By Andrew Perna
David Wright will finish his Major League career the same way he started it -- as a member of the New York Mets.
The two sides, which engaged in contract talks for several weeks, agreed on a seven-year extension that will keep Wright locked up through the 2020 season for approximately $138 million. He was under contract for next season at $16 million and the new deal adds seven years and $122 million to that pact.
Earlier this week it was reported that the Mets were nearing a deal with Wright, but things got dicey when Wright and his agents, Seth and Sam Levinson, publicly refuted the accuracy of what was being circulated. Up until that point, Wright had been silent about both his future and negotiations with the Mets. The comments led many to believe the team had pushed the third baseman's buttons either in talks or by leaking information to the media.
Wright's stance in talks was similar to that of Derek Jeter's in his most recent contract negotiations with the Yankees. Jeter was upset that Brian Cashman and the team made public comments about the discussions, but ultimately, in both cases, the two sides simply wanted to extend their relationship. Wright is now ensured of being to Queens what Jeter is to the Bronx.
This is a deal that Sandy Alderson absolutely had to make, even though Wright will be 37 in the final season of his new contract. The Mets have suffered through a lot of poor public relations in recent years, a majority of which was no fault of the baseball team. Ownership was swindled in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, forcing them to cut corners. That led to Jose Reyes, Wright's cornerstone partner, signing with the Marlins as a free agent last offseason.
The Mets are starting to clear the financial rubble centered around the Wilpon family and as Jayson Stark points out they will clear close to $42 million in payroll after next season (Johan Santana and Jason Bay) and have an additional $25 million to spend as part of a new national television deal. Wright didn't agree to sign a long-term extension with the Mets solely out of greed or loyalty; the front office will soon have the tools and creative license to construct a perennial contender.
Alderson entered the offseason with goals of reaching new deals with Wright and Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. Now that Wright is signed, the far more important of the two, perhaps the Mets will admit that signing Dickey really isn't all that important to their long-term goals.
Dickey is 38 and as a knuckleballer there is no guarantee he'll be as effective going forward as he was during his magical 2012 season. Trading him would provide a much bigger and more enduring benefit. However, that's a topic for another time.
It has been a good offseason for third baseman and the winter meetings haven't even begun. Earlier this week, the Tampa Bay Rays signed Evan Longoria to a $100 million extension that keeps him under team control through the 2023 season. After long playing under the most team-friendly contract in all of baseball, Longoria is now the owner of essentially a 15-year, $143.5 million deal with a team option for another season.
You might still consider Longoria's deal a bargain when you consider that Wright will reportedly earn $138 million over the next eight seasons. We don't know the exact terms of Wright's deal and outlets have reported that Longoria's steadily increases in price, but Wright has a significant advantage in average annual salary -- $17.25 million to $9.6 million. Those numbers are skewed by Longoria's 2013 and 2014 figures, during which he'll make $2 million and $7.5 million, respectively.
There are reasons why Wright will finish his baseball career with more earnings that have nothing to do with ability. Wright was drafted by the big-market Mets, while Longoria was plucked by the small-market Rays. Both have remained loyal to the team that initially showed confidence in them, but Longoria hedged his bets by signing a six-year, $18.5 million contract with Tampa Bay just a few days after his Major League debut. If he flamed out, he would have been set for life. He obviously didn't and his superstar status and MVP-caliber bat have kept the Rays in contention without having to spend big-time money (until now).
Some will also point to durability when comparing Wright and Longoria, but I don't believe the sample size is big enough. Wright has certainly been a rock for the Mets, playing at least 150 games in six of his eight full seasons. Longoria, meanwhile, has played in 150 or more games just twice since his 2008 debut. I highly doubt the Rays kept a few million from Longoria because they are concerned he won't remain on the field.
Just for fun, before we turn the focus solely to Wright, I've prorated* Longoria's numbers to reflect nine seasons and placed them alongside those of Wright.
Through Nine Major League Seasons
Wright (1,262 games) – .301/.381/506, 204 HRs, 818 RBI, 39.1 WAR
Longoria* (1,146 games) - .276/.361/.516, 234 HRs, 821 RBI, 51.3 WAR
The numbers are rather similar. Wright has the edge in average, but Longoria makes up for that with good discipline and better power. Let's make a point to revisit these numbers in four years and see if Longoria truly can produce more (HRs, RBIs, WAR) in roughly 100 fewer games.
Wright is in the midst of his prime, according to conventional baseball wisdom. He turns 30 this month, meaning he still has his age 30, 31 and 32 seasons ahead of him, largely considered the middle and end of most primes. Wright isn't most players, however, and he could easily continue producing at his current rate deep into his mid-30s.
He hasn't shown any signs of slowing down as he approaches his 30th birthday, compiling one of his best seasons in 2012. He finished sixth in the National League MVP voting -- only his fourth-place finish in 2007 was better -- and earned his sixth All-Star bid.
It was vital for Wright's bargaining power that he produce well this past season. He played in just 106 games in 2011 because of injury and hit just .254/.345/.427, easily the worst line of his career. He dwarfed those numbers in 2012, hitting .306/.391/.492 (numbers right around and even a little better than his career marks). His OPS of .883 was the highest it had been in four seasons.
Grade for Wright: A-
You might wonder whether the motivation of entering free agency spurred Wright’s numbers, but given his makeup that seems unlikely. It’s clear that the Mets don’t feel he was overachieving, especially when you remember that he’s had better offensive seasons in the past. There were also other avenues he could have explored. Wright could have rejected any offer from New York, choosing to hit the open market in 2013 or force the team into a trade. It never seemed like a real option, but if he put up another MVP-caliber season there would have been more money available from teams seemingly closer to a title.
In terms of WAR, Wright’s 6.7 total for 2012 tied for the second-most he has contributed in his career. Baseball-Reference defines a 5+ WAR rating as an All-Star, while an 8+ rating denotes an MVP candidate. Wright has surpassed five WAR three times and peaked at 8.1 in 2007. He finished fourth in the MVP voting that season, but ranked second in WAR behind only Albert Pujols.
While Wright’s averages did take a dip from 2009 to 2011, there is concrete evidence that the shrinking power numbers were not his entirely fault. The Mets moved to Citi Field for the 2009 season and it was built with dominant pitchers like Johan Santana in mind. Since it opened, Citi Field has ranked 12th, 27th, 28th and 12th among all ballparks in home run factor. Shea Stadium ranked ninth in its final season.
He averaged 29 home runs from 2005 to 2008, but has slugged just 18.5 over four seasons at Citi Field. That’s a significant drop even when you consider that he played in just 102 games in 2011.
Grade for the Mets: B+
The Mets badly needed to sign Wright to a long-term contract. He’s been the only mainstay since he arrived in 2004 and the fan base needs something to hold onto. It may not be a good approach to business, but there is an emotional factor that is almost impossible to quantify. Santana didn’t turn out to be the dominant multi-time Cy Young winner we thought he would, while Jose Reyes has already moved onto the Toronto Blue Jays after a lone season with the Marlins. I won’t even bring up Jason Bay for fear of backlash. Wright has been the lone constant and the Mets hope he’ll remain the centerpiece of a resurgence in the coming years.
It would be wonderful if Wright was two years younger, but they’ll settle for crossing their fingers that at 37 he can still be productive enough at the plate to trot out at third base or somewhere in the outfield. He is now the Met and it feels like that’s the way it should be.
New York Mets, Free Agent Rumor, Terms Agreement
By Andrew Perna
Last offseason, Major League Baseball saw more than $1.3 billion spent on free agents, with three players signing nine-figure contracts. Those three (Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes) accounted for nearly 42% of the money spent, significant chunks of cash allocated for a 32-year-old, a pudgy power hitter and an injury-prone infielder.
Pujols, Fielder and Reyes are essentially The One Percent of the Major Leagues.
The trio, along with C.J. Wilson, who received the fourth-largest contract last winter, has something else in common besides bloated bank accounts. They all switched teams.
If you look back to the winter following the 2010 season, you'll see a trend. The five-highest paid free agents all changed jerseys. Carl Crawford ($142 million), Jayson Werth ($126 million), Cliff Lee ($120 million), Adrian Beltre ($96 million) and Adam Dunn ($56 million) accounted for 41.5% of the $1.3 billion that was spent.
Over the last five years, a lot of money has been thrown around and most of it goes to superstar players and comes from new teams. We addressed the 2010 and '11 offseasons above, but here is how the figures looked in the four previous years:
2009: A relatively low amount was spent ($846 million) thanks to a weak free agent class. Matt Holliday was given $106 million to stay with the Cardinals, but 18 of the 20 players that received a contract worth a total of $10 million or more signed up to play for a new team. The six highest-paid free agents (Holliday, John Lackey, Jason Bay, Chone Figgins, Aroldis Chapman and Randy Wolf) account for nearly 40% of the money spent.
2008: With the Yankees preparing for a 2009 World Series win, they increased the market on a trio of players. $1.16 billion was spent with the Yankees issuing the three largest deals. Mark Teixeira ($180 million), CC Sabathia ($161 million) and A.J. Burnett ($82.5 million) took the money and ran from the Angels, Brewers and Blue Jays, respectively. Seven of the 10 largest deals that winter went to players that changed addresses. The Yankees trio, along with Derek Lowe, who signed a $60 million deal with the Braves, accounted for 43% of the cash spent on free agents.
2007: $1.06 million was spent following the 2007 season and more than a quarter of that went to a single player. The Yankees re-signed Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $275 million deal that is now causing them to bang their heads against the wall. Over the last six offseasons the highest-paid player re-signed with his then-current employer only twice (Rodriguez in '07 and Holliday in '09). Six of the 10 highest-paid players from this offseason changed teams. The Yankees re-signed Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera and the Red Sox held onto Mike Lowell. Four players received deals worth more than $50 million in total (Rodriguez, Torii Hunter, Aaron Rowand and Posada). They accounted for nearly 45% of the money spent.
2006: This is our stopping point and it's quite an end. More than $1.6 billion was spent between the 2006 and '07 seasons thanks to three deals of at least $100 million. The top three earners, Alfonso Soriano ($136 million), Barry Zito ($126 million) and Carlos Lee ($100 million) all changed teams. Of the 10 largest contracts, only one was given to a player by his incumbent club. The Cubs re-signed Aramis Ramirez to a five-year, $75 million deal. Eight players were paid more than $50 million in total and they accounted for just over 40% of the money that changed hands. This was a good year to be on the open market.
Now that we've looked at each of the last six offseasons, let's look at all players that received a contract worth $50 million or more over that period. Players that re-signed are in italics.
- Alex Rodriguez, NYY to NYY, $275,000,000
- Albert Pujols, STL to LAA, $250,000,000
- Prince Fielder, MIL to DET, $214,000,000
- Mark Teixeira, LAA to NYY, $180,000,000
- CC Sabathia, MIL to NYY, $161,000,000
- Carl Crawford, TBR to BOS, $142,000,000
- Alfonso Soriano, WSH to CHC, $136,000,000
- Jayson Werth, PHI to WSH, $126,000,000
- Barry Zito, OAK to SFG, $126,000,000
- Cliff Lee, TEX to PHI, $120,000,000
- Matt Holliday, STL to STL, $120,000,000
- Jose Reyes, NYM to MIA, $106,000,000
- Carlos Lee, TEX to HOU, $100,000,000
- Adrian Beltre, BOS to TEX, $96,000,000
- Torii Hunter, MIN to LAA, $90,000,000
- John Lackey, LAA to BOS, $82,500,000
- A.J. Burnett, TOR to NYY, $82,500,000
- C.J. Wilson, TEX to LAA, $77,500,000
- Aramis Ramirez, CHC to CHC, $75,000,000
- J.D. Drew, LAD to BOS, $70,000,000
- Jason Bay, BOS to NYM, $66,000,000
- Yu Darvish, Japan to TEX, $60,000,000
- Derek Lowe, LAD to ATL, $60,000,000
- Aaron Rowand, PHI to SFG, $60,000,000
- Mark Buehrle, CWS to MIA, $58,000,000
- Adam Dunn, WSH to CHW, $56,000,000
- Gil Meche, SEA to KCR, $55,000,000
- Jorge Posada, NYY to NYY, $52,400,000
- Ryan Dempster, CHC to CHC, $52,000,000
- Daisuke Matsuzaka, Japan to BOS, $52,000,000
- Derek Jeter, NYY to NYY, $51,000,000
- Jonathan Papelbon, BOS to PHI, $50,000,058
- Gary Matthews, Jr., TEX to LAA, $50,000,000
- Victor Martinez, BOS to DET, $50,000,000
Since 2006, 34 players have received a contract worth at least $50,000,000 and only six signed the aforementioned deal with their incumbent team. The Yankees issued three of those deals (Rodriguez, Posada and Jeter), the Cubs two (Ramirez and Dempster) and the Cardinals (Holliday) one.
It's no surprise that top free agents appear to be signing with new teams, with rosters turning over so frequently and teams inking stars to extensions before they hit the open market, but the surprising aspect is the effect losing superstars has had on teams over the last six years.
As addressed above, 28 of the 34 players that have signed contracts worth at least $50 million over the last six years did so with new teams. That leaves six players that re-signed and the results were not positive. In those half dozen cases, the team won 89.5 games the year before free agency and 88.2 games in the first year of the new contract. A difference of 1.3 games might not seem like a lot, but with playoff races extremely close in recent years those teams went from enjoying four postseason appearances to just two.
I'm going to exclude two of the remaining 28 contracts, given to Daisuke Matsuzaka (Red Sox) and Yu Darvish (Rangers) because they didn't sign their contracts and go from one Major League team to another.
In the 26 cases of players changing teams in the last six offseasons, from the $250 million deal Pujols signed with the Angels to the $50 million deal that Victor Martinez signed with the Tigers, the data was interesting to say the least.
You might expect that the team losing their superstar would fall a bit, and they did. On average a team went from 87.2 wins in the final season before their star's free agency to 85.2 wins in the first campaign without their anchor. The loss of two wins was significant. Those teams saw 14 postseason berths decline to just seven the next year.
However, you might not expect teams to see a fractional reduction in wins in the first season of the mega-contract they issued. The figures went from 86.7 wins in the season prior to signing a big ticket free agent to 86.5 wins in the first year of the relationship. In the interest of full disclosure, star power did help those teams advance into October more frequently. Postseason berths rose from six to 11.
With chemistry-heavy teams like the Cardinals (2011) and Giants (2012) thriving, the effect of a superstar may be diminishing. Since 2010, there have been 12 cases of free agents signing a $50-plus million contract with a new team and they have made virtually no effect on their new employer. The signing teams have seen their average wins go from 85.6 to ... 85.6. The playoff appearances (four to four) have remained level as well.
The realization that letting a big ticket free agent walk isn't a big deal really sinks in when you look at the team that has a hole created in their lineup or pitching staff. If you look at only the last two years those clubs have seen a reduction in wins of just 0.5.
The White Sox (Buehrle), Cardinals (Pujols), Nationals (Dunn), Red Sox (Beltre), Rangers (Lee) and Phillies (Werth) all watched All-Star players leave as free agents in the last 24 months. They also all enjoyed an increased win total the following year.
Allowing a superstar to walk, or losing a bidding war, is a scary thought for many franchises, especially those in small markets. In recent years, the Brewers weren't able to shell out enough cash to re-sign Sabathia and Fielder, but they have remained competitive. The effect on attendance and merchandise sales notwithstanding, a team can prosper without their supposed savior.
Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the fact that the data I've used here is relatively crude. There are a number of factors that effect a team's win total from year-to-year that have nothing to do with losing a big-name free agent -- or adding one. Injuries and the status of division foes are just two. There are also nuances that effect a player's production from team-to-team such as where he will hit in the lineup, his place in a new rotation and the dimensions of his new home park.
Still, the fact of the matter is that losing a superstar isn't a death sentence for a team, whether in a small or large market.
That is both good news and also a potential course of action for the Rangers (Josh Hamilton), Cardinals (Kyle Lohse), Yankees (Nick Swisher), Rays (B.J. Upton), Braves (Michael Bourn) and Angels (Zach Greinke). You can win just as much without your current superstar and your payroll will be a lot lighter as well.
Of course, this is also a word of warning to teams that are fantasizing about putting someone like Hamilton in their uniform. It may not work out as well as you project.
St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, New York Yankees, New York Mets, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, Free Agent Rumor, Misc Rumor
By Andrew Perna
Less than 48 hours after the inaugural Wild Card playoff games set the final two divisional series matchups, the Nationals and Yankees will face off against the Cardinals and Orioles, respectively.
The quartet will join the party started by the Athletics-Tigers and Reds-Giants a day earlier, when Detroit and Cincinnati took early leads in the race towards the Fall Classic.
Nationals vs. Cardinals
The defending-champion Cardinals will have their hands full after dispatching of the Braves for the right to play the Nationals in this NLDS. Washington's precious pitching staff is still strong despite the shelving of Stephen Strasburg. They had the lowest ERA (3.33) of all playoff entrants in the regular season and were fourth in strikeouts with 8.17 per game.
If patient, the Nationals are inclined to walk a batter or two. They ranked tenth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.67), thanks to the highest walk of all playoff teams.
St. Louis may not have the arms that Washington does, but they have experience and a very good staff. They finished 2012 with the eighth-best ERA (3.71) despite finishing in the middle-of-the-pack in strikeouts and batting average against.
How you might ask? Only four teams issued fewer walks than the Cardinals, who averaged 2.79 K/BB – a rate higher than the flame-throwing Nationals. Both pitching staffs should benefit from the tightening of rotations in the playoffs and crossing home plate should be a rarity.
The Cardinals appear to be more comfortable than the Nationals in a high-scoring affair. They scored 4.72 runs per game to Washington's 4.51 over 162 games. Be it a blessing or a curse, the Nationals possess more power at the plate. They hit 36 more home runs in the regular season and had a slight edge in slugging (.428 to .421).
However, the Cardinals are built to rally with the highest on-base percentage (.338) in all of baseball under first-year manager Mike Matheny. The Nationals ranked twelfth (.322).
In the end, it may come down to who is more composed at the plate. The Nationals haven't been to the playoffs since they were the Expos, while the Cardinals are still the current champions. The contrast in experience will be a huge storyline throughout the series.
Bryce Harper may be only one player, but the 19-year-old wasn't intimidated by St. Louis during the regular season. He hit .429/.484/.750 with two home runs in 28 at-bats against the Cardinals.
Prediction: Nationals In Five
Yankees vs. Orioles
The new playoff format has yielded an inter-divisional matchup between an annual American League East power and a resurgent one. After battling over six months for the division title, the Yankees and Orioles will fight for the right to play in the ALCS against either the Tigers or Athletics.
New York scored 92 more runs than Baltimore, who managed to get into the postseason despite an unimpressive +7 run differential. Six teams that failed to qualify for the dance had a higher differential, not including the Phillies (+4), who were 17 games back of first place in the NL East. The Yankees (.265/.337/.453) were better than the Orioles (.247/.311/.417) across the board, but Buck Showalter's club has a knack for timely hitting and ranked second only to their rival in home runs.
The issue for Baltimore will be if their aggressive offensive approach yields a hot streak at the most important time. Only five teams struck out more in 2012 and they ranked sixteenth in walks drawn. The Yankees weren't above-average on the bases either, although they had Ichiro for just two months, but the Orioles finished the regular season with the fewest stolen bases (58) in the game. Both clubs ranked in the bottom half of the Major Leagues in sacrifices. This series will showcase American League baseball at its finest.
The winner of this series will be the one that sends the most balls into the bleachers.
In terms of pitching, the Yankees and Orioles were remarkably similar in several key statistics but New York has the edge in a growing trend. They featured similar ERAs (3.85 for Yankees, 3.90 for Orioles) and BAA (.253 to .252), but Joe Girardi's staff racked up 141 more strikeouts (nearly one per game) than Baltimore. As teams attack more at the plate, the ability to get batters to swing-and-miss has become more important.
As division rivals they have seen plenty of each other already this year, splitting 18 games as the Yankees used just a one-game advantage to grab the AL East and avoid playing the Rangers in the one-game Wild Card battle.
Conventional wisdom suggests the Yankees (equipped with Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte) are more prepared for October baseball than the likes of Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds, but the Orioles have been anything but predictable this season. The outcome of the series will hinge on whether Baltimore continues to defy statistics or if things that tend to regress, like late-game hitting and wins in close games, and move towards the mean.
Prediction: Yankees In Four
Washington Nationals, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, St. Louis Cardinals
Bobby Valentine has thick skin, but stepped into a very difficult situation in Boston and has not had the support of his players or management.
Ichiro Suzuki no longer wanted to be a part of the rebuilding process in Seattle and the Yankees needed a speedy outfielder.
We picked 22 All-Star reserves for each league with big names like Jeter, Verlander, Darvish, Sabathia, Castro, Holliday, Cain and Strasburg getting the nod.
The Indians should not have the record they do, a call for expanded replay, the Matt Kemp-Bryce Harper farce and struggles of the Josh Hamilton.
Alex Rodriguez ties Lou Gehrig for an all-time record, Andre Ethier gets a big deal from the Dodgers, Philip Humber struggles and two big market teams are in last place.
Why the First-Year Player Draft will never be a hit, the regression of Ian Kennedy, what ails the Pirates, Derek Jeter comes down and the future of Edwin Encarnacion.