What Do Shortstop Contracts Look Like?

Subtitle: Like Pieces of Paper with Writing on Them.

It’s November 29, and Jose Reyes is still a free agent. The Mets have yet to sign anyone or make any trades. Not much is happening in the baseball world . . . so let’s fire up the contracts-of-the-past machine once again. This time we’re going to look at shortstops, as the Mets have interest in a certain aforementioned free agent shortstop. Between the 2004-05 winter and the present, shortstops signed 18 multi-year contracts as free agents and six contract-extensions buying out multiple years of free agency. Here are all of them, in something resembling a discernible order.

Multi-year free agent contracts given to shortstops:

There aren’t many of them, and none have been for longer than four years or for more than $40 million dollars. I’m not sure why this happens, but there have been no monster contracts for free agent shortstops in recent years. Alex Rodriguez’s deal with Texas is the last one that jumps to mind. For whatever reason, elite shortstops seem to hit the open market only rarely. Or maybe it’s just that elite shortstops are rare. Or maybe, even in the Moneyball era, teams still overpay for things they can quantify — on-base percentage, home runs — and still underpay for the things they can’t — defensive value and durability, and the strengths of many quality shortstops tend more often to fall into the non-quantifiable category. That may has something to do with it.

Whatever the reasons, the net result is that shortstops, as a group, tend to be a much better multi-year investments than pitchers and somewhat better investments than outfielders, the two other groups we’ve previously examined. I suppose this is good news for Mets fans hoping for Reyes to re-sign. Of course, the bad news for Mets fans is that Jose Reyes excels in the quantifiable areas teams pay for: He just won the batting title, he steals bases and he scores runs. He has far less value hidden in the harder-to-quantify areas, such as fielding and durability. My guess is that, because of these factors, Miami someone is going to overpay Reyes, and he’s going to be wearing a uniform other than the Mets’ come 2012.

That said, Reyes is unlike any player hitting the open market in recent history, and that makes his final destination harder to predict.

Anyway, here are the shortstops who signed three-year or four-year deals as free agents in recent history, in rough best-to-worst order:

1. Orlando Cabrera, Angels, four years (2005-08), $32 million
11.1 wins above replacement

A sneaky-good contract for a sneaky-good player. Cabrera never managed an OPS better than the AL average in any year, but he did other things well enough to be a solid starter for four years. A prototypical Mike Scioscia middle-infielder, Cabrera hit .281 and drew enough walks for a reasonable .332 on-base percentage over the four years, stole 87 bases and was caught just 15 times, and fielded his position well. It doesn’t sound like much, but a non-zero on offense who can play shortstop is a pretty good player.

2. Edgar Renteria, Red Sox, four years (2005-08), $40 million
9.2 wins above replacement

Another sneaky-good contract, though this one comes with a huge asterisk: The Renteria contract was a good deal for the Atlanta Braves; not so much for the Red Sox and the Tigers. Renteria signed a big contract with Boston before the 2005 season to become their shortstop for the next four years, but something just didn’t work — the fans booed him early and often, he led the league in errors, and the Red Sox decided to call it quits after one year. The next winter, they traded him to Atlanta for then-prospect Andy Marte. The Braves got all the value out of the deal: Renteria hit .310/.374/.451 and fielded well in two years with Atlanta, who later flipped him to the Tigers before the 2008 season. The Tigers got one year of again-bad Renteria out of the trade; the Braves got Jair Jurrjens.

3. Rafael Furcal, Dodgers, three years (2009-11), $30 million
7.4 wins above replacement

A similar player to Jose Reyes. Reyes is the better hitter and better overall, but Furcal the better fielder and both are shortstops with some injury history and plenty of value in their legs. Neither of Furcal’s consecutive three-year contracts with the Dodgers were particularly good or bad, which may bode well for whichever team signs Reyes. Then again, more of Furcal’s value came from his glove, something teams struggle to value. So he may have been relatively underpaid compared to what Reyes is going to get.

4. Cristian Guzman, Nationals, four years (2005-08), $16.8 million
4.1 wins above replacement

This is a weird one in every way. Four years is a long contract for a shortstop, but the Nationals also made a relatively small financial commitment, making the deal a funny-looking outlier. As for the returns on their investments: Guzman hit .219 with a .260 on-base percentage his first season, then missed all of 2006 and most of 2007 with various injuries. Playing a full season in 2008, the last year of his deal, Guzman hit .316 with 35 doubles, made the All Star team, and convinced the Nationals to sign him to a two-year extension. He then struggled through both years of the extension, was traded to Texas, and didn’t play in 2011. Guzman gave the Nationals one, well-timed good season, and received six years of paychecks for it. This one worked out better for him than it did for Washington.

5. Alex Gonzalez, Reds, three years (2007-09), $14 million
1.2 wins above replacement

This is the Alex Gonzalez from last season’s Braves, useful in the years he hits 15 home runs, useless in the years he doesn’t. The Reds got one useful year, one injured year, and then split a useless year with the Red Sox. Gonzalez is a free agent this year, and he’s my pick as an interesting buy-low candidate for the Mets. He doesn’t get on-base — at all, ever — but he still fields well enough, and if this is one of those years when he runs into 20 home runs, he’d at least be an interesting player. Maybe not good, but interesting.

6. Rafael Furcal, Dodgers, three years (2006-08), $39 million
6.5 wins above replacement

See above, a lesser version of Jose Reyes, etc. His second Dodgers contract, when he was older, looks better than this first one.

7. Julio Lugo, Red Sox, four years (2007-10), $36 million
0.0 wins above replacement

At last, we reach the lone albatross. Lugo didn’t hit well, didn’t field well, and didn’t stay healthy for Boston. That is to say: He was bad. Theo Epstein did plenty of good things with the Red Sox — two World Championships — but finding a long-term answer at shortstop wasn’t one of them.

Two-Year Deals

A large number of free agent shortstops sign two-year deals. I have no idea why. Here are all of them, the value of each contract being between $2 and $6 million except where noted:

Craig Counsell, Diamondbacks
Marco Scutaro, Red Sox – $12.5 million
John McDonald, Blue Jays
Craig Counsell, Brewers
Juan Castro, Twins
Cesar Izturis, Orioles
Willie Bloomquist, Royals
Neifi Perez, Cubs
Tony Womack, Yankees
Edgar Renteria, Giants – $18.5 million (!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Also Derek Jeter last winter re-signed as a free agent. But we like to run a Jeter-free blog around here, so we’re not going to talk about him. Let’s move on.
Soon, he’ll be able to buy lots of glasses.

Multi-Year Extensions Covering Free Agency Seasons

As usual, extensions are better deals for the team than signing a similar player through free agency. Clubs avoid the bidding wars, and they know the player they’re investing in better than anyone else. Both these factors help teams make better choices.

Extensions, more than two years:

1. Carlos Guillen, Tigers, three years (2005-07), $14 million
11.4 wins above replacement

Great extension, if only for Guillen’s 2006 season. He hit 41 doubles and posted a .920 OPS in the regular season, and then hit for a 1.008 OPS in the postseason, helping the Tigers win the American League pennant.

2. Jack Wilson, Pirates, three years (2007-09), $20.2 million
5.4 wins above replacement

In baseball contract terms, $20 million dollars for 5.4 wins above replacement isn’t a bad deal, even when it’s for Jack Wilson. Wilson is someone the Mets reportedly have expressed interest in this offseason. Excellent fielder, but he hasn’t had an on-base percentage above .300 since George W. Bush was president and doesn’t hit for power. Please, no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

3. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies, four years (2007-10), $31 million
12.6 wins above replacement

Won the MVP in 2007, the first year of the extension, and then began a slow decline. All in all though, not a bad deal for the Phillies or Rollins. Another decent Reyes comp, albeit again with a bit less offense and slightly more defense, but Rollins is and was a speedy shortstop with a similar career value. Rollins is a free agent this winter, but I would be surprised if he signed somewhere other than Philadelphia. That said, I’m almost — almost — rooting for Rollins to sign with the Mets, and Reyes with the Phillies, but only in the name of science. I think it’d be a fun social experiment. I’m probably alone on this.

4. Michael Young, Rangers, five years (2009-13), $80 million
8.4 wins above replacement

Does this count? Young is no longer a shortstop, but I have trouble imagining that keeping him at short was the long-term plan when the Rangers signed him to this extension. Still, he was a shortstop when he signed, so I guess it should count for shortstops . . . If this counts, it’s the biggest contract given to a shortstop we’ve got here, and it’s not looking so hot.

Two year extensions:
Jack Wilson, Mariners (There’s some reason people love hanging onto this guy)
Cristian Guzman, Nationals

The summary: Roughly, the best way to sign a veteran shortstop is to extend your own guy. You like him, he likes you, it’s working for everyone . . . everyone goes home happy. Re-upping your own dudes before they hit free agency usually works out okay. Failing that, the second-best way is to sign a good shortstop to a multi-year deal; the worst way is to sign a mediocre player to a two-year deal, but even that is a better investment than signing a free-agent pitcher or outfielder. The details look like this:

Extensions: $3.21 per win
Free Agents, total: $4.76 per win
Free Agents, three years or more: $4.63 per win
Free Agents, two years: $5.25 per win

After looking at all this, I’m still sticking with my earlier prediction: Jose Reyes will sign with the Miami Marlins on December 11, for $132 million dollars over six years.


Filed under Columns, Mets, Words

6 responses to “What Do Shortstop Contracts Look Like?

  1. Nice article. As a trial attorney in Virginia that has to come with creative strategies I had an idea about how to proceed with Jose Reyes and so here it goes. How about the Mets if they can’t sign Reyes prior to time he has to decide on accepting arbitration why don’t Mets offer a deal based upon arbitration. I think they should negotiate a deal where they would have the parameters of multiple options. Let’s say for instance if the Mets and Reyes’ agent wanted to have a salary range of say 15 to 25 million a year. Then for every option between 15 and 25 would come with an associated long term deal. For instance if Reyes wanted to tried to get paid 25 million in arbitration for a year then if he won then that would trigger a deal for say 25 million for 4 years. On the flip side may be he would want to have more guaranteed years so may be he would want to put in an arbitration bid of say 20 million and that would may be a corresponding 5 year deal with vesting options. The parties instead of agreeing to a set contract would basically negotiate potential options and then they would have until arbitration hearing to either work out long term deal or go into arbitration. This has never been tried but I think it is a good idea because Reyes’ injuries his value isn’t settled. This would allow all parties to decide what’s most important to themselves. In arbitration the arbitrator only can decide either for player or team. The underlying contract would be the parameters and would be implemented based on arbiters decision. Normally teams shy away from arbitration but in this instance it may work for both parties. Tulowitzki’s 10 year deal only averages out at a little under 16 million a year so both parties would have interesting arguments to make but would have to look at ramifications of what they ask for in arbitration. Just an idea. What does everyone think?

    • Patrick Flood

      I’m not sure if I understand this all the way. Is the idea that Jose Reyes signs a contract with the Mets for between, say, $100 and $120 million and between four and six seasons? And then they go to arb each year to determine the remainder of the contract? Is that the idea here?

  2. No the idea is that the Mets and Reyes agents set parameters for a deal. They would go to arbitration this year and whatever the arbiter decided was the salary for 2012 that would be the salary for the length of the contract. The Mets and Reyes would have negotiated prior to arbitration the number of years and option years and what would trigger the option years. So they would have however many alternatives of years and salary that each wanted and after negotiating the various options they would then have to decide which of the negotiated options they would want to try for in arbitration. So the arbiter would only be deciding the salary for next year but then that would be inserted into a previously agreed structured agreement. So for instance if Mets wanted to go into arbitration asking for a salary of 15 million for 2012 then they would have negotiated what the commensurate long term deal would be. For instance for a lower base salary Reyes’s agent would ask for additional guaranteed years and option years. So the Mets and Reyes would know if arbiter sides with Mets and chooses 15 million then that would trigger an already agreed upon deal for a set number of years. If in arbitration Reyes’ wanted a base salary of 25 million then perhaps that would be an agreed upon three year deal with vesting options for additional years. In the alternative the Mets and Reyes’s could have an agreement that the contract would be for a total of 100 million and then submit to arbitration and then if arbiter said say 17 million for 2012 then that would be a 5 year deal with an option year or 6 year deal. This all of course would be predicated on Reyes deciding he definitely wanted to be back with the Mets. This would be a way to still have a long term deal in place while usig arbitration. Does this help explain my idea? I think this may be a creative way to entice Reyes to forgo the traditional free agent market. Sandy Alderson has said that the potential length of the contract is his concern so he could lock in the numbers he was comfortable with and conversely Reyes would be potentially getting the salary or number of years he was looking for as well. It certainly seems thus far as a weak market for Reyes. The Marlins are the only team that has made an offer and after being initially reported at 6 for 95 that was cut back by as much as 20 million so it is very possible that Marlins offer was all show. It would probably be easier to just negotiate a contract but this may be a way to have the parameters of an agreement assuring Reyes that he would get the money he was looking for and assuring the Mets that Reyes would be returning to the Mets.

  3. The Mets need to re-sign Jose!!!! His presence on the team bring energy for the whole team, just like Pedro did when the Mets signed him.

    The Mets should trade Wright and others for King Felix, alos the Mets should dump Bay and Pagan to Balt. for Adam Jones.

  4. Don’t underestimate the impact bringing in the fences will have on Wright’s game. The changes in outfield dimensions allows Wright to go back to his natural right center power. When Wright allows the ball to go deeper into the zone that means better pitch recognition which means higher batting average and less strikeouts. The impact is potentially significant. Wright’s defense should be improved as well. Remember that it was Chip Hale that “taught” Wright to play the ball to the side. Hale was a great third base coach for the Mets but he was an awful infield coach. Look for Wright to rebound in the field as well if for no other reason than his back is healthy. Adam Jones is an interesting idea. How about reuniting Johan Santana with Francisco Liriano? A Pelfrey for Liriano trade might make sense for both teams. Mets would be getting the player with better pure stuff but the Twins would be getting a workhorse that still has upside if he can rediscover his sinking fastball.

  5. Good lord, you’re thorough.

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