... proving once again that just because you can do basic math, doesn't mean you understand value or risk management. Fangraphs is Kingmanesque.
The idea is that Carlos Santana's lockup deal doesn't project to work out all that much better for the Indians than lockup deals for other star catchers have worked out for their teams. The most obvious point this misses is that just because other clubs have gotten good deals doesn't mean that the Indians aren't getting one now. The author also forgets to factor in seven years of salary inflation, and other nits I could pick, but really, let's not bore ourselves with the details.
Instead, let's look at a few case studies for star players who didn't get locked up to deals like this.
DEREK JETER (1999, 2000, 2001): Awarded $5 million in first-year arbitration hearing (vs. $3.2 million). Negotiated $10 million salary in lieu of second-year arbitration ($10.5 million vs. $9.5 million). Negotiated ten-year contract in lieu of third-year arbitration ($18.5 million vs. $14.25 million). Given the massive contract and the Yankees poor track record in arbitration, I'm calling this a three-year haul of $22 million.
RYAN HOWARD (2008, 2009, 2010): Awarded $10 million in first-year arbitration hearing (vs. $7 million). Negotiated three-year contract in lieu of second-year arbitration ($18 million vs. $14 million). Howard got $15 million and $19 million respectively for his second and third arbitration seasons — and note that it took an additional $20 million to buy out his first year of free agency, even though it was only two years into the future rather than five. Even disregarding that free agent year, this is a three-year haul of $44 million.
PRINCE FIELDER (2009, 2010, 2011): Negotiated $18 million, two-year contract in lieu of first-year arbitration ($8 million vs. $6 million). Negotiated $15.5 million contract in lieu of third-year arbitration (no numbers exchanged). The Brewers never got a meaningful opportunity to buy out one year of free agency, let alone to sign Fielder long-term. This is a three-year haul of $33.5 million.
I'm sure that at this point you're saying to yourself, "Jay, you're comparing Santana to three MVP contenders, isn't that a little nutty?" And my answer is, no, it's not nutty at all. These are not logical comps for Santana, clearly. And yet, one scenario that the Indians do have to consider in their planning is the one where Santana becomes a straight-up superstar. All he has to do is hit 35 bombs — and he doesn't even have to do it this year. He can do it in 2012, or in 2013, or in 2014. Santana's age in those three seasons: 26, 27 and 28.
Not so nutty now, is it. And in any of those scenarios, without a lockup deal in hand, the Indians' payroll is kind of screwed. Of course, Prince Fielder breaking out into an unaffordable superstar broadly fell into the category of "nice problem to have" for Brewers fans. On the other hand, exactly how nice was that problem, really? If that happened with Santana sans lockup deal, it actually would be kind of tragic. We'd have this amazing player but also a diminished ability to bring in a handful of role players, which frankly we badly need to have. That first free-agent season would be less than a pipe dream if he remained healthy.
Let's be honest, we'd be talking about trading Santana rather than letting him walk. Granted, we may end up talking about that anyway, but he'll be a much more valuable trade piece with this particular contract attached. The worst thing a small-market team can let happen is not to be able to afford its own stars through arbitration. It's an unforgivable squandering of an opportunity, and one that the Indians have never let happen since the current Peters-to-Antonetti lineage began over 20 years ago. We may think about trading Santana in his (now delayed) walk year, perhaps even before, but it won't be because we can't afford to keep him while surrounding him with complementary players to contend.
I won't bore you with salary inflation calcs, but do bear in mind that Santana's arbitration years are 2014, 2015, 2016. So as you look at the capsule histories above, remember to add in five years of salary inflation for Fielder's scenario, six years for Howard's, and 15 years for Jeter's.
Anyway, weird as it sounds, superstardom has risks and downsides, too, and the Indians are now well protected against them. Or, if you prefer, they are now extremely well positioned to capitalize on this player's upside.