experience quite as many growing pains in 2009.

    5. Can they please sign Gio now?

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    • Danmay says:

      *because their

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    • Tim_the_Beaver says:

      glad you brought up #2
      certainly it’s a small sample size alert, but Cahill did have strikeout success in the minors, and from what I’ve read his curveball was a significant part of that. Him bringing that pitch back into the fold seems to be a positive development so far

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  7. Mr wOBAto says:

    So Cahill to STL for Cox, and Miller in 2013?

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  8. beaneball says:

    I don’t know how many people have actually watched Cahill pitch considering the the A’s don’t get much television coverage; but he has some of the most natural movement I’ve seen in current pitchers. He has sustainable stuff that wont cause him to flounder when his velocity starts going down. I think the deal was great for the A’s who do a very good job developing top pitching prospects and rarely do these pitchers regress considerably

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    • Htpp says:

      I have to agree with this. Please, please watch him pitch if you haven’t. His movement is unreal.

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      • JTKingdon says:

        I will also attest to this as an avid A’s fan. He has tons of potential, and getting that K/9 up would be tremendous, but he does pitch in one of the best pitcher’s parks in baseball. In another article ( http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/cahill-and-babip/ ), Cahill was noted to have: 56% GB%, 14.9% LD%, 29.1% FB%, .217 BABIP. That was from 8/26/10, and hopefully he only improves on those stats.

        What I would really like to see the A’s do, as mentioned in a previous post, is sign Gio on for another 4+ years. This would give the A’s Anderson, Cahill, and Gio all wrapped up as a 1-2-3 punch, similar to the Hudson, Mulder, Zito era I grew up in.

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  9. ImKeithHernandez says:

    I could be missing something here, but I assume people think Cahill will regress so much since his ERA was much better than his FIP and xFIP. But I wonder if staying in the same park and having similar (if not the same) defense behind him would mean he is able to sustain that gap between ERA and FIP/xFIP. I see his BABIP was extremely low, but in general, if a pitcher (ie:Matt Cain) has a low BABIP but stays in the same park with similar defense, wouldn’t their ERA be more reliable for predicting future performance?

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    • Danmay says:

      Based upon everything that I’ve read about Cahill – and that’s quite a lot over at Athletics Nation – roughly half of the difference between his ERA and FIP can be explained by defense and park. That’s not an exact number, but it gives you a good idea.

      Regarding BABIP, yes some pitchers seem to be able to sustain somewhat lower BABIP; however, (1) that ususally applies to flyball pitchers, like Cain, not a groundball machine like Cahill, and (2) nobody sustains a BABIP as low as Cahill’s 2010.

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