Monday, March 3, 2008

Pre-Arbitration Player Contracts

Prince Fielder and Cole Hamels are the new crop of pre-arbitration players complaining about not getting paid enough. Fielder is set to be given $670,000 for 2008, and Hamels $500,000. These players need to settle down and just play baseball. The contract structure that is established by the Collective Bargaining Agreement allows the players to make a lot of money after their third year. The trade-off for that is that the team gets to control the players' first three years at near minimum prices (which are still very substantial amounts of money).

I like the idea that King Kaufman (of's Sports Daily) had. If asked about his salary situation a player should say “We’re heading into a recession and people are struggling out there. They don’t need to hear me complaining about my big salary not being big enough. Thanks for asking, but it’s between me, my agent and the club.” That's the attitude I would like to see.

In a couple of years Prince Fielder may be making $25 million annually. There's a good chance that by the end of his long-term deal (whoever he gets it from) he won't be worth the money that he will be getting paid. I bet he won't be talking about how that's unfair (and neither will the people doing the paying, in all likelihood).

I haven't heard anything from Nick Markakis [edit: he did sound disappointed that he could not reach an agreement with the team, but there was no take of "low-ball offers" or "insults" or "lack of respect" - he just said that he'll have to live with what he got] about the Orioles treating him poorly. I'd like to see the team offer a long-term contract in the neighborhood of Curtis Granderson's recent 5-year, $30 million. I would even be in favor of a 6 or 7 year deal, as I think that Markakis will still get better and will play consistently well for a long time. Since Granderson has the higher profile (from his 20-20-20-20 (doubles, triples, homers, steals) season and his playoff appearance) so the O's may be able to get Markakis slightly cheaper. Granderson has WARP1 (Wins Above Replacement Player) scores of 6.3 and 10.4 in his first two complete seasons. I have to think his true talent level is somewhere in between the two, as I don't expect him to have 23 triples every year. The .302 batting average was also pretty high considering his lofty (though improved) strike-out totals and less than great walk-rate. I see him being a .280/.350/.450 type hitter going into the future, combined with outstanding center field defense (~ 8 WARP1 annually). Nick's WARP1 scores have been 5.1 and 6.8 but I think the power is going to go up into the high 20s in HR (maybe even 30) along with the walk-rate as it comes in-line with his good batting eye. The doubles are already there. As he gets more experience playing right (he's only been a full-time outfielder for a couple of years) he should be amongst the best there in baseball (and if the O's actually contend he may end up in the Gold Glove discussion). I'm going to hope for .310/.400/.530 but expect more along the lines of .300/.380/.500 (~ 9 WARP1).

Not even adjusting for salary inflation, I have Nick the Stick easily worth about $20 million a year. Luckily for the O's, a guy who does a lot of things well (hit for average; some power - especially a lot of doubles; play quality, but not exceptionally flashy, defense; run a bit (he could steal 20 a year if he wanted to, with a solid rate - 18 for 24 in '07); even be a solid clubhouse (for all those "chemistry" people)), is generally undervalued compared to a guy who does one or two things extremely well (Ryan Howard - who just received $10 million in his first year of arbitration - has WAPR1 scores of 3.9 (part-time), 8.3 (MVP), and 6.4 the last three years. He hits a lot of home runs and walks. These are very good things (pretty much the best, really) but they are "old-player" skills and do not age well. Plus, the market is currently understanding how valuable they are and the those players are making a lot of money.)

If Markakis would accept it, I would have no problem offering him a ten-year $100 million deal. Considering Juan Pierre got 5-years, $50 - I am fairly confident that Nick is easily twice the player that Juan is.

By the way, Markakis' WARP3 (WARP adjusted all-time) scores are 7.1 and 9.6. It is certainly a long-shot, but if he plays for 12 more years (until he's 35) with a normal aging curve (he has a couple of years at his peak of .320/.410/.540 and then falls back down to the .280/.370/.460 range after that with some .270/.330/.410 at the end) then he should have a JAWS (Jaffe WARP Score - it averages together a player's career WARP3 and his "peak" (7 top years) WARP3 scores) score of around (very roughly) [14 years * 10 WARP3 (last year as about an average year seems reasonable to me as he was only 23) = 140: "peak" score let's say is about 12 + 11.5 + 11.5 + 11 + 11 + 10.5 + 10.5 = 78] 109. This is outstanding, even for a right-fielder - the Hall-of-Fame average at the position is currently about 90. Even projecting out 12 more years like the one he had (does anyone reasonably think that '07 will be an above-average year for Markakis (barring injury)?) he'll have a JAWS score of [140 + 70 = 210] 105. If he is only as good as his first year, but manages to hang on for a while he'd be at [18 * 7 = 126; 7 * 7 = 49; 126 + 49 = 175] 88.

Is it silly to do this sort of thing? Probably. It's more to give you an idea about what kind of talent the team has as opposed to a serious prediction. The only really silly part is projecting how long Markakis will play, but considering his complete game (to go along with his all-around skills he also seems to have the work ethic and psychological fortitude (he struggled a great deal when he came up but still ended up hitting .291 when other young players would have found themselves back in the minor leagues); he's hit a respectable .278/.324/.427 against lefties in his career so that isn't a major concern going forward; he is a bit of a slow starter (.274/.338/.399 pre-all-star break and .318/.377/.541 post) but hopefully that will get better as he learns how to get ready for the season; he also hits well against all of the other AL East teams (BOS: .283/.352/.472; NYY: .319/.391/.504; TBR: .287/.360/.451; TOR: .301/.363/.504 ); and his home-road splits aren't too extreme (home: .314/.367/.512; away: .279/.348/.427).

I'm not the only one drinking the orange kool-aid: I'd say a 20% is about right. If he stays as a full-time player through his mid/late thirties then I'd say that it will be about a coin-flip whether or not Nick Markakis should get into the Hall-of-Fame. His chances should improve once Jim Rice undeservedly gets in and lowers the bar for entry for outfielders. You know, at this point I've forgotten what I had started writing this post about... oh, right - young players complaining about not making enough money. Come one MacPhail, sign the man!

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