"It's no secret I don't think I should be limited to the set-up role. I have too many weapons." - C.J. Wilson, Feb. 19th, 2010
By this point in the Cactus League season, we've all just about had it with the pervasively subpar quality of baseball, the contrived media narratives, and, really, the utter meaningless of it all. It seems that our own unrest and withering ability to concentrate may have finally extended to the Rangers themselves (or at least the pitching and defensive components), as they've now yielded 26 runs on 41 hits, eight walks, and eight errors in their last 18 innings of organized play. Those composite numbers really don't matter in the grand scheme of things, but I'll be damned if I have the patience (or masochistic streak, depending on your viewpoint) to sit there and watch it all unfold. And at this point, I'll take whatever minor point of interest from the team beat that I can find and try to run with it.
Enter C.J. Wilson, who backed up his very loud and arguably obnoxious bark last spring with some serious bite, and has opted to drop a passing update on the status of those oft-ballyhooed contract extension talks that we heard about for the better part of the off-season: "Over the last few months, my agent has been in contact with [Jon Daniels] and Thad [Levine], but with about 10 days left in spring training it doesn't look like a deal is going to get done before we break camp. Things like this are complicated, of course, and deal with a lot of factors from both sides, but overall the feeling has been really amicable. [...] Once the season ends we'll revisit the future. But right now it is time to prepare for the present and I don't want to distract from the rest of the guys or our team."
A lot of people have felt that Wilson making his services available to the highest bidder in free agency next winter has been a foregone conclusion for a long time, with the already high likelihood being driven even higher by his 2010 campaign, and I can't see much reason to reject the notion. He is, after all, a comparatively young southpaw with (a) very good stuff, (b) an excellent 200-inning season in a World Series-attending rotation in his back pocket, (c) an irrepressible self-confidence that's conducive to pursuing the big bucks in alternative locales, and (d) no strong personal attachment to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, given his southern California upbringing. Really, though, the fact of the matter is that professional ballplayers typically don't come so close to realizing one of their big career goals (again, free agency, and all the corresponding wealth it promises), and then voluntarily give up that opportunity in exchange for a "secure," lower-value deal ... not when free agency looms that close.
"Here is the reality. It is real simple. There are not very many guys that have the stuff that I do that would be willing to sign here if they were free agents."
What I'm really trying to get around to, though, is an observation made while fooling around with my rudimentary contract-forecasting model. I feel as though it worked moderately well in assessing how the Rangers -- and, ultimately, the Phillies too -- valued Josh Hamilton and Cliff Lee, and (in turn) how they chose to pay them, but there's something about a player like C.J. that does something kind of weird to the model. Using the exact same method that was originally presented here, I ran through four different scenarios -- estimates of Wilson's hypothetical four- and five-year value beyond the 2011 season, using both $4.5 million/WAR (my personal preference) and $5 million/WAR (FanGraphs' apparent preference) as the starting points for the value of an additional marginal win on the free market, with his starting talent baseline being set at four wins above replacement in all cases:
Scenario No. 1 ($4.5 million/WAR): Four years, $56 million
Scenario No. 2 ($4.5 million/WAR): Five years, $66 million
Scenario No. 3 ($5.0 million/WAR): Four years, $62 million
Scenario No. 4 ($5.0 million/WAR): Five years, $73 million
Well, nobody ever claimed the model was infallible; here, the first two results are probably fair in our own minds, but don't accurately reflect the present state of the free-agent pitching market, whereas the latter two results 'feel' more right. Even if C.J. regresses a tick or two performance-wise in 2011, that four-win figure will probably still constitute an appropriate starting point for his true talent level; the issue, therefore, is either in those dollar per win figures, the assumed 10 percent discount for long-term deals (which I'm beginning to think may be too aggressive), or the assumed aging curve, which docks 0.5 WAR from the player's talent level in each season subsequent to the first.
Whatever the case may be, I suspect that Wilson's going to be in line for more than a $55-65 million payday with the aid of one more quality pitching campaign in Texas. The annual price tag for starting pitchers existing within the realm of "very good, but not elite" seems to reside in the $15-17 million range, if not slightly higher. Texas assuredly doesn't want to pay Wilson that sort of money right now on the basis of a single season's worth of rotation work, but that's likely the sort of money Wilson's eyeing, and once you bring the rest of the league into the picture, the Rangers figure to have a difficult time retaining him without stretching well beyond their comfort range to keep him. In that regard, the two sides aren't synchronized, and that's unfortunate, but it's also unavoidable given Wilson's rather unique development path and professional chronology. What can you really do?
"There is no experienced pitcher that has my stuff that would sign here, historically."