Earlier today, Toronto Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos told MLB Network Radio’s Jim Bowden that he wasn’t interested in a contract of more than five years for Prince Fielder. Anthopoulos followed up this admission by suggesting that because of the team’s unwillingness to offer a longer deal, they’re unlikely to land Fielder.

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Chicago Cubs are also interested in a shorter deal for the free agent first baseman, with Theo Epstein expressing a willingness to “pay high dollars in exchange for shorter terms.”

The thinking in this case is that given Fielder’s relatively young age for entering free agency, a five year deal in 2012 would allow him one more pay day ahead of the 2017 season when he would still only be 32 years old. However, anyone who believes that this “thinking” isn’t of the wishful version on the sole part of baseball clubs that don’t want to get stuck in the later years of a long term contract is deluding themselves.

There’s a reason that the Miami Marlins caused a stir in the Albert Pujols negotiations when they raised the terms of their proposed deal to include a tenth year. Players want security as much as they want money and just as teams are willing to pay money up front as a means of avoiding terms that involve more money and more years, so too are players willing to collect on what will potentially be less money in order to gain a measure of security.

If we look to total wins above replacement over the last three seasons for first basemen we find the following six players in order: Pujols, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder and Mark Teixeria. Of those players, three have sold off a significant portion of their non-arbitration, free agent years.

  • Miguel Cabrera: $152.3 million over eight years (covers three arbitration years);
  • Adrian Gonzalez: $154 million over seven years; and
  • Mark Teixeria: $180 million over eight years.

Pujols is getting set to sign a ten year deal, and Votto won’t see free agency until after the 2013 season. Given the lengths of the contracts to those comparable players, why would Fielder sign a short term contract that guarantees him less money, even if the average annual value is slightly more?

Of course, there are teams that are out there wanting to mitigate their risk, but none so much as to tempt a player to give up security.

Already this off season, we’ve seen a short term, high average annual value deal fail to woo Jose Reyes (a free agent of similar age to Fielder), resulting in the team that made the initial offer double the years they were proposing.

In order to justify handing out a long term deal, an intelligent front office will look at the deal as though it’s a mortgage. First of all we must realize that players talent levels decline from their peak as they get older. A well-planned, long-term contract will underpay for the player’s value in the beginning of the deal and overpay for his value in the end. Similarly, at the beginning of a mortgage, the payments mostly cover interest, but as it nears the end, most of the equity gets paid off.

Tom Tango offers us the hypothetical scenario of a true talent 4.0 WAR player signing a six year contract for $78 million dollars who declines at a regular rate of .55 WAR each season. If you only look at the first three years of the contract, it’s a fantastic deal. If you only look at the final three years of the contract, it’s a horrible deal. However, if you think of the back end of the deal as deferred payments for the value from the front end, it is a fair deal.

Wins $/win EarnSalary ActSalary
4.0    $5.00    $20    $13
3.5    $5.25    $18    $13
2.9    $5.51    $16    $13
2.2    $5.79    $13    $13
1.4    $6.08    $9     $13
0.5    $6.38    $3     $13

This is part of the rationale for short term contracts with higher average annual values not being the bargain for the player that they might otherwise appear to be. A lot can happen in the next five years for a player like Fielder, but no matter what, it’s unlikely that he’ll offer the same value to teams that he’s offering at this very moment. He knows it and teams know it. They should also know that his best bet for making the most money is taking what’s essentially the deferred payment structure above right now, rather than risk another free agent signing period when his value could be much more depressed.

Comments (21)

  1. Then there’s DH’s.

  2. Given Fielder’s age, I don’t think he’s gonna lose 0.55 WAR/year immediately. I could see his WAR increase or stay the same for around 2-3 years before doing the decline.

  3. The reason he would take less years is because weight issues and no teams interested in long term deal. If miami doesnt sign Pujous sure he gets 8 years but if they do who offers him 8 years?

    • The St. Louis Cardinals already offered him eight years and will now have to give him ten to match Marlins.

      There’s a whole lot more evidence available to suggest that Fielder will get a seven or eight year deal beyond your guess that weight issues will scare teams away.

      • I meant miami would pay prince 8 years if they dont get Pujous which i think they wont.
        But if they do would St. Loius move Berkman to 1b and craig to right field.
        Or would they try to get Prince?
        What happens to Gaby why is Miami trying to push him out he had a pretty good year and is cheap as fuck?
        is Gaby a fit for the blue jays or will Lind become 2009 Lind?
        Is this alot of questions?

  4. I’ve been trying to convince people of this for at least three weeks now. I think talking anything less than 7 years for Prince is batshit, especially with 10 years on the table for Pujols now. Any smart player will take the long-term job security over the up front money.

  5. 5 years at 110 million, 22 per with incentives ( homeruns, RBI’S, mvp votting ) that would put it close to 25 a year, with two options years this guy would be great for the jays lets get it done already AA

  6. Parkes,

    If you were AA, could you convince yourself to offer a Adrian Gonzalez like deal to Fielder. I could live with that deal as a Jays fan.

  7. Guy is right. Sure anything less than 7 years is batshit, but what happens when no one offers him 7 years?

    • I would bet my left testicle that someone will. Nine and ten year deals are on the table for the older Pujols even with the age controversy. I think an Adrian Gonzalez-type deal is the worst case scenario for him.

  8. I think if we’ve learned anything so far this offseason, is that the Jays have no interest in spending big money.. They are the tampa bay rays 2.0

    There is no reason to not get Fielder, You have a fit and you are buying his prime.. Will he one day be old and over paid? probably.. but so will pujols, arod, etc etc

    in order to buy players at their prime you have to acquire them through trade OR pay for some none prime years.

    The reality is, the jays are not going to spend. Another year of Bautista wasted… i get the whole grow a core of young controllable talent, AA did that, I get the have waves of young talent ready to move up or that can be moved in trades, he’s done that.. So now what?

    Why waste 2012..? Especially if no one has offered him 6 years yet, give him 6, he’ll only be 33, its not like we are buying him in to his 40s

    • I couldn’t possibly agree more. After losing their free agents, the Jays payroll has not dropped to about $45 mil (near the cheapest in baseball). Shouldn’t a team in this market have atleast a $70 mil payroll?

  9. Grange wants us to eat the marshmallow.

    http://www.sportsnet.ca/baseball/2011/12/06/grange_fielder/

  10. If you can get the deal done for 6-7 years, you definitely do it in my opinion. I’d even be willing to go 8 years to do it.

    And sure, I agree with Drew that the Fielder signing won’t put them over the top this year. But it does mean that they will be a very competitive team this year, and be absolutely ready to win come 2013-2015 when everything really starts coming together.

  11. I don’t think Fielder will want to be a free agent in 5-6 years either… being stuck in draft-pick-compensation limbo where no one wants you because you’re expensive, can only DH, and cost a draft pick.

  12. Anyone listen to Anthopoulos on Prime Time Sports last night? They asked him about the 5 year max. Anthopoulos did not want to talk about specific players, but said that generally the club does not want to go over 5 year contracts. He did say that in some cases they may be willing to go over, and used an example of a 5 year, 20 million per year deal vs a 6 year 16 or 17 million a year deal.
    The interview is on this link: http://pmd.fan590.com/podcasts/pts/PTS-2011-12–6-pm.mp3
    First there is a good interview with Sergio Santos, then some nba talk, but if you skip ahead to about the 25 minute mark to get to the Anthopolous interview.

  13. Let’s look at a couple different scenarios:

    5 years, $115 million ($23m/year)
    8 years, $160 million ($20m/year)

    Fielder probably figures that at 32, he’d be able to sign a similar deal to a lot of other 32 year olds (4-5 years, $15-$20m per year if he’s still elite). But, regardless of how confident he is in his abilities, $45 million is a lot of money to leave on the table, and we all know that anything can happen – degradation of ability, injury, etc. We as Jays fans are probably hoping that a guy like Prince would consider a shorter deal, but we’re not talking a one-year difference, I think it’ll be more like 3. I loathe long term deals too, but I think Prince is a special enough player to do this on. I’d give him an A-Gon type deal, 7 years.

    I guess one other possibility is to give him a 5 year offer with 2 player options years after that – that way he can decide if he’s worth more on the open market at 32.

    • Player option years can actually work out quite well for a team, if done at the right time. If you can put those player option years right before you think the player is going to decline, say after 5 years for Prince, then if he lives up to his contract for 5 years you don’t have to worry about paying major money for a declining player, someone else will do that for you.

      See: Burnett, AJ

  14. The only team right now willing to offer Fielder more than a 5 year deal is Seattle and who the hell wants to play there? They are a bad club that plays in a massive park, just ask Adrian Beltre what happens to your offensive numbers.

    - Texas was never in the bidding
    - Milwuakee has dropped out of the race

    The only other wild card is Miami if they don’t sign Pujols, and if they do, the market is basically begging the Jays to sign Fielder.

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