Let's hope this is more Mitch Moreland and less Chris Davis...
- Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Albert Pujols. 3 All-Star to MVP level first basemen who will all get new contracts within a 12 month span. It’s hard to look at this Rangers roster currently and not be somewhat titillated by the idea of adding a player of that caliber to a position that has largely been a miss for the past few years. Also, I’m curious to see if the inflation seen in this past year’s free agency market will carry over into next year and how that will apply to MVP caliber players. The previous two years had seen average dollars per WAR stay relatively stagnant, but it seems to me that a wiser bet would be on continued inflation. I had assumed that Adrian Gonzalez’ 7 year, $154 million contract is the baseline as his salary was probably somewhat suppressed because of the prospects the Red Sox had to trade to acquire him.
Upon hearing the rumors coming out from the Fielder camp and the Pujols-Cardinals negotiations, this seems to be the case. Fielder is said to want 8 years, $180-200 million dollars. Pujols is said to have turned down an 8 year, $190 million deal. If it were up to me, I’d much rather pay Pujols $250 million than Prince Fielder $190 million. Here’s why:
Both players are likely to be overpaid on the back end of the contracts. But make no mistake about their relative value; Fielder is an All-Star level player who has peaks that are worthy of MVP’s, but Albert Pujols is one of the select few true talent 8.0 WAR players and one of greatest of all time. He could retire today and have a strong case for the Hall of Fame. This isn’t to say Fielder is valueless; his age (almost 27) means that he is going to be one of the few elite players who enter free agency during their peak years…and his peak should be quite good. However, his frame and already poor defensive skills make me skeptical of paying him $20+ million during his mid-30s.
- Speaking of contracts, Ryan Braun signed an extension with the Brewers yesterday that will guarantee him almost $150 million through 2020 with a $16 million option for 2021. This one is a bit of a head scratcher. Braun had already signed an 8 year, $45-51 million contract extension in 2008 that would take him through his age 31 year in 2015. Braun is an All-Star caliber player having put up 4.6, 4.9 and 4.2 WAR in the past 3 years. That sort of consistency is to be valued as is his ability to be a good public face for the organization. Yet, I can’t help but wonder how much of this contract was given by a front office that felt a need to convince fans that not every star would be leaving town at the expense of future payroll restrictions for which they may not be around. The main issue is that, while being an excellent hitter (ranging from an 888 OPS, 129 wRC+ season to a 937 OPS, 150 wRC+ season over the past 3 years), he is a poor defensive fielder. This will likely necessitate a move to first base at some point in the near future and force him to maintain his offensive stats to retain his All-Star level. So assuming Braun declines from 3.5 WAR to 2.0 WAR over his 31-36 year old seasons, this contract is assuming around 8% yearly inflation in the baseball market and gives the Brewers no adjustment for taking on the risk of a long-term deal.
- Finally, a Rangers thought. Over the past week or so, the Rangers offense has been less than explosive. I think we all understood that the home run barrage from the first series was unlikely to continue, but this looks much worse than regression. Kinsler and Andrus seem to be coming out of it slowly, but Nelson Cruz looks utterly lost. I’ve heard the argument that Josh Hamilton’s absence would not be a significant deterrent to winning because his hitting stats “only” looked like this: .409 OBP | .462 SLG | .378 wOBA | 141 wRC+ . First, it should be noted that is quite a good line, even if it is off the pace of his phenomenal 2010 season. Anyways, the argument goes that since David Murphy, he of the current .400 OBP | .425 SLG | .372 wOBA | 137 wRC+ line, is playing this well right now, the Rangers are not going to miss Josh Hamilton that much. If they were able to win so many games with Josh Hamilton putting up that line, they should be able to continue winning with Murphy’s similar numbers.
This is a fallacy. While it might be true if Hamilton was merely out one or two weeks, Hamilton is likely out until June. Over the course of these 6-8 weeks, having a player as good as Murphy ready to step in is quite a nice position to be in. However, it is a bad idea to think that the production from Hamilton and Murphy over the first few weeks signifies what they will do over the next month and a half. We have a much larger sample to draw from in the form of their career statistics and those tell us that Hamilton is the much better hitter. Furthermore, I can’t help but wonder if the loss of Hamilton’s more consistent production is affecting the Rangers offense more significantly than these statistics are telling us. There is great value in consistency, especially for a team whose offense can at times become enamored with the more highly variable home run.