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Best contracts in the game right now


Sal Perez is the best value contract in the game right now. photo via

Sal Perez is the best value contract in the game right now. photo via

Inspired by Steve AdamsMLBTR chat on 11/18/14, I thought this was a fascinating topic.  What players have the best value contracts in the game right now?

For several years, the answer here was Evan Longoria, who signed a 6yr/$17.5M contract in 2008 and promptly put up three straight seasons north of 7.0 bWAR.  We’re into the option years on that original deal, which are still pretty affordable, and Longoria did get a 9-figure extension, so he’s not entirely in this discussion any longer.  Call him the “godfather” of ridiculously good value contracts.

Using the obvious websites ( and Cots’ salary database now at, lets take a look at some candidates.  Note; I refer to a “valuation” of $6M per win above replacement as a way to “value” production.  There are some known limitations to equating salary to this figure, and there are others who estimate it even higher, but $6M per is still a decent estimate to use as a quick estimate of a player’s “monetary” production on the field.

Note: we are NOT including the litany of pre-arb players who are putting up huge seasons.  This is mostly trying to focus on those players who have signed for affordable contracts but who are delivering huge value.  Thus players like Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon, Kyle Seager, Corey Kluber and Starling Marte are not included here.

Candidate contracts: I’ve arranged these in my opinion of the order of value:

  • Sal Perez: 5 years/$7M (2012-16), plus 2017-19 club options worth just a *combined* $14.75M.  This for a guy who has made the all-star team and won the catcher Gold Glove two years running.  Wow.
  • Chris Sale: 5 years/$32.5M (2013-17), plus 2018-19 options of $12.5M and $13.5M.  This for a guy who led the AL this year in ERA+ and has received significant Cy Young votes 3 years running.  His bWAR in the last three seasons: 5.9, 6.9 and 6.6.  That’s crazy.
  • Jose Altuve: 4 years/$12.5M (2014-17), plus 2018-19 options at $6M and $6.5M.   Two-time all-star, led the AL in both hits and batting average in 2014.   Just put up a 6.6 bWAR season … and the Astros got it for just $1.25M in salary.
  • Jonathan Lucroy: 5 years/$11M (2012-16), plus 2017 option at $5.25M.  this late bloomer signed an incredibly affordable deal, then had a break out 2014 season where he posted a 6.7 bWAR, made the All-Star team, finished 4th in the MVP voting and should have won the gold glove as the best framing catcher in the game.   His total salary for the remaining three years of his contract is just $12.25M.
  • Madison Bumgarner.  Current contract: 5 years/$35M (2013-17), plus 2018-19 options at $12M each.  Bumgarner was 4th in Cy Young voting this year with a 4 bWAR season but (as we all know) dominated the playoffs, single-handedly handing the Giants their 3rd World Series title in the last 5 seasons.  A 4-war season is worth at least $24M on the open market these days, but he earned just $3.75M this year.  His options can vest and increase with certain achievements, but even at their max $16M value he’s still a massive bargain.
  • Yasiel Puig: 7 years/$42M (2012-18).  Everyone thought the Dodgers were crazy to commit $42M to an unknown; now it looks like a massive bargain.  For $2M salaries the last two years he’s put up 4.9 and 5.4 bWAR seasons.
  • Julio Teheran: 6 years/$32.4M (2014-19).  This contract gets expensive later, but in 2014 he was paid just $800k to put up a 4.0 win season.  If Teheran continues to be the #2 pitcher he showed this year, the Braves have great value on their hands.
  • Jose Quintana: 5 years/$21M (2014-18).  Thanks to the crummy team he toils for, Quintana’s exploits have gone unnoticed.  But he’s now got a career 117 ERA+ and has reached 200 innings both of the last two seasons and is signed for a song going forward.  Its no wonder analysts scoff when his name is mentioned in trade talks.
  • Michael Brantley: 4 years/$25M (2014-17), plus 2018 option of $11M).  This is preliminary, but based on his 7 bWAR season in 2014 (for just a $1.5M salary), this could be a huge bargain.  Is he a flash in the 2014 pan or is he for real?  If he’s for real, the Indians have a fantastic value going forward.
  • Ben Zobrist: 4 years/$18M (2010-13), plus 2014-15 options of $7 and $7.5M.  This was the poster child for years of affordable contracts (once Evan Longoria got his extension).  He’s averaged 4.75 bWAR over the past four seasons while playing six or seven different positions for the Rays.  Even in the final 2015 season at $7.5M, he’s projecting at 4 bWAR, still a significant under-value.  Keith Law calls  him “the best contract value” in MLB history; maybe he should be higher on this list.
  • Mike Trout: 6 years/$144.5M (2015-20).  No, a $33.25M salary in 2020 isn’t really a bargain, but the Angels are still getting the best player in baseball for $1M in 2014 and $5.25M in 2015.  Even if Trout declines to “just” a 6 bWAR player for the next 6 years … the Angels are still coming out ahead on the $6M/WAR evaluation technique.
  • John Lackey: 1yr/mlb minimum (2015).  He had a quirk in his previous contract that vested a MLB-minimum year thanks to an injury a couple years ago, so the Cardinals get the benefit of a veteran innings-eating 100 ERA+ starter at the league minimum.  Nothing to sneeze at, even if its just a one year contract.  On the open market you have to think he’s worth $8-$10M/season.
  • Steve Pearce: 1 year/$850k (2014).  This isn’t really a true candidate like the other players here, but Pearce’s story is worth noting.  He was DFA’d and *released* in April and re-signed a couple days later, but still posted a 6 bWAR season for Baltimore this year.  He’s arbitration eligible for 2015 but how far could his salary really rise after an 850k salary?
  • Jonathan Singleton: 5yrs/$10M plus 3 club options.  He may not profile as being worth this contract now … but if he lives up anywhere close to expectations, those later option years at $2-$2.5M are going to look pretty darn good.  No wonder the players union howled when he signed this deal.
  • Adam Jones: 4yrs/$62M is nothing to shake a stick at, even if his “gold glove” defense is rather suspect.
  • Edwin Encarnacion: 3 years/$29M (2013-15), plus 2016 club option of $10M.  Yeah that’s a pretty good deal.
  • Jose Bautista: 5 years/$65M (2011-15), plus 2016 option of $14M.   $14M for a guy who probably would have gotten 33% more had he been a FA two years ago.

How about the same analysis for the Nats?  The clear best value players on the team are Anthony Rendon and Tanner Roark.  Both Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister delivered pretty good WAR/pay value.  Denard Span just gave us a 3.6 bWAR season for $6.5M in salary; a pretty good deal.  But none of these contracts really contend with the above list.

Did I miss anyone obvious?  Do you agree with my rankings above?

2/24/16: Dan Szymborski posted his own updated version of this topic here: .  He goes by surplus projected WAR.  Carlos Correa #1, Trout #2, then a bunch of pre-arb high-end rookies.

15 Responses to 'Best contracts in the game right now'

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  1. Todd, what did you learn from this exercise in terms of intelligent general managing? Is there any rhyme or reason to high-value contracting?

    Of course for every good one, you can probably point out two or three bad ones. Injuries (Kemp et al.) are impossible to predict; giving too much to a player who may not be that good (Andrus) may not be. All the more reason not to buy out the pre-arb years except in extremely rare, exceptional cases (Mr. Trout).


    2 Dec 14 at 8:33 am

  2. I’m not sure I have any great insight that we all don’t already know;
    – Significant FA contracts (especially for pitchers) never work out. I think the last time an “Ace” FA pitcher hit the market and earned his keep for his team may have been Pedro Martinez.
    – Because of the structure of MLB contracts, teams control a player basically through nearly all their peak years at discounted rates. FA contracts at best may get 2-3 years of peak value but then mostly decline.
    – Some teams have gotten great pre-excellence lockup deals (as discussed in this post) but they’re quite rare and mostly feature role players who accepted the security of longer term deals … then saw themselves take significant steps forward in their abilities.
    – Teams who do the best at developing players can stay relevant the longest without destroying payroll. For me, St. Louis, Tampa and Atlanta are probably the best examples of this right now.
    – It makes it even more scary that teams like Boston and the Cubs not only have great farm systems, but also have the means to buy what they need to compete. I think we’re just a couple years from the Cubs being 100 win domination teams.
    – At the same time that teams are getting deals for buying out arbitration years … players get security against injury. Its win-win for both sides. We’ll soon see this with Harper; i’ll bet the Nats offer him a 4 year deal to buy out his arb years. And I’ll bet Boras says no way, opting to fight at every turn.

    Todd Boss

    2 Dec 14 at 9:03 am

  3. I really like what the Braves have been doing recently. The contracts to Simmons, Teheran, Freeman. It seems that the front office really trusts the scouting department and is willing to give the players multiple years before they actually breakout.

    Todd, in your research does it seems that teams which reliably scout and develop well are the ones that are giving these contracts out? Does it say something about the trust that a front office has in the scouting department to give out these contracts and wait and see if they actually fulfill the terms of it?

    I would love to see the Nats offer Harper, Rendon, Roark some long term contracts which seem like a slight overpay right now. Then keep giving contracts to young players who make it up to the Show and look like they will stick. Just buy out the arb years and maybe a couple more and trust the scouting and development department.


    2 Dec 14 at 2:18 pm

  4. I think my conclusion is that teams should be more aggressive with giving out these contracts to 0-3 guys in order to gain control over their prime years. They will miss on guys certainly, but rarely will that impact even a small market team, because the committed numbers are so low.

    Houston had the right idea, imo, but just wasn’t offering enough. If you wait until the player is in arbitration, you will certainly pay closer to market for his services, if you can get him locked up at all.

    I think the economics vastly incent teams to be aggressive here. Like we talked about with the injury guys, one Longo contract makes up for several misses.


    2 Dec 14 at 2:40 pm

  5. Todd, I agree completely on Harper.
    Boras was openly mocking Mike Trout for signing that 6 year extension. Never mind that the last 3 years of it he’s getting paid $33 million a year, and it expires while he’s still in his peak.
    The only downside to Trout is his agent doesn’t get the spotlight.
    I’d much rather lock up Rendon instead.

    Mark L

    2 Dec 14 at 4:19 pm

  6. The Braves seem to have done very well in locking up their players long term. Teheran, Freeman have certainly worked out well. Simmons the jury is very much still out on, because if his bat doesn’t play he’s essentially a slightly better version of Danny Espinosa (only with fewer whiffs and more infield popups). They also issued a big money extension to Craig Kimbrel, and investing big money in relief pitchers is often a fool’s errand (although Kimbrel IS really, really good).

    And their record at signing free agents or providing extensions to other players is beyond dreadful to the point of being nearly catastrophic. Dan Uggla. B.J. Upton. Chris Johnson. Yikes.

    John C.

    2 Dec 14 at 5:21 pm

  7. Speaking of Los Bravos, they nontendered Medlen AND Beachy. Wow. Let that one sink in. Hey fellas, wanna come hang out at the Club Med of pitching rehab? We don’t really need you at all in 2015, except maybe by playoff time, so take your time and get it right.

    Wouldn’t that be a coup to have those guys waiting in the wings for 2016? Who knows how they’ll recover, but what other team could give them the flexibility that the Nats could?

    On the home front, not surprised that the Nats tendered everyone. Det has too much trade value to just let walk.


    2 Dec 14 at 7:33 pm

  8. Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, bashing the Braves for Uggla, BJ, et al., for which Wren has already paid the ultimate price. As for their scouting and drafting, it hasn’t really been the same since Roy Clark decamped for DC.

    Nats drafting and development – great with pitching, on track with the OF, but drawing a blank in the INF in a time of need. In fairness, looking back a few years when they would have been drafting for today, they thought they had all the infield but 1B covered with Zimmerman, Desmond, and Espinoza. In fact, that was a question when they drafted Rendon – where’s he going to play? Skole won their minor-league player of the year, and they got Walters for peanuts. There seemed to be some depth in the pipeline.

    As for the Nats and extending their young, they’re sort of up a tree with Harper, Rendon, and Stras as Boras clients. They made their deal with the devil to get this extraordinary collection of young talent when others would have shied away, but part of the deal was knowing that they probably would never get any discounts or security with them. We don’t know what happened with Desmond and Zimmermann last winter, which would have been the ideal time to extend them. Perhaps they could have gotten deals done with a little sweetening. Perhaps they weren’t willing to sweeten without knowing the MASN future.

    In general, I favor trying to sign guys to contracts in the first or second arb year. If you sign them in pre-arb, you’re radically overpaying for those years, plus you’re really gambling on a limited body of MLB work. If you buy out two years of arb plus three of FA, you’re getting their peak. Beyond that, you’re paying for their decline. Some slow down less rapidly than others, but in the post-PED world, everyone slows down. It’s inevitable.


    2 Dec 14 at 7:34 pm

  9. We don’t know what happened with Desmond and Zimmermann last winter, which would have been the ideal time to extend them. Perhaps they could have gotten deals done with a little sweetening. Perhaps they weren’t willing to sweeten without knowing the MASN future.

    The unspoken part of the “we don’t know” is that it’s at least as likely that the Nats made sweet deal offers, disregarding MASN for whatever reason (confidence of success, Lerners’ deep pockets, etc) … and Zimmermann and Desmond declined because they thought (likely correctly) that they could get even more by going to the free agent market directly.

    John C.

    2 Dec 14 at 9:04 pm

  10. It’s hard to know. If I’m remembering correctly, my impression was that the Zimmermann and Desmond camps acted last winter like they felt they were being low-balled while also intimating that they were planning to test the FA waters no matter what. I think that’s still their plan. Fister is the only one I think might be signable this offseason.


    2 Dec 14 at 9:13 pm

  11. John C said … and Zimmermann and Desmond declined because they thought (likely correctly) that they could get even more by going to the free agent market directly.
    Or that the market itself was moving up (whether they waited for free agency or not). In JZ’s case, seems like each side acknowledges that the Bailey contract reset the market landscape for SPs. And it keeps moving up.

    I don’t think either JZ or Desi are committed to going to FA, I just think they want to be paid their market price, not sign a team friendly deal. (Even given that we don’t know what happened, I’d still bet my money that Rizzo took a while to accept where salaries were going, and wasn’t really offering market deals)

    6 years is now ‘market’ for an elite starting pitcher. I believe that if they offered JZ a 6 yr deal at $20/22m per, he’d sign right now. That is his market, whether we want to accept it or not. You might not think he, or any pitcher, is worth that kind of money and I think there are plausible arguments either way, but then we also aren’t keeping Strasburg, nor signing Lester, Scherzer, Price, Samardzjia…

    I also think Fister may not be as easy to sign as we think. I expect he’ll price himself near Shields. This is big money, and like I said, there are good arguments for either side of it, so I can’t blame Rizzo if he thinks it’s unwise to spend that kind of money on starting pitchers into their mid thirties.

    But the deals for guys in their pre-arb seasons usually have such low guaranteed dollars that it won’t break a teams payroll to be wrong, and the ability to add another year or two of control through their peak is extremely valuable. If Simmons doesn’t ever hit more than he does, he may or may not be worth the $55m guarantee, but it will be real close. If he does, the extra years of control through his prime will be a bonanza for the team. It really is skewed to the upside for the team.


    2 Dec 14 at 9:59 pm

  12. (wow i’m late to a bunch of great comments):

    NotBobby; the only research I have that could give indications of what you ask are the “roster construction” research I’ve done in the past for playoff teams. I didn’t do it this year b/c of time considerations (its a pain in the butt to look up every player on every playoff team). But looking back at a previous version of that post I have identified 4 basic ways that GMs construct teams in the modern game (with some team examples):
    1. Build almost entirely from within: Tampa, St.Louis, Cincy, Atlanta decent examples here
    2. Ride your developed core and using prospects to acquire depth: Detroit and Washington good examples here
    3. Wheel and Deal: Oakland the key example, but also Cleveland, Atlanta to some extent, Pittsburgh to some extent
    4. Spend what it takes to win: Los Angeles teams, Boston in 2013, Yankees of course.

    You see the damage that #4 does; New York has reached its limit apparently, and seems content to let its aging expensive FA core age out of their deals so they can do a Boston/Chicago re-building. Philly is a unique case; they are part #2, part #4 … but the contracts they gave out to their core (Ryan Howard especially) are killing them and they over-paid some FAs that they cannot get rid of.

    Look at St. Louis; they did NOT give Pujols, their decade-long franchise player, the $200M contract he sought and yet have made the playoffs every year afterwards. They turned the comp pick for Pujols into Michael Wacha (a fantastic pick) and had another supp pick in Piscotty, didn’t break the bank, and continue to be relevant. For me St. Louis is *the* franchise to emulate in the modern game.

    Harper, Rendon == Boras clients, so they’re not signing anything ahead of their time, and they’ll go to FA. There’s just no point in talking about it otherwise. Roark may be an excellent case of someone who toiled for *so* long he might want to buy some insurance.

    Todd Boss

    3 Dec 14 at 9:55 am

  13. With Desmond and Zimmermann, they want to be paid top dollar AND stay with the team.
    Remember, Zimmermann is already on his 2nd elbow.
    The Nats eventually let everyone know they offered Desmond $106 million and wered turned down. He didn’t do anything to enhance his value in 2014. Still an erratic defensive prescence and his hitting peripherals tag him as a league average hitter.

    Mark L

    3 Dec 14 at 10:00 am

  14. (new posted on the weird non-tenders)

    Todd Boss

    3 Dec 14 at 10:15 am

  15. Zimmermann wants Bailey money. Desmond wants (something close to) Andrus money. Both are betting on their 2014-15 performance and so far, Zimmermann is winning, Desmond is treading water. Zimmermann’s 2nd great season in a row plus his no-hitter plus his 8 2/3 playoff loss all earning him more in the FA market.

    Maybe Desmond wants to play for his “home” team of the Yankees, being a Florida guy. Waiting a year to become the next Derek Jeter.

    Todd Boss

    3 Dec 14 at 10:19 am

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