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Don’t Forget To Pay The Melkman

In Buster Olney’s blog post for ESPN this morning, he rather casually mentioned the following:

Melky Cabrera is on the verge of free agency without progress toward a long-term deal with the San Francisco Giants, sources say. And Cabrera is in a great position to cash in, because he had a 201-hit season in 2011 and is on a pace for 248 hits this year. How much will it take to sign him? Well, less than two years ago, Carl Crawford got a seven-year, $142 million deal from the Boston Red Sox, and last week, Adam Jones — more than a year removed from free agency — got a six-year, $85.5 million deal from the Baltimore Orioles.

Comparisons to Crawford and Jones seem rather ambitious, no?

Remembering that Jones’ deal with the Orioles buys out his last season of arbitration, while Crawford’s deal, like Cabrera’s will be, was of the free agent contract variety, let’s look at the three three year WAR totals of each player leading into their big money contract:

Carl Crawford, ahead of his age 29 season:

  • 16.3 FanGraphs WAR; 13.6 Baseball Reference WAR; and 13.5 Baseball Prospectus WARP.

Adam Jones, ahead of his age 27 season (including projections for remainder of 2012):

  • 11.6 FanGraphs WAR; 10.2 Baseball Reference WAR; and 13.1 Baseball Prospectus WARP.

Melky Cabrera, ahead of his age 28 season (including projections for remainder of 2012):

  • 6.6 FanGraphs WAR; 8.1 Baseball Reference WAR; and 7.4 Baseball Prospectus WARP.

If we judge Cabrera’s future performance on his past, his terrible 2010 with the Atlanta Braves is going to likely loom larger than he’d like. Even without that season, though, I think it’s safe to say that he won’t be demanding Crawford money on the open market.

As far as the Jones deal goes, considering that the Baltimore Orioles center fielder plays a far more demanding position than Cabrera, should we expect a contract remotely close, in terms of either money or years, for the Giants’ right fielder?

The Jones contract is broken down like this:

  • $2 million signing bonus;
  • $8.5 million for his final year of arbitration; and
  • $75 million for his first five years of free agency.

That works out to a $15 million average annual salary for his free agent seasons. However, that’s for a superior player at a more valuable position. While paying for three wins above replacement per season seems like it might be a reasonable expectation over a shorter term contract for Cabrera, I don’t think we can forget about some of the deals handed out to older players last season, like the song for which the Minnesota Twins signed Josh Willingham

Granted, Willingham was four years older than Cabrera will be ahead of his next contract, but the poor fielding and great hitting corner outfielder has comparable batting numbers both this year and last. Given that Cabrera is having his excellent season ahead of free agency while Willingham is having his right after signing a contract, I think Willingham’s three years for $21 million and the five years for $75 million portion of the Jones contract act as nice bookends for a potential Cabrera deal.

That leads me to believe that something to the tune of four years for $44 million might be about right. This is a figure that I never would’ve anticipated prior to Cabrera’s start to this year, and while it pales in comparison to the deals that Olney mentioned, it seems like a deserving number given the way in which Cabrera has shown that last season’s success in Kansas City wasn’t a fluke.

Apropos of nothing other than the strange comparison mentioned here, wouldn’t Buster Olney look like an entirely different person with a big black mud stache?