Contract Extensions: The Good, the Bad, and the Questionable

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Free agent signings might get all of the attention during the offseason, but it is often the mid-contract extensions that help build championship-caliber teams. Through April 26th, 39 players received extensions this year (MLB.com), and there will surely be more as spring turns into summer. However, clubs often overvalue one hot season and misjudge a player’s future value, causing these long-term commitments to not pan out. We break down some of the notable deals of the year.

 

Joey Votto, First Base, Cincinnati Reds

 

If firstbasemen Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder hadn’t dominated the headlines during the offseason, then we would have heard more about their ex NL Central colleague Joey Votto. The Reds locked up their firstbaseman to a massive 10-year, $225 million extension, and while long-term deals often blow up in general managers’ faces (see Alex Rodriguez), Votto’s consistency is clearly worth the long-term commitment. Through his first four full seasons (2008-2011), he averaged 37 doubles, 29 home runs, and 96 RBIs per season, with a strong .312/.406/.550 line. The only “concern” could be his power, which does not compare to other slugging firstbasemen like Pujols, Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, and Mark Texeria; regardless, the Reds cannot complain about a guy that hits 25-30 long balls per year.

$225 million may seem like a lot to invest in one player as he enters the second half of his career, but the market makes this an unavoidable investment. Votto’s native Toronto and other teams would eagerly sign him for that much if he hit free agency, and with only the 17th highest payroll for 2012, the Reds’ front office would probably lose bidding war of this magnitude. Instead, they astutely signed a franchise player for his entire career, which demonstrates a commitment to their fans.

 

Andrew McCutchen - Pittsburgh - 2009 Alternate

Andrew McCutchen - Pittsburgh - 2009 Alternate (Photo credit: BaseballBacks)

Andrew McCutchen, Center Field, Pittsburg Pirates

 

I am just going to admit it: I love Cutch! In three-plus short years in the bigs, he’s mashed 59 home runs, 104 doubles, and 227 RBIs, speeding his way to 22 triples and 88 stolen bases. The Pirates’ have clearly put $51.5 million to good use for the next six years: McCutchen is the perfect blend of pop and agility, and at 25 years old, he is only improving. His OPS has risen each year since 2010 (currently at .949), and his percentage of successful swipes has followed suit (69.7% in 2011 versus 76.9% in 2012).

Clearly, the contact extension labels Cutch as the Pirates’ best player, but it’s a shame that they cannot build a solid offense around him. With Pittsburg’s offense sitting in dead last in runs scored and on-base percentage, McCutchen won’t get to push many runners across the plate, which reduces his value. However, signing him to for a relatively-short timespan was a savvy move by ownership. The club will get his best production from his mid-twenties with the flexibility of letting him leave town if a playoff team doesn’t coalesce around him by 2018.

 

Adam Jones, Center Field, Baltimore Orioles

 

Jones has certainly cashed in on a strong individual and team-wide start. After slugging 16 home runs in the early going and leading his team to the AL East’s top perch, the Orioles signed their center fielder to a 6-year, $85.5 million deal. For the first time in 15 years, the Orioles are contenders, and the Jones’ signing shows that general manager Dan Duquette is making a commitment to his fan base that his team will no longer be complacent in the AL East’s cellar.

Jones’ fielding and speed are legit, but it’s pretty clear that the club overpaid for a player who is over-performing in the power department. His 26.2% HR/FB rate in 2012 eclipses his 14.0% career mark, leading to a .608 slugging percentage that exceeds his career average by over 150 points. This may be part of Jones’ maturation, but he is clearly getting lucky with how many of his hits are leaving the yard this season.

I understand Duquette’s thought process, but his standout numbers probably won’t hold up for the length of the extension. Seeing as the organization ranks a mere 19th in 2012 payroll, the club should have aimed for a cheaper extension.

 

Miguel Montero, Catcher, Arizona Diamondbacks

 

The D-Backs might have erred by extending Montero’s contract with an additional five years and $60 million, as he has never shown the consistency worthy of such a deal. His power has varied tremendously in his first five full years in the bigs, hitting 10, 5, 16, 9, and 18 home runs from 2007-2011; his strikeout rate has also fluctuated between 14.3% in 2007 and 23.6% in 2011. Worse, his mediocre .255 batting average and two long balls to start the season have done nothing to sooth the Diamondbacks’ angst.

The Cardinals’ signing of Yadier Molina for five years and $75 million clearly set a new precedent for negotiations with catchers, but that didn’t mean that the D-backs needed to follow suit. Yes, their hand was forced by the fact that they don’t have many alternate options for catcher in the farm system, but that’s no reason to break the bank on a middling catcher just because another team does so for their growing superstar.

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