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Monopoly Money


Taking a look at what Giancarlo Stanton, Buster Posey and Mike Trout could fetch in free agency… someday.

@BreakTheHuddle

Ted Turner

“Gentlemen, we have the only legal monopoly in the country,
and we’re f—— it up.” -Ted Turner, 1995. The quote hardly applies anymore – in the two decades since then, baseball has practically starting printing money.

Two weeks ago, I detailed my disdain for the absurd contracts being demanded by (and given to) starting pitchers. My poster child for this madness, Anibal Sanchez, referred to a $48 million, 4 year contract offer from the Tigers this week as “an insult,” meaning we live in a world where a mundane, mediocre pitcher can thumb his nose at a $12 million annual salary.

Baseball’s booming economy doesn’t just benefit those who lace it up every fifth day, however; position players are also reaping the benefits of the current cash grab in baseball. B.J. Upton and Mike Napoli, far from “superstar” free agents, have already inked multi-year deals that will pay them eight figures annually (more on them later). Russell Martin, who hit .211 last season, and Melky Cabrera, who was busted for PEDs and missed the Giants’ entire postseason run, both earned two-year contracts worth at least $8 million per season. Even the aging Torii Hunter (he’ll be 38 in July) signed a 2 year, $26 million agreement with the aforementioned Detroit Tigers.

Fox_sports_west

This network is going to pay close to half a billion dollars PER YEAR to air Angels’ and Dodgers’ games.

The driving force behind the monster contracts is television money, a factor that is finally being reported on and explored to its fullest implications. The New York Yankees raised eyebrows back in 2002 when the partially team-owned YES Network hit the airwaves. Television revenue was discussed, briefly, last winter, when the Angels spent over $300 million in one day on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. They were able to do so thanks, in large part, to the $2.5 billion, 17 year broadcast rights deal it struck with Fox Sports West.

Other than that, it has been the draconian method for some franchises to make ungodly sums of money, and others to merely reap small fortunes.  But it’s now understood by most people who follow the game closely that television deals will shape baseball’s next century – having a lucrative agreement will afford certain teams privileges that other teams simply won’t possess. The Dodgers, for instance, are putting the finishing touches on a $6 – $7 billion, 25 year agreement (also with Fox Sports West) which will bring in between $240 and $280 million, annually, to the franchise. By comparison, the Tigers receive $40 million per season from Fox Sports Detroit, and will continue to do so until 2017. The Twins are locked in at $29 million, and the Indians at $30 million, for the foreseeable future.[i]

That infusion of capital into franchises allows for salaries to skyrocket; we are seeing the beginning of this new reality in baseball. The value of 28 of the 30 MLB franchises increased in 2011[ii], which is unparalleled growth in the sports industry… especially when as many as a dozen NBA teams and two dozen NHL teams are hemorrhaging money. The NFL pools its national television money together and has a hard-and-fast, restrictive salary cap – Major League Baseball franchises are unencumbered by such nuisances. Each team is its own autonomous entity, so to speak, and the “luxury tax” hasn’t proven itself to be all that prohibitive to spending.

Because of the hard work of Marvin Miller (pictured below), the real beneficiaries of all this are the players. Baseball has the strongest players association in sports, and maybe the most powerful union in the history of the world.[iii] Unrestricted by any salary cap, teams can spend themselves into contention (or into a laughingstock, if they aren’t careful) without hesitation. It’s not the most popular sport in America, but it is, for damn sure, its most profitable.

Marvin Miller

Marvin Miller (1917-2012) is not in the Hall of Fame, and Phil Rizzuto is. If you find a more eloquent example of why the Baseball Writers Association of America is a joke, let me know.

The burgeoning salary demands of mediocre players, coupled with the evolving economic realities of the sport of baseball, got me thinking: what would some of today’s best young players fetch on the open market?

The test group for this silly experiment will be: Buster Posey, Giancarlo Stanton and Mike Trout. I tried to find the best comparable players and contracts available. Though a lot could change between now and 2016 and 2017 (when those guys could be free agents[iv]), here’s one thing I’d bet on: all three will get paid a lot of money, whether through extensions with their current teams, or a free agent deal from a new one.

How much money? Let’s see…

 

Philadelphia Phillies v San Francisco Giants, Game 3Buster Posey

San Francisco Giants

Position: Catcher / First Base

Born: 3/27/1987

Free Agent: After 2016 season, when he’ll be 29 years old.

Posey has two World Series rings already, which isn’t too bad for a 25 year old. He also has a Rookie of the Year, a Batting Title and an MVP trophy. The fifth overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft, Posey has been sensational from the beginning, a true franchise cornerstone in the Bay Area. The Giants are delighted at his production, as well as delighted at the fact that he is under team control for the next four seasons, and won’t hit the open market until October of 2016.

Here is how he stacks up against 31 year old Mike Napoli, another Catcher / First Baseman, who recently signed a 3 year, $39 million deal with the Boston Red Sox.

Batting

Line Splits

HR

RBI

GMS

SO

WAR

Napoli

(10-12)

.261 / .355 / .520

.875 OPS

80

(27)

199

(66)

361

(120)

347

(116)

8.4

Posey

(career)

.317 / .384 / .509

.893 OPS

46

(15)

191

(64)

301

(300)

181

(60)

12.2

 

Fielding

As C

As C

As 1B

As 1B

Napoli

(10-12)

Starts:

185

CS %:

2010: 23%

2011: 36%

2012: 21%

Starts:

118

UZR:

2010: 1.8

2011: -1.4

2012: -3.0

Posey

(career)

Starts:

227

CS %:

2010: 37%

2011: 36%

2012: 33%

Starts:

61

UZR:

2010: -1.0

2011: 0.7

2012: 1.0

 

Napoli has appeared in more games the past three seasons, but is by no means more durable; he’s  appeared in 140 games in a season one time, and averages 104 games per season for his career. He routinely battles minor injury concerns. Posey, on the other hand, broke his leg on a freak play at home plate, which caused him to miss most of the 2011 campaign – other than that, he’s been mostly healthy.

Posey doesn’t hit for the power Napoli does, but still possesses the better OPS and WAR. He’s also shown himself to be a more capable defender at first base when the team puts him there to keep his bat in the lineup on days he isn’t catching. It should be noted that Posey is also a better backstop than Napoli by just about every advanced metric.

Mike Napoli, at 31, is past the statistical “prime” of his career, or at least, the prime of most ballplayers’ careers. Time will tell if he ages well, but given his body type and injury history, it’s far from a safe bet. He’s an average to below-average defender and only does two things really well – he hits for power, and he draws walks.

Despite all this, he got $13 million per season. Four years from now, Posey will be standing in Napoli’s shoes, only he’ll be two years younger, far more recognizable (due to his postseason success) and a more suitable candidate for a switch to a full-time first baseman.

So, how much will he get?

My guess: 8 years, $225 million.

Let me explain:

Maybe Mike Napoli was the wrong comparison, but I did it to make a point. The obvious comparable player is Joe Mauer, who got a $184 million, 8 year deal at the age of 27. Mauer’s been objectively worse at the plate (OPS: .836) and in the field (thrown out 22% of base stealers since 2010) than Posey over the last three seasons, so if Posey continues producing at his current rate, expect him to get a better contract than Mauer did.

Couple Posey’s production with his winning pedigree, and simple inflation, and $28 million per season doesn’t sound outside of the realm of possibility.

 

StantonGiancarlo Stanton

Miami Marlins

Position: Outfield

Born: 11/8/1989

Free Agent: After 2016 season, when he’ll be 27 years old.

Stanton is the last remaining good player with the Miami Marlins franchise, but he could be on the move this week. Apparently, he’s voiced his frustration over the team’s latest firesale; it’s tough to fault him for that. He’s as competitive as they come, and his considerable talent would be wasted on a penny-pinching, cellar-dwelling team. Standing 6’5 and weighing in at 245 pounds, he was recruited to play football at UCLA and UNLV out of high school, but opted instead to turn pro. He quickly ascended through the Marlins minor league system and made his debut in 2010. All he’s done since is hit tape-measure home runs.

Also standing 6’5, at a slightly smaller 225 pounds, is Stanton’s divisional rival, Jayson Werth. After the 2010 season, and already 31 years old, Werth signed a 7 year, $126 million deal with the Washington Nationals. Like Stanton, he was drafted early, straight out of high school, and comes from an uner-athletic family. Unlike Stanton, who shot through the minor leagues, Werth worked his way up slowly, becoming a full-time starter for the first time at age 29.

Here’s how their numbers compare:

Batting:

Line Splits

HR

RBI

GMS

SO

SB

WAR

Werth

(08-10)

.279 / .376 / .513

.889 OPS

87

(29)

251

(84)

449

(150)

422

(141)

53

(18)

15.5

Stanton

(career)

.270 / .350 / .553

.903 OPS

93

(31)

232

(77)

373

(124)

432

(144)

16

(5)

13.1

 

Fielding:

Starts

UZR

Runs Saved

Werth (08-10)

405 (347 in RF)

2010: 17.7

2011: 4.2

2012: -7.5

2010: 7

2011: 2

2012: -5

Stanton

(career)

353 (all in RF)

2010: 12.6

2011: 3.5

2012: 11.7

2010: 13

2011: 3

2012: 10

 

Werth was durable in the three seasons leading up to his new deal, though he wasn’t beforehand (a high of 102 games played, plus an entire lost season in 2006) and hasn’t been since (missed 81 games in 2012). Stanton was called up midway through the 2010 season and dealt with injuries in 2012 – but would hardly qualify as injury-prone. Stanton’s prowess in the field atones for his middling ability to draw walks, as well as his so-so speed. Both guys strike out a lot.

Similar enough in nature, both Stanton and Werth are primarily power hitters – only Stanton will be hitting the market at a much younger age (27, entering his prime) than Werth (who was 31 and coming out of it) did. Stanton’s had minor injury troubles, and those could persist and knock down his value a bit, but consider this: Jayson Werth had missed an entire season due to wrist trouble (2006) and had only topped 150 games twice in 9 big league seasons, but still got $126 million. Stanton’s a better fielder, has the potential to be a bigger draw at the box office, and will be entering his best statistical years.

So how much will he get?

My guess: 9 years, $250 million

Let me explain:

Stanton is better than Jayson Werth. He’s from southern California, and two of baseball’s richest teams (the Angels and Dodgers) reside there. They’ll both be well into their multi-billion dollar television deals by November / December, 2016. He’ll still be young, they’ll still be rich, and with the way the salaries are inflating, why wouldn’t he nab around $28 million annually, much like Buster Posey?

 

TroutMike Trout

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Position: Outfield

Born: 8/7/1991

Free Agent: After the 2017 season, when he’ll be 26 years old.

I couldn’t bring myself to be rational enough, for a long enough period of time, to write an entire post about the American League MVP race. So instead, I summarize my feelings in one paragraph:

Mike Trout was the best player in baseball in 2012. His team missed the playoffs, but won more ballgames than the team with the other “viable” candidate, Miguel Cabrera, whose Detroit Tigers capitalized on a putrid division to earn a playoff berth. Mike Trout was one of the best defensive players in the sport in 2012. All the advanced metrics, as well as the “eye test”, bear that out. Trout’s offensive output (.963 OPS) was slightly lower than Cabrera’s (.999 OPS), but Trout stole 49 bases to Cabrera’s 4. In short: Trout excelled at three phases of baseball (hitting, base running, fielding), and Cabrera excelled at one (hitting).

Does that tell you enough about Mike Trout? He did everything mentioned in the previous paragraph at the tender age of 20. Taken with the 25th pick overall in the 2009 amateur draft, he shot through the Angels organization and made his big league debut in 2011, where he looked a bit overwhelmed. After beginning last year in the minor leagues, he was promoted on April 28th and never looked back.

B.J. Upton was also a big leaguer at the age of 19, way back in 2004. He spent 8 seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, never quite putting together his considerable athletic skill set. Last week, he signed a 5 year, $75 million free agent contract with the Atlanta Braves.

Here are Upton’s numbers the past three seasons:

Batting:

Line Splits

HR

RBI

GMS

SO

SB

WAR

Upton

(10-12)

.242 / .317 / .446

.753 OPS

69

(23)

221

(74)

453

(151)

494

(165)

109

(36)

11.5

 

Here is Trout’s 2012 production:

Batting:

Line Splits

HR

RBI

GMS

SO

SB

WAR

Trout

(2012)

.326 / .399 /.564

.963 OPS

30

83

139

139

49

 

10.8

 

And the fielding comparison:

Fielding

Starts

UZR

Runs Saved

Upton (10-12)

438 (all in CF)

2010: 1.4

2011: 1.4

2012: -2.4

2010: -19

2011: -7

2012: -4

Trout

(2012)

131 (CF, mostly)

2012: 11.7

2012: 21

It’s hard to say what Trout’s production will be in the coming years. Maybe he’ll deal with injuries. Maybe advanced scouts will pick up on tendencies and that will enable opposing pitchers to slow him down a bit. Trout does strike out at a relatively high rate, and his plate discipline is average at best. That said – if he’s a .290/.350/.500 hitter, with 25 home runs and 40 stolen bases over the next five seasons, that’s still okay. It’s better than okay, actually – it puts him in the MVP conversation on a yearly basis.

Now, add the hypothetical numbers to the real ones from Trout’s first full season, then look at B.J. Upton’s body of work. He doesn’t walk at all, strikes out once per game, has never hit for much power, steals a fair amount of bases, and has eroding defensive skills… and was still worth $15 million per season for 5 years.

So how much will he get?

My guess: 12 years, $400 million

Let me explain:

The Angels gave Albert Pujols a ten year, $240 million contract even though no one’s really sure how old he is.[v] We know that Trout was born in 1991, as hard as that is to believe. Keep in mind, also, that he plays in southern California, for one of the franchises already teeming with dough (the Angels) and a second possible suitor in his backyard (the Dodgers). Trout’s from New Jersey, so his eastern roots could bring the Yankees and Red Sox into the bidding as well.

Far-fetched? Sure. If the Angels are wise, they won’t let Trout explore Major League Baseball’s laissez-fair marketplace. And who knows what situation any of these teams will be in five years from now. But given the way the economy of baseball is moving, and the contracts already being given to players far below Trout’s caliber, why should $400 million be out of the question?

Smart spending? I have no idea. I don’t know enough about the in’s and out’s of the business model to speculate responsibly about that. What I deduce from the periphery is that the sky is the limit for player salaries. The numbers are so large, they aren’t even tangible anymore. It’s actually starting to resemble Monopoly money, to tell you the truth.

Monopoly Money

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!


[i] Want all the figures? Check out this incredible article from the fine people at FanGraphs: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/dodgers-send-shock-waves-through-local-tv-landscape/

 

[iii] Hyperbole? Sure. But you can’t convince me that this statement isn’t at least… in the ballpark. (Pun intended.)

[iv] Of course, all three of these guys could sign lucrative extensions before their time comes, a la Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, et al. But that would be sooooo lame…

[v] Jon Heyman and Dan Le Batard, two members of the national media, openly question and challenge Pujols’ age. Yours truly, a member of the not-so-national media, does likewise.

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