The internet, my friends, is all atwitter with excitement after Mark Rosen of WCCO broke the news that the Twins are close to a 10 year deal with Mauer.
Meanwhile, Buster Olney is reporting that the report of a preliminary agreement is not accurate, and both Jon Heyman* and Joe Christensen agree.
* What, you think he has no place reporting on the negotiations of a non-Boras client? Well, you’re probably right.
“Dan Cook,” whoever that is, points out that Rosen is talking to Mauer’s people, while Olney and the rest are talking to Twins officials. We may not be quite as close as we all want to hope (though I’d take Cook’s report with a big, rock-shaped grain of salt given his lack of reporting history).
All that said, I think it’s about time to look at the Mauer situation in a little more depth, couched in what we know about free agency this offseason and the rumored frameworks of this deal.
With contracts of this length, it’s practically impossible to say whether it’s going to work out. It’s just so much time, and anything can happen. Mauer is 26 now, but he’ll be 37 when this contract ends. Will he be the best player in the game at age 37? Will he even be a catcher by then? It’s literally impossible to know the answer to these questions (but it’s not that difficult to guess that the answers go something like: “No,” and “Maybe”).
But let’s just try and project what Mauer would be worth over this time period.
According to FanGraphs, since his first full season (2005), Mauer has been worth* 3.5, 6.1, 3.0, 5.8, and 8.2 WAR; in dollars: $12M, $22.4M, $12.2M, $26.2M, $36.8M.
* Remember, FanGraphs WAR takes into account that he’s a catcher, but does not take into account how good he is at being a catcher. In fact, their glossary page says this about measuring catcher defense:
If you think Joe Mauer’s catching abilities and leadership are worth one win, just add one win to what we display as his win value here. Quantifying catching defense is something that we just haven’t figured out yet, and so we’re not pretending that we have. Consider it an opportunity to fill in the blanks.
And yes, I do think it’s telling that they specifically mention Mauer as being more valuable than their WAR values state. For the purposes of this column, however, I am not going to inflate Mauer’s value beyond what is stated on the FanGraphs page.
The problem is … those WAR numbers don’t actually tell us all that much. Is he a 3 win player like he was in 2005 and 2007? Or a 6 win player like 2006 and 2008? Or is he a legitimate superstar, 8+ win player like 2009? All these numbers come before his prime; great players tend to peak around 27-29, and the truly great players’ skills diminish slowly through their early thirties. (Plus, you can’t plan for good seasons and bad seasons throughout a contract; you have to value a player at his “true talent level,” pay for that, and then basically hope he meets or exceeds that level in as many years of the contract as possible.)
If we put Mauer’s “true talent level” at around 7 WAR, and assume that he maintains that talent through age 30 at which point he will start to decline at 0.5 WAR per season, his value would look like this over the next ten years:
7 7 7 7 6.5 6 5.5 5 4.5 4
for a total of 59.5 WAR over the life of the contract.
To translate that into dollars, though, there are a few things to consider. First is that for the last several years, 1 win above replacement has been right around $4.5M on the free agent market … but this winter that has plummeted to the point that teams are only paying $3-3.5M per win on the open market.
Additionally, Mauer is not currently on the open market; the Twins can expect to get a (small) discount for extending him a year early, a year during which he could very well get injured and lose a shit-ton of money (this is standard procedure for all contracts). Beyond that, players on long-term contracts like this sacrifice about 10% of their fair market value in return for the security of the guaranteed contract. And both of those adjustments come before the possibility of a hometown discount — I don’t expect there’ll be much of one, but it’s possible.
So if we’re paying $4.5M per win like teams have been doing for years, that 59.5 WAR over 10 years will cost $267.75M, minus the 10% for security and fudging downwards a bit for extending early … around $230M, making Mauer one of the highest paid players in the league and giving him the third largest contract in baseball history (after ARod and ARod).
On the other hand, if the Twins are using the 2009-2010 offseason as an opportunity to spend less per win on Mauer’s contract, say $3.5M per win, then the deal would cost just $208.25M, and adjusting downward for security and moving early, it’d get down to the $180-190M range.* If the Twins used the current free agent climate to negotiate this lower price, it’d be a remarkably savvy move from a front office that hasn’t been known for that for some time. (And has never been known for shrewd contracts as much as player acquisition.)
* It’s worth pointing out that there will presumably be deferred money in this deal, which further reduces the total value in “today’s dollars.” I don’t know enough about baseball economics to estimate how much of the contract will be deferred and how much it will effect the real value of the contract. So I’m ignoring it here. Just know that deferred money generally means that the contract is worth less than the number of dollars on the bottom line, so you should watch out for the word “deferred” anywhere in reports about his contract.
Of course, these are just the rumored details. Other reports insist that the Twins aren’t going as far as 10 years on a deal. If, as some reports say, it’s just a 7 year contract, we’re looking at just 46 WAR,* putting it in the range of $140-190M range (depending on whether we’re valuing wins at $3.5M or $4.5M).
* I lopped off the final three years on the above projection of Mauer’s value.
On one level, I want Mauer in a Twins uniform until his career ends. On another level, I felt the same way about Torii Hunter and Johan Santana and other players before them; those feelings went away shortly after they signed contracts that the Twins clearly couldn’t afford, which will be paying them top-dollar even after they’ve declined to the point where they’re not even close to worth the money any more. I certainly don’t want to be paying Joe Mauer $20M+ to be a 36 year old former-catcher with bad knees and a balky back.
Long contracts always carry a ton of risk for the team. In Mauer’s case, the Twins are essentially backed into a corner where they must take the risk; that dynamic did not exist in the Hunter & Santana negotiations. Mauer is the hometown hero, the Golden Child, the Baby Jesus of baseball in Minnesota. He, personally, is a big reason the Twins even have a new stadium to move into; if he’s not on the team in 2011, the fans are going to be furious enough that they may well stop coming to the stadium, and the team knows it.
And frankly, the fact that it’s Mauer’s people that are leaking the information about the contract tells me that the Twins just may have done enough this offseason to convince Mauer that they’re dedicated to building a team around him. Both Morneau and Nathan have recently come out and raved about the roster, saying they’ve never seen anything like this in their time with the Twins. Undoubtedly, Mauer has seen the same things.
Maybe I’m just getting swept up in the giddiness of tracking a rumor as it lives and breathes on the internet, but I’m getting more and more confident that we’ll see a deal before Spring Training, and we can all rest a little easier.8 comments