Thursday, December 9, 2010

Rockies Propose Another $100M Contract

The baseball world has gone mad!  For two years, teams were acting like paupers.  Now, they're flush with cash.  Where is all of this money coming from? 

So far this winter, four players (soon to be five) have received contracts exceeding $100M in total value--Troy Tulowitski, Adrian Gonzalez, Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford, and soon to be Cliff Lee.  Now, the Rockies want to add another to the mix--Carlos Gonzalez.  Carlos Gonzalez?  Is this the same player that has only two years of service time?  Is this the same player that's not eligible for salary arbitration until 2012?  Apparently so.
The Rockies are willing to give Carlos Gonzalez an unprecedented contract for a player with barely two big-league seasons on his resume.
They would be open to a six- to seven-year deal, the length of which would guarantee Gonzalez in the neighborhood of $100 million, according to owner Dick Monfort.
"I am hopeful, yes, that we can get something done," Monfort told The Denver Post in an exclusive interview Wednesday.
I'm speechless.  First of all, why are the Rockies trying to sign Gonzalez to an extension right now?  Don't the know they can sign him for the league minimum for 2011, and he has no recourse?  Secondly, the Rockies would be buying out all three of his arbitration years.  During these three seasons, he'd probably make $20-30M at most.   Just for fun, let's take the median at $25M.*  Assuming a 7 year $100M extension, this means the Rockies would theoretically be comfortable paying him $75M for years five, six, and seven of the deal.  Sounds pretty crazy.  Right?  Well, this is precisely what the Rockies are proposing.  Some might call this reckless, but I don't want to go that far.  I don't want to be lumped in with the Mike Lupicas of the world.  Let's just call the contract proposal anti-Evan Longorian.

* Let's say the Rockies give him a contract of $500K for 2011.  Through the arbitration process he gets $4.5M in 2012, $8M in 2013, and $12M in 2014.  In our theoretical scenario, he'd earn $25M over the course of his next four pre-free agent seasons. 

As for Gonzalez's performance, I think he has a ton of potential.  That said, he has a long way to go before he's a complete player.  For one, he's averse to taking a walk.  His career walk rate is 6.3%, which is below the league average of 8-9%.  While his below average walk rate may not have mattered much last year (due to his .336 batting average propping up his .376 OBP), it will matter at some point in the future.  For example, his 2010 batting average was propped up by an unsustainable .384 batting average on balls in play (BABIP).  Next year, when his BABIP regresses back to his expected rate (around .330), he'll see a corresponding regression in his batting average and OBP.  As a result, Gonzalez will be less effective at the plate until he learns how to take more pitches, draw more walks, and avoid outs.

Another area where Gonzalez needs to improve is his defense.  Yes, he won a Gold Glove, and made some spectacular looking catches in the field.  Based on the advanced metrics though, those spectacular catches were the exception to the rule.  Not the rule.  Gonzalez was by no means a poor defender in 2010, just a slightly below average defender.  UZR had him valued at -3.8 runs; Total Zone had him at -2; and Defensive Runs Saved had him at -2.  Part of this was possibly due to the manner in which the Rockies shuffled him from position to position within the outfield.*  I'd like to see how he performs playing a full season or two at a corner outfield position before making a decision on his defensive abilities. 

*He started 51 games in left, 55 games in center, and 34 games in right. 

The Rockies need to take a step back, and think this out carefully.  I understand their thought process.  They're afraid if they don't act quickly, the Werth and Crawford contracts will help price them out of the Gonzalez market much like they were priced out of the Matt Holliday market a couple of years ago.  I understand, but it doesn't make any sense to panic.  Yes, Scott Boras is Gonzalez's agent.  Yes, he's going to make them pay through the nose, especially if he ends up being a consistent 5-6 WAR player over the next few years.  That said, Gonzalez under their control for the next four seasons at a rather reasonable salary (at least in relation to his projected output).  This inherently lowers the bargaining power of Gonzalez/Boras.  Why tip your hand by saying you're willing to overpay?  Plus, contracts that buy up arbitration years are supposed to be designed to be team friendly.   The contract the Rockies are proposing is anything but team friendly.  The money saved on Gonzalez now could be used to fill other holes on the diamond--like signing Adrian Beltre to play third base.)   

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