Monday, November 24, 2014
ARE THEY WORTH THE MONEY?
With the signing of Giancarlo Stanton to an egregious $325M contract, the annual debate has begun about big money, long-term contracts. Every year at this time, there are premier players that are only available to teams willing to empty the proverbial piggy bank. As Yankee fans, we want to see Brian Cashman pull out the checkbook and fill the roster with Cy Young’s and MVP’s, allegedly assuring us a World Series win. At the same time, having the roster and budget clogged with high-salary players who are clearly in decline is a constant frustration for fans, and I’m sure a frustration for the front office.
Last week, we told you that Stanton is not worth “13 years, $325 million great, especially when you still need to field 24 others guys as well.” (Read: SHORTSTOPS, ELVIS ANDRUS & TROY TULOWITZKI) So, what possesses teams to write such checks, and where is the right balance of dollars and productivity? Clearly, the Yankees regret the A-Rod deal, and perhaps they regret not shelling out a little more to try to keep Robinson Cano.
I decided to look at the financials versus productivity, almost like an account might, and see what the numbers tell us. For hitters, I am going to say that one very good indicator of the value of a player is the total number of bases he gets. I know there are many indicators, but we will use this one for now. I will also say that Dollars per Total Bases (DTB) is representative of what a team will pay its players for each base they earned. If a player’s DTB is low, the team is getting a bargain. If it is high, the team is overpaying and the player may not be worth the money. It goes back to a simple concept, that businesses pay people for what they have earned, and that both business and workers get a fair shake.
Since Alex Rodriguez is a popular person to pick on when it comes to salary and productivity, we will start with him. When he was 24 and signed his infamous $250M contract, the Rangers began paying him $55K and $70K per base. This DTB continued after his trade to the Yankees, and he continued to produce 300+ total bases per year. We knew he was expensive, but no one was complaining. We were getting what we paid for. Then he renegotiated his contract in 2007, and that is where trouble began. He reached his middle 30’s, and injuries started to creep in. In 2008, his DTB jumped to ~$95K, and the following year it jumped into six figures. By 2011, when he only played 99 games, the Yankees paid him over $180K per base.
Let us put this into context, in case you think I am playing games with the numbers. The San Francisco Giants just won their third World Series in 5 years. As a team in 2014, the Giants team roster had an average DTB of just under $69K. Remember that $55K-70K range I mentioned earlier? The Giants were right near the top of that range. They were paying, and they were getting their money’s worth. When you look at Giancarlo Stanton’s performance so far in his career, the Marlins got a deal. Last year, when he earned $6.5M, his DTB was about $20K. As his contract gradually pays him more per year, he will certainly be worth it until he reaches year 4, when his annual salary balloons to $25M. If he produces 300 TB per year (which he has not reached in any single year of his career yet), he might still be worth it. The question is, what are the Marlins going to do in year 9, when his annual salary reaches $32M. He will have to produce more than 320 Total Bases per year to keep his DTB below $100K, meaning that he would be worth the money. He will be 33 by then. Somehow, I do not see this working out.
I mentioned Robinson Cano earlier. In his final season with the Yankees, his DTB was ~$48K. In his first year with the Mariners, it jumped to ~$89K. Definitely on the high side, but respectable enough given his drop in HR’s. It makes the point that maybe the Yankees could have paid more, but it is the first of a 10-year contract, and the question will always be if he can sustain or exceed that consistently for the next 9 years.
In many ways, it is like making an investment in a car. Let us say you there is a car that has your interest, it is strong, durable, and looks really sweet. However, let us say that Consumer Reports says that the car very often breaks down after two years on the road. Would you sign a 5-year loan to buy the car? Neither would I. Why not? Because even if I enjoy the car for the first two years, I wouldn’t want to sign up for 3 years of driving a mechanic’s gold mine. I would have to continue to pay the loan, and probably pay more to have it serviced. If I tried to sell it, it is unlikely that I would get enough to pay off the loan. I would either be stuck with a lemon or with a recurring expense for which I’d be getting nothing. Sounds familiar?
Signing players is never as simple as buying a car, but you get the point. I am glad that we are not breaking the bank for the hottest player on the market, being locked into contracts that run for longer than the player is productive. At the same time, I would like to see the Yankees go after some key, productive players at reasonable salaries and contract lengths. My two cents.
--Ike Dimitriadis, BYB Senior Staff Writer
My blog is: Shots from Murderer's Row
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