Do long term deals make sense

Sunday, January 22 2023 @ 01:40 AM EST

Contributed by: John Northey

With all the 10+ year deals going on and the Jays having 3 franchise players in Vlad, Bo, and Alek the question becomes should the Jays do it? How have guys like those 3 done in the past?

Using the old Lahman Database which is up to date for 1871-2021 (the 2022 portion hasn't been added yet) as it works nicely for queries and the like (Access based so I can do what I want without paying a fee to one of the services out there).

Lets go with Vlad first. He has been in the majors from age 20-23 with a line of 284/358/504 while he is 6'2" 240 lbs officially. Height I figure we can trust, but weight is a crapshoot, especially since we all know your weight isn't the same at 20 as it is at 30 or at 40. So lets start cutting down a bit... I limited it to players from 1951 to now (pre 1951 there are a few stats issues, plus 70+ years should be enough) who had 500+ AB's pre age 24 and 24+ (safe to say Vlad will have 500+ AB's for ages 24 and beyond).

OK, that cuts it down a LOT to players somewhat similar (200+ lbs, slg% in eyeshot of Vlad, OPS in eyeshot of Vlad). Average of 1202 AB's pre age 24, 4074 age 24+. The only sub 1000 PA's are active players, 26 have 4000+ PA post age 23 = 55% with an 829 OPS vs 838 pre-age 24. The most PA go to Cal Ripken (9k+ post 23), the other 4 with 7k+ are Jim Rice, Nick Markakis, Robinson Cano, and Chipper Jones with Edwin Encarnacion just shy (6.4k). Jeremy Hermida has the lowest PA post age 23 of those who qualified who are retired. This makes me feel a bit better about a long term deal for Vlad but also puts a limit on it - Jim Rice is an interesting comparison: By age 23 he had a 3rd place MVP finish, 122 OPS+ (Vlad 135), and was being used a lot at DH. From 24-36 he had a 129 OPS+, an MVP award and 4 more top 5 finishes. Just 5.4 bWAR pre 24, 42.4 post. I see that as a reasonable goal for Vlad - he already has had a better start than Rice and has more defensive value (Rice was never a gold glove candidate). That would be worth roughly $381 million in today's world ($9 mil per WAR) over a 12 year period. Middle of the pack is Troy Glaus who is quite different from Vlad (3B GG) who only once in his career got MVP votes (age 29 in Toronto) 10.3 WAR pre 24, 27.7 after - worth about $243 mil over 10 years. Jeff Burroughs was also in the middle (ex-Jay) who at 23 won an MVP (thanks to RBI's as he was just a 3.6 WAR player that year) 7.7 WAR pre 24, 24+ 10.0 WAR - here is a worst case - value $90 mil over 11 season.

So we see what I consider a reasonable hope (Jim Rice), a middle case but plays at a different position (Glaus) and a nightmare (Burroughs) worth $381, $243, $90 mil respectively. Average of $238 mil for a 10+ year contract. Increase to $10 mil vs $9 per WAR and the average goes up to $264 mil. All reasonable cases to use, all large guys who didn't age as well as hoped, just one a good fielder (Glaus) the other 2 OF/DH's. Other names on the list are Ellis Valentine, Yasiel Puig, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, Giancarlo Stanton to give a few ideas on the weaker side of it. It is funny that 3 Jays who were traded more or less for each other on list (Scott Rolen, Troy Glaus, and Edwin Encarnacion). So what does it all mean? It means Vlad could be a bargain at $300 mil for a decade+, but odds are he'd be a net loss. $200 mil I'd see as a bargain for the Jays, but there is that Burroughs/Puig risk, also need to consider Stanton who looked fantastic when signed but, while providing a lot of WAR isn't quite up to his pay level (sub 30 games at 29 and 30, under 140 each of the 2 years since, just 3 5+ WAR seasons in his 13 ML seasons). Depends on how much you think he'll be able to produce like Jim Rice from now until age 33 (135 OPS+, peak of 157, 42.3 WAR, 5 years of 5+ WAR over those 10 seasons, but after that, age 34 and beyond he was 0 WAR 96 OPS+) or if you fear he'll be an injury issue like Stanton or will just flop like Burroughs (10 WAR over 11 seasons).
Let's check Bo now. He started at 21 and after his age 24 season has a 297/340/491 line while playing SS 6'0" 190 lbs. Same limits as Vlad with 500 minimum AB's, career starting no earlier than 1951. Not as small a pool as Vlad but small enough to work with. Average AB pre 25: 1464 (Bo 1611), post 24: 4200. The guys sub 1000 AB's post 24 were Ron Blomberg (injuries), Alex Verdugo (active), Ian Happ (active), Tony Conigliaro (beaned in the eye at 22 and never the same), and Phil Plantier (age 24 his last good year). Most AB's (8k+) are George Brett, Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, Reggie Jackson, Barry Bonds, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken (all HOF or PED prevented HOF). Clearly Bo has a heck of set of guys on his list. Median for AB's is 4432.5 Travis Fryman (18.9 WAR post 24, 3 time All-Star)-Richie Hebner (18.4 WAR post 24, no awards though). 14 HOF'ers total out of the 86 listed, good news is many were SS or 3B (Ripken, Banks the SS, Brett, Chipper Jones, Schmidt, Killebrew, Santo at 3B). Lots of ex-Jays on the list too (Brad Fullmer, Troy Tulowitzki, Jesse Barfield, Jose Cruz Jr, George Bell, Shawn Green). Post 25 average OBP: 348, Slg: 461 OPS: 809. Not bad. Not bad at all. But when you filter to infielders you can see the issue quickly - injuries are a massive factor. For some they had to move to 1B (Banks) others from SS to 3B (Ripken), but the potential is there for a crazy good career for Bo, as is the potential for a nightmare (generally only due to injuries not as much the Burroughs factor).

Filtered to just guys whose #1 position was shortstop you get just Paul DeJong, Francisco Lindor, Alex Cintron, Trea Turner, Troy Tulowitzki, Cal Ripken. Guys with 300+ games at SS but more somewhere else were Tom Tresh, Travis Fryman, and Ernie Banks. That cuts it down drastically. 9 players total to consider since 1951. Not a lot. Lets check them out.
So from Cinton/DeJong - disasters, to 'meh' Tresh/Fryman, to 'we will see' Turner/Lindor, to 'solid value' Tulowitzki, to 'HOF' Banks & Rikpen. Which category will Bo land in? What are they each worth?
  1. C/D: nothing
  2. T/F: 10-15 WAR range - $90-$150 mil
  3. T/L: 15-22 WAR so far, then signed to 10 year deals of $300+ mil.
  4. Tulo: 30 WAR, worth a $270-300 mil deal but the last years could be ugly with little bonus value.
  5. B/R: HOF - name your price. We are looking at 40+ WAR.

So which category do you put Bo into? Right now 2 is the most likely one, but #3 looks very possible or even probable depending how much you discount his defense. What is funny is FanGraphs has his defense as negative his rookie year, then positive in 20/21/22 but all 4 systems they use for projections have him as a negative in 2023. All have him between 3.7 and 4.3 WAR though. I'm guessing after the horrible way the last game went he will be putting a TON of focus on his defense this year to remove the area everyone can complain about, and if he does so successfully $300-$400 mil over 10+ years becomes the base for his long term deal.

Now for the tough one - Manoah. Pitchers are a crap shoot - the old rule is they are all one pitch away from retirement (Gord Ash learned that the hard way when he traded for Mike Sirotka who never threw even one pitch as a Blue Jay). So what are the parameters to use here? Manoah is 6'6" 285 lbs - one very big guy. Through age 24 he has thrown 308 innings with 9.0 K/9 IP and 2.7 BB/9 and 0.8 HR/9 and hit 31 batters (leading the league both years). With no statistical issues I figure I'll go with all of baseball history for comparison here (1871 to now, not including Negro Leagues as Lahman hasn't added those in yet)
I figure down to 9 players in baseball history is shrinking it down more than enough. Changing the weight rule could make a big difference but that I'd figure is a (sorry for the pun) large issue.
So who are we down to? Split between relievers and starters. So very few to compare to him for control, K ability, and pitching pre 25 while weighing 250+ lbs. Just 4 starters and 5 relievers (one reliever was a starter who moved to relief pre 25). Most still active as well. I feared this would happen when doing this comparison. For the 26 who matched weight and innings but not K or BB ratios we see 6 guys who had sub 100 IP post 25 - all had 1+ HR/9 IP, 5 of 6 were walking more than Manoah. So I don't see him being in that horror category. The remaining pitchers averaged 857 IP from 25 to the end. The 1000+ IP group was just 7 pitchers - Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova, Darren Oliver, Carl Pavano, Brad Penny, CC Sabathia, Carlos Silva. Only CC Sabathia is encouraging to me - 107 ERA+ pre 25 (2 time All-Star), 25-end 120 ERA+ over 2604 IP 5 times top 5 Cy votes (1 win) 47.1 bWAR. Clearly that is the best case for Manoah.

Gotta say this depressed me a bit. If I was the Jays I'd be VERY careful about a long term deal for Manoah. If he can be like Sabathia then he is a $400 million+ pitcher. Bumgarner is a $190 million max value and is probably the 2nd best option. Zambrano is similar to Bumgarner and probably the closest when factoring in pre-25 success/body type. So a 10+ year deal for $150 million would be fine, but going past that the Jays would be taking on far too much risk imo.

All 3 cases are interesting. The Jays have very tough choices to make. Bo's talent at SS is rare, and when someone has that skill they normally are good through 30 at least, and can be a HOF level guy (2 of 9 is insanely great odds). Vlad I was surprised to see I want a Jim Rice career at this point - his size and talent suggest that is a good target. I hope for better, but realistically worse is very possible/probable. Unlike Bo Vlad cannot be moved further down the defensive spectrum either (already a 1B/DH) but also unlike Bo Vlad won a Gold Glove in 2022. Manoah ... oh boy. A long term deal has to be at a 'bargain' rate of sub $200 million or the Jays are being foolish imo. I strongly suspect they'll just go year to year with him as odds are by the time he is a free agent after his age 29 season he won't have a lot left given past history of guys his size who were starting pitchers. Signing him to age 32 wouldn't be a bad idea, but I doubt he'd go for it. Given he is pre-arbitration still any deal would need to be discounted for the early years too, so a $100-$125 mil 9 year deal (buying out 4 years of free agency) would be good for the Jays but I can't see him going for it as being a free agent after age 29 could get him a 5+ year deal then for $200+ million but at age 32+ odds are low unless he ages far better than anyone else over 250lbs has.