The Perils of Very Long Contract Extensions for Pitchers

On the morning after the opening game of the season, the first Australia game between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, I had a phone conversation with a scouting friend. The first thing out of both our mouths was basically the same – “Did you see Kershaw? 88 MPH! Didn’t look comfortable on the mound. Seemed to be laboring, etc., etc., etc..” Clayton Kershaw most certainly did not look like himself that day, and now will not likely pitch until May due to an upper back injury. While this may – hopefully – turn out to be nothing more than a minor blip in his overall career body of work, the fact that he only recently signed a record (for a pitcher) seven-year, $215M contract extension is the elephant in the room.

What if Kershaw’s days as a force of nature are over, or numbered? Why has the industry’s perfectly understandable previous aversion to extremely long contract extensions for pitchers seemingly been cast aside? What does the future hold for the recent beneficiaries – like Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander – of the clubs’ recent change in approach? Let’s take a look at some names from the game’s past to get a feel for these pitchers’ respective futures.

First, let’s take a look at a snapshot of how Kershaw, Hernandez and Verlander get it done. Below are grids of their percentile ranks indicating the respective frequency of each of the six key plate appearance outcomes – K’s, BB’s, popups, fly balls, line drives and ground balls – against them over the past six years. Batted ball authority is not taken into account at all here, though we will briefly discuss it later. These numbers alone – from 1, indicating lowest in the majors, to 99, indicating the highest – paint an accurate portrait of a pitcher or hitter qualitatively. As explained in last week’s Cabrera/Trout articles, they’re baseball’s equivalent of “technical merit” scores.

Kershaw PCT K PCT BB PCT POP PCT FLY PCT LD PCT GB
2008 78 86 30 8 76 82
2009 98 99 90 52 54 23
2010 94 81 95 53 15 29
2011 97 19 73 71 8 48
2012 97 50 59 57 8 61
2013 93 16 69 16 84 60
—– —– —– —– —– —– —–
F.Hernandez PCT K PCT BB PCT POP PCT FLY PCT LD PCT GB
2008 82 77 17 33 29 82
2009 87 35 11 18 12 91
2010 89 31 14 13 22 92
2011 88 42 25 30 35 79
2012 91 32 55 15 66 68
2013 95 18 24 26 52 82
—– —– —– —– —– —– —–
Verlander PCT K PCT BB PCT POP PCT FLY PCT LD PCT GB
2008 66 81 95 76 40 14
2009 97 18 76 81 92 10
2010 91 43 83 37 68 37
2011 95 21 89 83 21 21
2012 94 33 91 31 84 29
2013 87 67 91 56 73 15

In a nutshell, this information shows why these three are truly elite. Kershaw’s K percentile ranks are consistently near the top of the scale, and his control, once a distinct liability, has also grown to become a clear strength. Over the last few years his ground ball rate has increased while his fly ball rate has declined, another positive. His line drive rate spiked upward in 2013 after three seasons near the bottom of the scale. His popup rate has been above average for five consecutive seasons.

Hernandez’ K rate has been very high over the entire period being measured, while his BB rate has steadily moved in a positive direction, also becoming a true strength. He has always been a ground ball pitcher, though not as extreme in that regard over the most recent three years as compared to the previous three. His line drive rates have crept up over time, and have been above MLB average the last two seasons.

Verlander’s K rates have also been consistently strong, though his control in 2013 was the worst it has been in years. His popup rates have always been near the top of the scale. He has always been a fly ball pitcher, with low ground ball percentile ranks. He has allowed high line drive rates in four of the last five seasons, with his percentile ranks ranging from 68 to 92.

All have multiple clear strengths, as well as limited areas of imperfection. Their ability to rack up K’s and limit BB’s gives them room for error with regard to their batted-ball frequencies, but they possess clear batted-ball frequency strengths as well, allowing them to be great, instead of merely good.

These three are not being paid for what they have already done, however. They are being paid – very handsomely, and for a very long time into the future – for what they are going to do. Kershaw is being paid $215M over seven years, through 2020. Felix Hernandez is being paid $175M over seven years, through 2019. Justin Verlander is being paid $219.5M over 10 years, through 2019. I don’t necessarily believe that these three are being overpaid, in terms of their annual salaries. Kershaw’s 2013 performance supports even a massive $30M/year salary. My concern is with the duration of these contracts. What will these guys be in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020?

For each of these three star pitchers, let’s attempt to isolate a group of pitchers at the same age and experience level, with at least vaguely similar talent, and see how their careers as a group played out.

Kershaw was 25 in 2013, and has pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title in a total of five seasons. 37 starting pitchers, going back to 1901, meet this age/experience criteria. Of this group, 10 fit into a broad range of talent/accomplishment that would include Kershaw. All 10 pitchers below logged fairly heavy workloads through age 25, and had K rates exceeding the league average, some like Kershaw, by a significant margin. Many, like Kershaw, had command issues early in their career, and then gradually improved in that area through age 25. We aren’t solely looking for extremely close comps performance-wise – we are looking for a “family” of pitchers at the same age/experience level who share some discernible traits.

Age 25, 5 Yrs Age 25 Seas PEAK LAST AGE # QUAL ERA+ TO 25 ERA+ POST-25
Kershaw 2013 25 5 158
Hoeft 1957 23-25 25 5 103 N/A
Du.Leonard 1917 21-23 29 9 149 105
S.McDowell 1968 25-27 29 9 136 118
McLain 1969 23-25 27 6 122 81
Mungo 1936 24-26 34 8 112 116
C.Simmons 1954 23-25 36 13 123 117
Sutton 1970 26-28 42 22 96 117
Tanana 1978 22-24 40 18 127 100
M.Witt 1986 23-25 28 8 123 95
SJ.Wood 1915 20-22 25 5 162 N/A

An eclectic mix of pitchers, to be sure. And before you dismiss them as wholly inferior to Kershaw, please consider that: 1) One is a Hall of Famer (Don Sutton); 2) Two won 30 games in a season (Denny McLain, Smoky Joe Wood); 3) One had an 0.96 ERA in a qualifying season (Dutch Leonard); 4) One was one of the most dominant 22-24 year-old pitchers ever (Frank Tanana); 5) One once struck out 1652 batters over a six-year span (Sam McDowell), and 6) Another very quietly won 193 games in his career (Curt Simmons). All but three of these pitchers had already completed their three-year peak period by age 25, and only one (Sutton) had yet to begin his.

What did they do, as a group, after age 25? Two, Billy Hoeft and Wood, never again qualified for an ERA title. Hoeft, likely the weakest pitcher of the group, moved into the bullpen and had some success. Wood – who was a better pitcher than Kershaw through age 25 – was overused in his early 20’s, and his career was essentially over at age 25.

Of the other eight pitchers, six performed worse after age 25 than before. Of the six decliners, all but Simmons performed markedly worse, and none compiled better than a 118 ERA+ over their remaining qualifying seasons. Of the two who improved after age 25, Van Lingle Mungo did so by a negligible margin, and Sutton – the only one in this group who qualified for ERA titles in each of the next seven seasons, the period covered by Kershaw’s contract – evolved from a promising young pitcher with good peripherals into an unprecedentedly durable Hall of Famer, with 22 consecutive ERA-qualifying seasons.

Among the five “big decliners” are some interesting stories. McDowell was beset by arm trouble and off-field issues, and was essentially done by age 30. Tanana was grotesquely overused early in his career – he completed 14 straight games in 1977, which instantaneously transformed him from a dominator into a finesse pitcher, albeit one with a long shelf life. Denny McLain won 31 games in 1968 at age 24, and promptly saw his career and personal life go off of a cliff.

Overall, these 10 pitchers on average qualified for their last ERA title at age 32 – the age Kershaw will reach in the last year of his contract – and averaged five ERA-qualifying seasons after age 25. They averaged a 14% decline in their ERA+ in their post-age-25 seasons, a decline Kershaw can afford coming off a pre-age-25 average of 158. He is fighting against history if he is to remain a 120+ ERA+ performer after age 25, however, a level that none of these 10 historical peers – even Sutton – was able to reach.

Now, let’s talk about Felix, who last year qualified for his eighth ERA title at age 27. He’s keeping pretty fast company here, as he is one of only 13 pitchers since 1901 with that same age/experience combination. Of those 12 peers, we’ll toss out five who clearly don’t belong – and that group includes a Hall of Famer (Catfish Hunter) and two 200-game winners (Mel Harder and Milt Pappas). The seven pitchers remaining – well, they’re six Hall of Famers and Dwight Gooden.

Age 27, 8 Yrs Age 27 Seas PEAK LAST AGE # QUAL ERA+ TO 25 ERA+ POST-25
F.Hernandez 2013 27 8 131
C.Bender 1911 25-27 31 12 121 110
Drysdale 1964 25-27 31 12 128 113
Eckersley 1982 22-24 31 11 121 101
Gooden 1992 19-21 31 10 129 109
W.Johnson 1915 23-25 38 18 186 152
C.Mathewson 1908 27-29 34 15 147 149
Newhouser 1948 23-25 31 11 154 113

First of all, no one can say that Felix is overqualified for this peer group – according to ERA+ through age 27, at least, he fits smack in the middle of the pack. All of these pitchers carried comparably heavy workloads through age 27, had very impressive K rates and above average command. All but Christy Mathewson had completed their respective peak periods by the end of their age 27 season, and he had already begun his.

How did they fare after age 27? Well, unlike Kershaw’s group, none of them immediately went away. All had ERA-qualifying seasons as late as age 31, and all had at least three ERA-qualifying seasons ahead of them. Five of the seven, however, had only four more ERA-qualifying seasons – and Felix is to be paid $25M per season for the next six seasons. On average, these seven pitchers averaged five more qualifying seasons, with an average age of 32 in their final qualifying season.

How about the quality of those post-age-27 seasons? Both the Felix and Kershaw groups experienced a 14% decline in ERA+, from 141 before the age/experience cutoff to 121 afterward. The decline among this group was fairly uniform across the board with the exception of Hal Newhouser, who enjoyed his pre-age-25 peak period against wartime competition. Mathewson is likely the best-case scenario for Hernandez – he remained quite close to his peak level through age 32. He is the only member of this group to continue to qualify for ERA titles each year through his age-33 season – the last one covered by Hernandez’ current contract. Oh, and Walter Johnson, likely the best pitcher of all time, is in this group, so there’s that.

Lastly, let’s look at Verlander, who in 2013 qualified for his eighth ERA title at age 30. This is not nearly as exclusive a group historically, as 47 pitchers since 1901 share this age/experience combination. Of this group, 20 can reasonably be selected as a peer group for Verlander in terms of mileage and relative strikeout/walk frequency. Like Kershaw’s, this is a very mixed group, containing both stars and guys who seemed destined to be stars at one point in time.

Age 30, 8 Yrs Age 30 Seas PEAK LAST AGE # QUAL ERA+ TO 25 ERA+ POST-25
Verlander 2013 30 8 133
Ames 1913 27-29 35 13 115 104
An.Benes 1998 28-30 32 10 113 95
Candelaria 1984 23-25 30 8 123 N/A
Clemens 1993 27-29 42 19 157 153
Feller 1949 20-22 34 12 134 104
Grimes 1924 34-36 37 15 112 117
Hendrix 1919 23-25 31 9 119 89
Koufax 1966 28-30 30 8 151 N/A
Lolich 1971 30-32 35 13 106 107
Marichal 1968 26-28 35 13 136 120
Marquard 1917 24-26 36 13 117 99
P.Martinez 2002 27-29 33 11 189 158
Matlack 1980 22-24 30 8 125 N/A
Messersmith 1976 27-29 30 8 127 N/A
Mussina 1999 23-25 39 16 134 121
Pascual 1964 27-29 34 10 127 103
Podres 1963 24-26 30 8 112 N/A
Swindell 1995 26-28 30 8 110 N/A
Viola 1990 27-29 33 11 122 119
Welch 1987 28-30 36 13 115 104

Again, you can’t call Verlander overqualified for his group – there are eight Hall of Famers or HOF talents here (Roger Clemens, Bob Feller, Burleigh Grimes, Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal, Rube Marquard, Pedro Martinez and Mike Mussina). All of the 20 with the possible exception of Greg Swindell were big K guys for their respective eras, and Swindell’s command more than compensates. All but Grimes and Mickey Lolich had completed their peak periods by age 30, and Lolich began his at that age. I feel comfortable saying that Justin Verlander’s three-year peak is behind us – that might also be the case with Kershaw at 25 and Felix at 27, but I certainly feel much more comfortable saying it about Verlander at 30.

How did this group fare after age 30? Six of the 20 – John Candelaria, Sandy Koufax, Jon Matlack, Andy Messersmith, Johnny Podres and Greg Swindell – never again qualified for an ERA title. Koufax retired at this peak, Candelaria and Swindell went on to have successful extended careers as lefty relievers, while the other three succumbed to a combination of injury and ineffectiveness. Five more hurlers (Andy Benes, Claude Hendrix, Pedro Martinez, Camilo Pascual and Frank Viola) had three or fewer ERA-qualifying seasons ahead of them at age 30.

Of the remaining nine, only three could truly be classified as post-age-30 success stories – Clemens, Grimes and Mussina. Clemens is an inner-circle great whose decline phase may have been softened by PEDs. Grimes was the last spitballer. Mussina, for some reason that I cannot fathom, is almost universally underappreciated. He is the only one among this group who qualified for ERA titles each and every year from age 31 through age 36, the age through which Verlander’s contract runs.

As a group, these pitchers combined for an average of three ERA-qualifying seasons after age 30, and on average posted their last such season at age 34. Justin Verlander will be very well-compensated – though not nearly as much so as Kershaw and Hernandez – through age 36. Very similarly to the other two groups, these pitchers’ average ERA+ declined by 12% from 129 through age 30 to 114 in their qualifying seasons afterward.

A contributing factor to the three current-day pitchers’ aging trends will be their ability to manage contact. Very quickly, let’s examine their production allowed by BIP type for 2013 to make an assessment for their current skill in that department.

PROD
Kershaw AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD ACT ERA CALC ERA TRU ERA
FLY 0.190 0.469 42 57
LD 0.571 0.671 69 87
GB 0.203 0.244 80 97
ALL BIP 0.265 0.376 61 79
ALL PA 0.192 0.239 0.273 53 65 1.83 2.04 2.52
F.Hernandez AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD ACT ERA CALC ERA TRU ERA
FLY 0.264 0.682 85 101
LD 0.739 0.991 129 105
GB 0.227 0.251 93 101
ALL BIP 0.330 0.488 99 97
ALL PA 0.238 0.281 0.352 78 77 3.04 3.04 2.98
Verlander AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD ACT ERA CALC ERA TRU ERA
FLY 0.281 0.667 87 93
LD 0.696 0.889 110 105
GB 0.264 0.277 121 109
ALL BIP 0.336 0.497 103 101
ALL PA 0.249 0.311 0.368 92 91 3.46 3.55 3.51

Kershaw was the contact management star of the three in 2013. He allowed extremely weak fly ball contact (actual relative production of 42, scaled to MLB average of 100, adjusted for context to 57) – even the liners he allowed were relatively weak (87 adjusted for context). He allowed 79 adjusted relative production on all BIP, second best in the majors to Justin Masterson (75).

On the other hand, Hernandez and Verlander were basically MLB-average contact managers last season – they relied primarily on their K and BB rates for their excellence. Both have had greater contact management success in the past – Hernandez used to allow much weaker ground balls on average in the past then he did last year, for example. Still, Kershaw had more weapons – bat-missing, command AND contact management – at his disposal than did the others in 2013. As perusal of these comp lists might suggest, however, injury can wipe out all of those weapons in one fell swoop.

Last week in this space, I wrote articles about Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, which included two lists of comparable players through the two stars’ respective current ages. Tony Conigliaro stood out like a sore thumb on Trout’s comp list – he was that much of an outlier. There sure are a lot of “Conigliaro’s” on the above lists. Pitchers, even the very best of them, are very fragile creatures. Like Smoky Joe Wood. Like Johan Santana. Like Brandon Webb, and many of those referenced here today. Doing that they do is a very unnatural act physically, and their attrition rate greatly exceeds that of position players.

There is nothing wrong with paying premium dollars to premium talent, but there is something inherently inefficient in paying premium dollars for an inordinate number of years, multiple years before a club has to do so. As for the argument that the dollars and years will continue to grow indefinitely, and that these contracts will seem a mere pittance before long, I refer you to the stock market crash of 1929, the dot-com and housing bubbles, etc. – when money no longer seems to be an issue, it tends to become one in a big way. The vast majority of big-dollar, long-duration position players contracts have not gone very well. Don’t expect it to be any better now that the pitchers are in on the action.




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43 Responses to “The Perils of Very Long Contract Extensions for Pitchers”

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  1. Big Daddy V says:

    The problem with comparing pitcher longevity across eras is the great advancements that have been made recently in surgery and training. Today we can keep a lot of players healthy who would have had to retire 40 years ago.

    Not that I’m saying pitchers will definitely, or even have a good chance of getting back to their previous level after being hurt. I don’t have that information.

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    • toot toot says:

      Right, we’ve made such great advancements, which is why pitcher injuries are down, and guys have longer careers than ever, right?

      oh

      oh…

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      • The Smithey says:

        Big daddys right though, Tommy john surgery didnt even exist till the mid 70s and I dont know how long it took for it to become common

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    • Dave says:

      Even with all these “advances” (Really, Tommy John is the only significant advance in my opinion) there is a lot of attrition with pitchers and there always will be. It’s a simple fact: contracts for pitchers are riskier than contracts for hitters.

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  2. MrKnowNothing says:

    Sigh. You didn’t address the question you posed: WHY?

    I’m sure the Dodgers and everyone else would like to have them on one year deals with a bunch of team options. But they can’t. It takes ONE TEAM to upset the contract apple cart. One. That’s it.

    Teams aren’t giving out stupid big contracts to the wrong guys. Santana basically didn’t have any offers – and he wanted $100mm. These teams are taking risks – big risks because they’re pitchers – but they’re taking them on THE pitchers you’d want to take a risk on. A lefty who has been the best of the best of the best who is in his mid 20s and whose contract would expire when he’s in the first half of his 30s? You take that chance – especially of yours not the Rays or A’s.

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  3. Satoshi Nakamoto says:

    Is there a different style of sports contract that can avoid players loafing and taking it easy after they sign? Is it impossible for owners and players unions to adjust the terms so players can’t just tank the very next year after becoming wealthy? Pujols, Carl Crawford, Kemp..

    Are there examples of sports stars who signed massive long term contracts that didn’t regress significantly?

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    • dl80 says:

      I’m not sure we can say that Pujols, Crawford, and Kemp necessarily “loafed it” after signing. All suffered major lingering injuries. Now maybe we could argue that they could have done more to play through them, and maybe they really did loaf it. And maybe others who declined precipitously after a big contract (Hamilton, Soriano, others) also got lazy with conditioning or lifting or such.

      But I think it’s much more likely that 1) we are only remembering the big contracts that didn’t work out, and 2) because these guys are getting huge contracts after lots of production, they are almost by definition going to be on the downside of their career.

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      • tz says:

        Absolutely. Pujols and Crawford have long been viewed as hard-working and super-proud guys who value their reputation too much to loaf. Kemp must be as well or he wouldn’t be so adamant about playing every day.

        I wonder if instead, guys who just signed long-term deals suffer from either:

        – Anxiety over the expectations of the contract (this supposedly was the key factor in ARod taking PEDs after his big contract with Texas)
        – Teams treating their big $ stars with a little too much “kid gloves”. Pure speculation on my part, but what if a team told a star player not to do any conditioning work not dictated by team personnel, and that player’s conditioning or performance suffers.

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    • psualum says:

      That feels remarkably unfair.. All 3 guys you mentioned “tanked” because of injuries, something none of those guys can control. If you’ve heard anything in the media in the last week you would know that Kemp isn’t trying to skate his way to millions, he could have easily let the Dodgers make him a 4th outfielder and just hang out eat sunflower seeds and collect $$$ but he told them there isn’t a chance in hell he would accept that. Thats not the attitude of a contract tanker.

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    • Tom Cranker says:

      As to question 1 re different “styles” of sports contracts – the NFL has non-guaranteed contracts which can be terminated if a player underachieves.

      As to question 2 re people who signed massive contracts and didn’t regress – Felix Hernandez, Andrew McCutchen, and Paul Goldschmidt are making the Ms, Pirates, and D-Backs pretty happy right now. Pretty sure Trout will be fine, too. But the fact that most “massive” contracts tend to come after a player reaches free agency sort of biases the sample. By the time a player reaches free agency, they’re usually at an age where regression is very likely in the next few years.

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      • Johnston says:

        So where is the logic in giving big-dollar, long-duration contracts to players on the edge of regression?

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        • Jason B says:

          “Hey, look at the numbers that guy put up!! Who cares that it was three years ago and he’s 32! He could do that again! Best shape of his LIFE, I hear!”

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    • Tom Cranker says:

      Just one other point on the different “styles” of contracts – I would assume that if contracts could be “adjusted” for players who “tank,” then contracts like McCutchen’s and Goldschmidt’s could also be “adjusted” when they completely outperform them? Or is this the management Happy Hour? Players down the hall?

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    • Jim Price says:

      Cabrera, Miguel (first Tigers contract)

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  4. PWR says:

    remember when we all mocked the Tulo extension, saying it made no sense since he was already resigned?

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  5. Barrett says:

    That last part re: bubbles is something I’m surprised fewer analysts have brought up over the last few years. It does seem as though, like one of the previous commenters mentioned, a few teams are driving the increased FA prices despite the cost of a player’s controlled years remaining relatively flat.

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  6. Matt Moore says:

    Hey, guys! Am I late to the party?

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  7. maqman says:

    An overlooked factor is the radar gun. Now every pitch can be measured and every pitcher judged by it. Didn’t used to be a factor and they were judged by results not process. It is not a small factor in the booming Tommy John surgery epidemic. Pitchers know they need to throw hard all the time, even from a young age. Their bodies are simply not developed enough to withstand the excessive strain they place on it. Long term pitcher contracts are a suckers bet.

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  8. Ruki Motomiya says:

    “What if Kershaw’s days as a force of nature are over, or numbered?”

    What if Albert Pujol’s days are numbered or ver? What if Ryan Braun’s thumb continues to bother him and his days as a force of nature are over and numbered? I’m using heavy bias here, as I am selecting only players that have had issues after all, but ANY long term, high priced contract is a risk. Pitchers are only, what, 34% more likely to be injured than hitters, right? I think that level of risk is acceptable when you get a player of Kershaw’s talent level: Definitely the best in his league, only 26 years old, if he is useless in the last two years of his contract or so than it fits in just fine with position player contracts where the back end is a bit poor. Plus, even if Kershaw is injured, he might not be SEVERELY injured: We’ll have to see how he looks when he returns from the injury.

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  9. RC says:

    ” Why has the industry’s perfectly understandable previous aversion to extremely long contract extensions for pitchers seemingly been cast aside?”

    Because it’s the only way to get them, aside from having lucked into finding one in the draft 3 or 4 years ago.

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    • Richie says:

      No, the Dodgers, Mariners and Tigers could’ve each thanked their former ace for his years of service, then spent the massive $$$ savings in far more productive ways. The change Tony’s identified is real, a few years back Kershaw et.al. would’ve gotten $$$ massive 5-year deals, but no more than that.

      I’d suggest the ‘principal agent’ problem is at work here. Teams (a la the Cards/Pujols and Rangers/Hamilton) will very much make out by letting their Big Stars go once they’ve used up their pre-free agent Golden years. A GM who does so will get fired by the press and fans unless Big Star does go into the tank immediately in his new digs (“Didn’t you see how great he was all those years?!?” “How could you not see how important he was to our beloved franchise!?!”). He can only do so if he’s absolutely sure the owner has his back. Otherwise he’ll be treated like the player. “Thanks for that great service, now it’s in my best interests to just let you go. Bye.”

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      • Tom Cranker says:

        That strategy works if you can replace pujols with Matt Adams and Allen Craig. When you don’t have nice replacements like that, you end up with Brian Roberts playing second base and all those savings will go to nice vacations in October.

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        • Richie says:

          No, all those nice savings will go into some other hole in your lineup, or tying up your Young Star through his 20s, or enabling you to afford someone else’s salary dump come July, or maybe just next year when you have somewhere cost-effective to put them.

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      • RC says:

        “No, the Dodgers, Mariners and Tigers could’ve each thanked their former ace for his years of service,”

        You have to have pitchers.

        And you can’t just say “Draft and develop better” because that’s not a fix for right now, its a fix for 5 years out.

        It think people seem to be forgetting that basically league average guys are now getting 5yr/80M deals.

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  10. Kyle says:

    I’d like to see a team make an approach to offer massive amounts of money for 3-4 years. Like instead of Kershaw getting $215/7y (about $31M/year), offer him $105M/3y (or about $35M/year). Kershaw isn’t the best example because he’s still young, but someone who’s age 29/30 might be a better option for that (ie Cano?)

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    • Tom Cranker says:

      What would make you think someone like Cano would take a 3 year $105 million contract instead of the $240 million deal he got?

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      • Johnston says:

        If no team was dumb enough to offer him a big-dollar, long-duration contract then he would take what he could get.

        Fortunately for his bankbook, he found a team dumb enough to do it.

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        • Tom Cranker says:

          Of course if the higher yearly salary, shorter length contract were the most lucrative then the player would take it. The point is that players in 30 year old age range that Kyle is describing ARE getting much more lucrative long term deals. You can’t just pretend that won’t happen.

          It’s not just the Ms being “stupid” either. Choo and Ellsbury are a similar age to Cano and got long term deals from the Rangers and Yankees.

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        • RC says:

          The real problem is that the further you go out, the less the player wants to leave it open to chance.

          IE, Cano is willing to take a lot less money for the next couple years to make sure he gets his money for the last couple…

          IE, if we’re talking about a 30 year old signing a 10 year 300M deal, if you wanted to give him just 3 years, you wouldn’t be looking at something like $115M/3 (35M vs 30M), you’d be looking at something like 3/$210.

          Why? Because an FA at 33 is a whole lot less attractive than at 30. For a 10yr/300M deal, the team may be looking at the years as something like :$ 60M,55M,45M,35M,30M,25M,20M,15M,10M,5M

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        • octelium says:

          @Tom,

          Just because everybody is doing it does not mean it is not stupid.

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  11. Feltoneaston says:

    The Penis of Very Long Contract Extensions for Pitchers

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  12. tz says:

    It might be instructive to note what happened with Bret Saberhagen after he turned 25:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=1011355&position=P

    Over the next 7 seasons, Saberhagen averaged fewer than 130 IP per season. Despite that, he was worth about 20 WAR over the period, because when he was healthy enough to pitch, he was still really good.

    I think that pitchers like Kershaw, Hernandez, and Verlander who have a balance of strengths across the board are more likely to be quality pitchers in terms of rate stats even if they are plagued by injuries in their late 20’s to early 30’s (like Saberhagen was). So perhaps for this elite class of pitchers, you might still expect to recoup some value even in a bad-case scenario.

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  13. TKDC says:

    You basically don’t have a sample here for Kershaw. The only two that were in his ballpark up to this point played 100 years ago. The next closest is McDowell, who went from an ERA+ of 136 to 118 for the next 4 years. If Kershaw can manage just a 18 point drop in ERA+ and can extend that 4 years to a 6 or 7 years, his contract will not be a disaster at all.

    Also, as an aside, quite generous to say Clemens’ decline “may have been softened by PEDs.”

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  14. Johnston says:

    This is more proof that big-dollar, long-duration contracts are unwise. Thank you.

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  15. Johan Santa says:

    Hi guys

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Satoshi Nakamoto says:

    Just throwing this out there, what about contracts with smaller guaranteed money but % of team profits based on wins, player performance, how far into the playoffs the team goes?

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    • MrKnowNothing says:

      Why would a player do this? They’re getting big money as is.

      You all can come up with every creative contract you want. The players know ONE TEAM needs to be desperate. That’s it. Yanks miss the playoffs two years in a row and Kershaw is available and he’s been good lately? Here’s a bajillion dollars.

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      • Jon Woo says:

        Not saying the players would want to. Saying the owners should all agree to adopt it.

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        • Magus says:

          I believe the players and owners have already agreed NOT to do this through collective bargaining.

          I cant find an official link to back it up, but this article on sabr.org refers to it.

          http://sabr.org/research/baseball-s-major-salary-milestones

          Specifically the 5th paragraph:

          “Bonus clauses in MLB contracts have historically run the gamut from signing bonuses to performance bonuses and even attendance bonuses. In his 1938 contract, Bob Feller had a bonus clause paying him $1,000 for each win above 20. That sort of specific personal performance bonus is no longer allowed. Players can be rewarded for appearance-related performance (such as innings pitched or games played), and award-based performance (such as All-Star team or votes in the MVP balloting), but not individual achievements. Bonus clauses, by their nature, are not guaranteed income for players, but income that may be earned based on certain conditions. It is usually not until the end of the season that we can determine if the bonus was earned.”

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        • Marvin Miller's ghost says:

          Collusion, you mean? Interesting…

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