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Evaluating Mauer’s new contract

Now that Mauer has signed his contract extension, paying him $23M per season from 2011-2018, let’s take a look at how the contract values Mauer as a player, and also how much the Twins paid per win.

It’s tough to pin down exactly what Mauer’s true talent level is — he just posted an 8.1 WAR (partial) season, which is incredible, and also has two 6 WAR seasons and two ~3 WAR seasons under his belt. Meanwhile, those values do not account for how good he is behind the plate.

At Fangraphs, both CHONE and the FANS project him to 7.3 WAR for 2010, which seems reasonable; I think it’ll be helpful to look at this contract in a few different scenarios: 7.0 WAR (in case his talent lies lower than the CHONE projection), 7.3 WAR (the projection is accurate), and 8.0 WAR (either the power wasn’t an illusion and he can keep this up, or we take his excellent defense into account and add a win).

I’ll assume that he stays at this value through age 30, and then starts to decline at 5% per year* after that.

* In a previous analysis I had assumed a 0.5 WAR per year decline, which seemed like a really fast decline. I’ve seen 5% per year used at Fangraphs.

Here are the annual win values the Twins can expect to get from Mauer based on our three options for his current true talent level:

True talent level: 7.0 WAR
7.0, 7.0, 7.0, 6.65, 6.3, 6.0, 5.7, 5.4
Total: 51.1 WAR

True talent level: 7.3 WAR
7.3, 7.3, 7.3, 6.9, 6.6, 6.3, 5.9, 5.6
Total: 53.3 WAR

True talent level: 8.0 WAR
8.0, 8.0, 8.0, 7.6, 7.2, 6.9, 6.5, 6.2
Total: 58.4 WAR

Note: I rounded to one decimal point for display, but not in the calculations. So if these numbers don’t appear to add up exactly right, that’s why.

Obviously, that’s a lot of wins that the Twins are getting, regardless of which one is “true.” But at the same time, they’re paying a lot of money for it. This is the fourth largest contract in MLB history, behind ARod, ARod,* and Jeter.

* What people never seem to point out about ARod’s first mega-deal, the $252M one, is that he opted out with three years left on it, eschewing like $80M in salary. So the amount he actually got PAID from that contract is less than Mauer’s new deal. Just saying.

So what rate are the Twins paying, given that they’re handing over $184M?

In scenario 1, where Mauer’s a 7 WAR player, they’re paying $3.6M/win. In scenario 2, where Mauer’s a 7.3 WAR player, they’re paying $3.45M/win. In scenario 3, where Mauer’s an 8 WAR player, they’re paying just $3.15M/win.

Basically, the Twins just inked a deal locking in today’s depressed market rates for nine years into the future. We then have to balance that against the fact that he’ll be the highest-paid catcher in the league for the entire life of the deal, and he’ll be 35 years old in the final year — of course, if we look at Jorge Posada’s aging process, maybe that won’t be a huge problem.

And in case you were wondering, if the Twins had had to sign this contract in the economic environment of two years ago, when wins cost $4.5M apiece on the market, this same contract would have been worth either $230M, $240M, or $262M. Wow.

My dad thinks it was pointless for Mauer to have wasted a few years in the minor leagues — he’s a once-in-a-generation talent, who was one of the best defensive catchers in the majors at age 18, and so overmatched his minor league opposition at every level that they simply pitched around him. In hindsight, we’ve learned that his swing didn’t change at all since high school, and in fact nothing about his game (or his sideburns, for that matter) has changed. I don’t think it’s crazy to think Mauer would have found success at age 19, rather than waiting until he was 21 to make his debut (and 22 until his first full season). Might he even have another batting title (or two) under his belt right now?

Of course we’ll never know what would have happened, and what his career might have looked like. But if it had been exactly the same, and the only difference was that he signed this extension two years ago, the Twins would have had to pay a much higher rate per win. And because they delayed bringing him up, they potentially saved $50-80M over 8 years. From the team’s perspective, I sure wouldn’t call that pointless.

So is the deal, in the end, a good one? It’s practically impossible to call any 8 year, $184M contract a “team-friendly” one, so I won’t. But I will say that the Twins’ front office has shown itself to be eager to take advantage of the current market rate to lock in long-term deals, and thus deserves some credit for “astuteness” rather than simply “luck” in taking the opportunity to lock in perhaps the most valuable player in the game for the lion’s share of his career.

And it’s been a while since anyone could realistically call the Twins’ front office “astute” with a straight face.


4 Comments so far

  1. John March 21st, 2010 8:29 pm

    Well, the Hardy trade was pretty astute. In general I’ve been unhappy with the front office, but just sayin’.

    The contract is something of a gamble but the Twins had little choice. How it turns out depends on a lot of unpredictable factors… how Mauer plays, if he’s healthy, if he moves from the catcher position, how the economy is, whether there’s inflation, how baseball does relative to the overall economy, how star players are compensated relative to overall payrolls, how useful Mauer’s added wins are in the marginal sense (i.e., how often do the Twins make the playoffs), and I’m sure many more.

    Far and away the most important is his health. Considering his marketing value, I think its pretty easy to live with the contract even if he under-performs a bit towards the end.

  2. sirsean March 22nd, 2010 12:00 pm

    Totally agreed on the unpredictable factors, but the team simply has to take on those risks if they want to play in the market for elite free agents. It may not work out, because something that nobody has any control over could go wrong, but Neyer’s point this morning about the “credibility cost” of not signing him (ie, of not taking these risks) is a very good one.

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