Posted March 21, 2013

Giants want to lock up Buster Posey, but what’s he worth?

Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey

In his first three seasons, Buster Posey has won a Rookie of the Year, an MVP and two World Series titles. (Robert Beck/SI)

By Cliff Corcoran

Buster Posey and the Giants have begun talks that could lead to a “mega deal” contract, per a report by CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman. At the very least, the Giants want to buy out Posey’s three remaining arbitration years after awarding him a record first-year settlement of $8 million in January, but the larger goal is a contract that would cover the bulk of Posey’s career, ensuring that he’d spend all of his best seasons in San Francisco.

So what would such a deal look like? The obvious comparison is Joe Mauer’s eight-year, $184 million extension signed with the Twins before the 2010 season, which still stands as the biggest contract ever given to a catcher. The runners-up are the seven-year, $91 million contract the Mets gave to Mike Piazza prior to the 1999 season and the five-year, $75 million deal Yadier Molina agreed to with the Cardinals a year ago.

It’s a given that any major extension for Posey would surpass the Piazza and Molina deals. Piazza’s contract is more than a decade old and was signed when he was 30. Molina was 29 when he signed his and a career .274/.331/.377 hitter when he signed that deal. Posey, by comparison, has a .314/.380/.503 career line and will turn 26 on Wednesday.

As for Mauer, he was coming off an MVP season when he signed his record-breaking extension, which at the time was the fourth-largest contract of all time. Mauer was a year older then than Posey is now (Mauer turned 27 soon after signing his contract), but he also had a much longer track record (2,994 career plate appearances to Posey’s 1,255) and a similarly impressive .327/.408/.483 career batting line.

There’s a good argument to be made that catchers have shorter careers in general than other players due to the abuse their bodies take behind the plate and that Posey’s relative inexperience is actually an additional point in his favor relative to Mauer, who was healthy enough to appear in just 82 games in the first year of his new deal. However, the flip side of that is that it’s unclear just how valuable Posey is going to be moving forward. Posey’s MVP campaign in 2012 was just his first full major league season (he wasn’t called up until May 29 in 2010 and missed most of 2011 due to injury). In both 2010 and 2012 he hit better than .300 with a slugging percentage over .500, but is that really something the Giants can expect Posey to do on an annual basis over even just the next five years?

It seems a given Posey will regress some from his .336/.408/.549 performance last year, but will it be to something like his career line (.314/.380/.503) or will it be to something more like .280/.350/.450? The latter is still tremendously valuable for a catcher, but it’s not the sort of performance worth $20 million annually for 10 years, which is likely the sort of ballpark in which the Giants negotiations with Posey are taking place. One point in Posey’s favor is his minor league line. He hit .333/.417/.542 in the minors including .337/.421/.535 in 359 plate appearances at Triple-A, lines which greatly resemble his award-winning 2012 production.

So let’s say Posey really will maintain that career line over the bulk of his new deal. Is that performance worth the $200 million he’s likely to demand? FanGraphs has a statistic called Dollars that attempts to translate a player’s Wins Above Replacement into market value in free agency. Per Dollars, Posey’s Rookie of the Year season would have been worth $16.7 million and his MVP campaign would have been worth a whopping $36 million. Remember, Posey didn’t come up until the very end of May in 2010 and WAR is a cumulative stat, so you can pro-rate that 2010 value over the two months he missed and put him at $25 million for that season.

Now, Dollars has a reputation of overvaluing players slightly, but given those numbers, the $23 million a year Mauer is making on his deal doesn’t seem unreasonable. Give Posey that over 10 years, putting him under contract through his age-35 season, and the $230 million total value of his deal will break Mauer’s catching-contract record and put him fourth all time behind the two Alex Rodriguez contracts and Albert Pujols’ Angels deal. That might seem crazy, but the history of nine-figure contracts shows that extensions given to superstar hitters in their mid-20s tend to work out. As absurd as it seemed at the time, Alex Rodriguez played up to his $252 million deal with the Rangers and Yankees, which would have expired in 2010 had he not opted out of it three years early. Derek Jeter earned his $189 million from 2001 to 2010. Pujols’ first big contract, $100 million over seven years from 2004 to 2010, turned out to be a steal. There’s a higher risk with catchers, but Posey’s bat would play at first base, a position at which he already has ample experience. What’s more, he’s already learned his lesson about avoiding collisions at home plate, and he has a lean, average-sized build which makes one optimistic about the ability of his legs and knees to hold up to a decade of squatting.

Despite all that, it might be a mistake for the Giants to start these discussions immediately after Posey’s MVP season. Better to negotiate after that hardware collects a little dust and it becomes clear how much he regresses from that peak performance. Still, the intention of locking up Posey long-term is a good one. An investment in their franchise player, even one in excess of $200 million, is going to be a smarter one than any a team might make upon his free agency after the 2016 season, when he’ll be going on 30 and likely still looking to match or surpass Mauer’s payday.

10 comments
ChrisBaker
ChrisBaker

9 years a $167 million contract that is where the negotiations end.

lionoah
lionoah

Sign him to a 5 year deal and let the chips fall where they may (regarding free agency at the end of the deal). Right NOW he is worth more than Mauer because he is a leader and he hits comparably. His track record (MVP, ROY, Championships) speaks for itself and he may even have some ceiling yet to reach, as hard as it is to believe.

If the Giants pay him 25 million over 5 or 6, he will make that 30 million per year 6 year contract worth it as the value of the franchise will increase (along with ticket prices, gate receipts from playoff games, merchandise, etc.). The Giants are well positioned to make the playoffs over the next few years and will be able to attract prime free agents with an increasing payroll, a bonafied leader and their past success - which most likely will breed further success.

dt
dt

What Buster Posey is worth to the Giants is 2 World Series Championships.  We all saw how "well" the Giants played without him despite their talent level in 2011.  This guy is unquestionably the most valuable player the Giants have.  Give him a Josh Hamilton's deal (5 years $125 million) and re-assess from there.

TA1
TA1

In a year and a half of actual playing time, Buster has ROY and MVP.  Throw in the two World Series Championship while handling a pitching staff like the Giants - he is worth the $20M!  After recovering from the injury he had, this guy will last a long career with a manager like Bochy...

kyyled5
kyyled5

I'd give him Mauer's deal in a heartbeat.

 

He doesn't have near the wear on his tires as 2009 Mauer and can always switch to 3B or 1B later in the deal. Plus he is more of a power threat than Mauer which wouldn't diminish his value much at 1B and hardly at all at 3B.

Matthew Peake
Matthew Peake

One of the frustrating things about reading articles like this is the over-reliance on the numbers.  A lot of writers these days analyze contract negotiations and such from a strictly "fantasy" perspective, relying only on the hitting stats of a player.  Yes, the stats look like Mauer's.  No, they don't look like Miguel Cabrera's.  However, Posey has been the unquestioned leader of the WS champs 2 of the last 3 years, at the ripe old age of (now) 26.

 

I don't know if he's worth $200 million over 10 years.  Odds are someone would think so.  The challenge for any franchise is to figure out who to spend that kind of money on.  No one has ever accused ARod of being a leader, whereas Jeter is the guts of the Yankees.  I would pay Jeter twice as much as ARod, based simply on that, even though their career stat lines are very different.

 

I am a huge, lifelong Giants fan.  We (context) suffered for many many years until this kid came along and put the pitching staff on his back.  He hit a Grand Slam against Mat Latos (arch enemy of Giants everywhere) to win game 5 of the NLDS.  He hit a big HR in game 4 of the WS.  He shows up.  He doesn't cause any trouble.  There isn't an ounce of drama in this kid.

 

Those factors, tangible or not, should be considered and weighted equally with the fantasy numbers.

The Angry Irishman
The Angry Irishman

@dt the only problem I have with that is that if you do it for 5 years at that price at the end of 10 years it would cost the Giants $ 250 million instead of maybe $200 for 10 up front, just maybe have the back 5 years include some incentives to protect the club from another disaster like the colossal mistake that is the Zito contract ...

0xfece5
0xfece5

 @Matthew Peake Now that's a great post, far better than this article.  Fantasy sports has deluded everyone into thinking that they can simply weigh some numbers and come to meaningful conclusions.  Sports just don't work that way.  I'm so tired of the baseball bloggers on this site trotting out various stats du jour and basing a whole column around it.  It takes a real sportswriter to actually look beyond those obvious things and make a reasoned analysis.

dt
dt

 @The Angry Irishman  @dt True but at the same time at 26 today he'll be 31 by the time the contract ends and, if he's still healthy, you can re-evaluate whether to keep him or not.  If he underperforms or is injured early in the contract you're not stuck for twice as many years.  The Yankees are dealing with Tex and A-Rod and their long term contracts now.  Poo-holes got 10 years and showed his age in the first year.   MLB players tend to break down after signing big contracts.  So why handicap your franchise for 10 years when you can do it for 5?