The Worst Extensions From Two Offseasons Ago

Nearly a billion dollars across 112 contract years was committed to 33 players with less than six years of Major League service time during the 2009-10 offseason extension period, spanning October 2009 through April 2010.  Joe Mauer, Ryan Howard, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, and Justin Upton each signed deals worth at least $50MM.  Two years removed from this extension period, which contracts now appear the most regrettable?

  • Howard's five-year, $125MM extension begins with the 2012 season, the beginning of which he'll miss due to a torn Achilles tendon.  Ruben Amaro's deal was panned at the time and only looks worse now.
  • Mauer's eight-year, $184MM extension began with a whimper, as he was limited to only 82 games and showed no power at the plate in 2011.  Bill Smith technically gets credit for this one, but any $100MM+ deal goes beyond the GM level.
  • Amaro signed Joe Blanton to a three-year, $24MM deal prior to the 2010 season.  Due to an elbow injury, Blanton didn't provide his usual innings in 2011.  He's penciled into the 2012 rotation to finish off the contract.  The main player the Athletics received for Blanton in '08 was Adrian Cardenas, who was recently designated for assignment.
  • Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd signed Huston Street to a three-year, $22.5MM deal two years ago.  Street was decent for 105 2/3 innings for the 2010-11 Rockies, but they unloaded him to San Diego last month in a salary dump.  It seems the Rockies decided Rafael Betancourt could handle the ninth inning at setup man-type money.
  • Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik locked up center fielder Franklin Gutierrez to a four-year, $20.5MM deal.  At the time, locking down the arbitration years of a defensive-minded player did not seem necessary, since the arbitration process rewards power numbers for position players.  The Mariners still may benefit from getting one or two of Gutierrez's free agent years, if he bounces back.
  • Adam Lind's extension was the first authored by GM Alex Anthopoulos, and the initial returns are ugly.  It's a team-friendly deal with steady arbitration salaries and three club options, but the bottom line is the team guaranteed $18MM to a player who may not have a future as a regular.
  • Mark Reynolds' three-year, $14.5MM extension was a Josh Byrnes deal.  Home runs pay in arbitration and defense may be largely ignored, but a .210 batting average affects earnings negatively.  Since the contract only covered arbitration years, it was probably best to just let the process play out.
  • In addition to Mauer, then-Twins GM Bill Smith locked up starter Nick Blackburn for four years and $14MM, plus a club option.  Like many of the players on this list, Blackburn may have seemed at the time like a nice guy to have around, but going year-to-year made more sense.
  • As a non-tender candidate with the Royals, Mark Teahen's three-year, $14MM extension from White Sox GM Kenny Williams was surprising from day one.  The Blue Jays took him off their hands to facilitate the Edwin Jackson deal that led to their Colby Rasmus acquisition, and will pay Teahen $5.5MM to not play for them in 2012.
  • Athletics GM Billy Beane guaranteed $12.5MM to Brett Anderson, at the time a record for a pitcher with less than two years of service.  Because of Anderson's elbow issues and eventual Tommy John surgery, it turns out guaranteeing him at least $8.5MM for his first two arbitration years was a mistake.  The club option on Anderson's first free agent year (2015) might still be a plus, but they'd have to overpay at $8MM for his third arbitration year in 2014 to have the chance to realize that.
  • Rangers GM Jon Daniels rewarded Scott Feldman with a two-year, $11.5MM deal, covering the pitcher's last two arbitration years.  I suppose the main benefit was a $9.25MM option on the righty's first free agent year, but that's not looking valuable now.
  • There are a few more multiyear extensions from the 2009-10 offseason worth less than $10MM that proved unnecessary.  The overall point is that teams often don't win by guaranteeing multiyear earnings of arbitration eligible players.  To evaluate extensions this winter, one must estimate the amount of the arbitration savings compared to going year-to-year, and also determine the value of potential free agent seasons.  For non-stars or players with one good year under their belts, year-to-year is usually the way to go.  
  • Perhaps the Mauer and Howard contracts demonstrate that letting a star reach or finish his contract year has its benefits, even if it increases the risk of losing the player to free agency.  On the other hand, Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez both currently have three-year commitments worth $60MM or less with their original teams, as opposed to seven or eight-year free agent deals signed this winter in excess of $160MM.

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37 Responses to The Worst Extensions From Two Offseasons Ago Leave a Reply

  1. He just put up a 729 OPS in 82 games and there are increased questions about how much longer he’ll catch. 18/per? That would be psychotic.

    • vtadave 3 years ago

      What you call “psychotic”, I call “fair”.

      – D. Dombrowski

      • Fielder is coming off an excellent season and a stellar run of health. The contract may be insanely big, but at least he’s coming off a superstar season. Paying $18 million a year to a guy who just played half a season last year is much crazier.

        • chrisn313 3 years ago

          More importantly, Dombrowski had little to do with the decision to sign Prince. Edit that with “- M. Illitch” and I will agree.

  2. The problem with a long term contract rarely involves the first year. Not counting contracts signed by Omar Minaya, of course.

  3. Howard’s deal is four years less than Fielder’s… and Howard is more than four years older than Fielder when the contracts start.

  4. mhaftman7 3 years ago

    So by your calculations, when Pujols (5.1WAR in 2011)hits years 6-10, not only will his sub 3 WAR be justifiable, the 5/130+ remaining will be too?

    • DK8 3 years ago

      No Pujols contract is likely an overpay too. But he has a chance to significantly outperform his contract in terms of $/WAR on the front end, which is what the Angels need for the contract to be ok in the later years. You can make a case that overpaying for Pujols in years 6-10 is worth it if he is a monster for the 1st 3, and really really good for the next 2-3.

      Howard has almost zero chance of overperforming his contract in any year given his peak performance to date, his age, and now the injury.

    • DK8 3 years ago

      Also, you’re assuming Pujols is a true-talent 5 win player.  That might be true, but I’d bet the Angels think his 1st half last season was an aberration, and the 2nd half where he was the same old Albert is more representative. They are probably using a 7 WAR baseline.

      I had to do mental gymnastics to come up with a rosy scenario in which Howard is a 3 win player. That’s a pretty big difference right there based on whether you assume the best or worst case.

    • Not to mention, the production of Howard vs. Pujols comes from different sources.  While power is a part of Pujols’ game, Howard’s game is ALL power.  As players age, the power numbers usually are the first thing to begin declining.  If this happens to Howard, he is basically finished.  Pujols could lose some of his power, and he is still going to be around a .300 hitter, with a .400 or higher OBP in most years.  Pujols is far more likely to age well when compared to Howard. 

      • exactly

        I also think we are forgetting the business aspect of the Pujols deal though.  Even if he averages .290 and 20 HR over the last 4-5 years of that contract he’s going to be putting fans into the seats as he starts passing names on the all time lists. 

  5. Cardenas was the bigger prospect at the time, but as he moved down the defensive spectrum and his bat didn’t improve, he went from possible above average regular to fringe major leaguer.

  6. It was the right kind of bad signing. Lock up a young position player, with plenty of club options. The whole contract is less than a year of an elite free agent. Risk worth taking, even if it’s not looking good.

  7. mhaftman7 3 years ago

    Where does Howard rank in terms of actual salary in 2012?

  8. If you’ve put up two straight OBPs under .300, especially as a player with little to no defensive value, you’re borderline to be a major leaguer, let alone making several million.

  9. Even worse than Jason Bay’s contract?

    • Yep. Bay’s contract is stone cold awful, but Werth’s contract is more than $50 million more. And was given to a player who was never elite, was coming from a great home park (the one that helped Rowand get his awful contract too), and did not have the profile of a guy who would age well–not that Bay did either, but Werth was more egregious.

      • owlssc 3 years ago

        What about Barry Zito? That description fits perfectly with his contract. Pitcher’s park, tons of money, lots of years, and no reason to believe he would age well.

        • And there’s no way another team bid within $20 million of what the Giants did. That’s definitely up there.

  10. TheHotCorner 3 years ago

    Totally agree with you.  The Twins would have had a PR nightmare had they not signed “Baby Jesus” no matter what the cost. 

    His contract would be easier to swallow if he could stick behind the plate and play 130 games a year there but I just don’t see that happening.  

  11. DK8 3 years ago

    In 2012 alone? Howard is #1 by AAV.  However, by cash paid he is below a few of those guys because his 2012 salary is $20 mil. The breakdown from 2012-2016 goes $20, $20, $25, $25, $25, with a $10 million buyout or $23 million team option for 2017.

    • mhaftman7 3 years ago

      What is his rank in just 2012? If the 2017 option is picked up, the AAV drops to 23.

      • DK8 3 years ago

        Spotrac says there are 10 guys who will make more money than Howard in 2012, with 4 being 1st basemen. But it doesn’t make sense to completely ignore the buyout in 2017.

        • mhaftman7 3 years ago

          It’s just very convenient for people to criticize a contract that is team friendly compared to the other Mega deals. The truth of the matter is that the Phillies signed Howard to a shorter term deal with an inflated AAV as compensation. Non-Phillies fans see decline, while actual fans see a player that played hurt for a year and a half. The best part of the “impartiality” is that with Howard, decline is a certainty, but with everyone else it was just an off year. You yourself stated the Angels should think the first half was an aberration, yet Pujols has declined at least 2 games as far as WAR is concerned in each of the last two seasons.

          • Even if you want to say last year for Pujols was just a decline year, he still put up a 150 OPS+, which Howard hasn’t done since 2006. I wouldn’t sign the Pujols deal (from the team side, of course), but there’s a more reasonable expectation of getting a truly elite hitter in the first few years. The Howard deal was signed two years ahead of time, and he has a couple of markers (his size and the late start to his major league career) that are bad markers when it comes to aging. Howard settled for only five years because it was signed two years ahead of time and had a huge AAV. 

  12. vtadave 3 years ago

    He’s not great by any means, but were the Lee and Halladay contracts “horrendous”?

    Also, I’d take, as a Dodgers fan, three straight playoff appearances.

  13. vtadave 3 years ago

    Not sure a two-year deal can every be that awful, unless it’s the Dodgers and Andruw Jones we’re talking about.

  14. DK8 3 years ago

    And they signed him to the extension 2 years before they had too!

  15. CaseyBlakeDeWitt 3 years ago

    It’s for players who were still arbitration eligible and Doc had well over 6 years of service time when his extension was signed.

  16. chrisn313 3 years ago

    Wait, you think Miguel Cabrera’s is a bad contract? Explain

  17. 0vercast 3 years ago

    5 years/$90MM

  18. 0vercast 3 years ago

    If he moves to first base and hits for average and doubles as well as he did in the 50-some games he played there last year, it might not turn out to be so bad of a deal.  Mauer has the potential to be a upgrade of Todd Helton in my opinion, and if that’s the case, you could do worse with that money.

    The problem is, it seems that Mauer is stubborn about remaining a catcher and unwilling to play any more 1B than he has to.  He clings to the idea that he can remain a catcher until the end, and isn’t shy about saying it.  

  19. Ya its a lot of money but its only over 5 seasons…  Could be a lot worse.  

  20. Howard is being paid to hit homers and drive in RBI’s. That’s exactly what he does, so I don’t understand how that was a bad extension. I do agree on Blanton though because of injuries.

    • elittle80 3 years ago

      when you go from hitting 58, 47, 48, and 45 HR’s to hitting 31 and 33 – and you’re only driving in on avg 112 runs as opposed to 143, the previous 4 yrs, not to mention he’s not been healthy the last 2 seasons, and now his Achilles injury for this year… so make that 3 seasons.. I can get what he’s sayin.. 

  21. What about jason bay

  22. sourbob 3 years ago

    The thing that blows my mind about the Howard extension is that the Phillies guaranteed $25MM a year for five years of decline phase to a guy who, according to Fangraphs, had never been worth $25MM in a season EVER.

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