Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are the premier free agents this offseason. They are both seeking contracts that last ten years or later. Will they get that? Should they get that?
Rumors have come out that teams may be more inclined to sign Bryce Harper and Manny Machado to a contract that lasts five to eight years instead of ten. Our St. Louis Cardinals are one of those teams that would be interested in a shorter term contract for the services of one Bryce Harper. So, what I would like to do is to put my MLB front office hat on and look at the reasons a ten plus year contract may or may not be such a great idea for these 26-year-old studs.
Previous Ten Year Contracts
Now, we only have one example of a ten-year contract for a premier player at age 26. That is Alex Rodriguez. The rest of these contracts were made for a player past the age of 26.
Here are the current examples of ten-years or above contracts for premier players.
Robinson Cano (Five Years Into Deal)
Stat Line: 20.7 fWAR & avg wRC+ 128
Albert Pujols (Seven Years Into Deal)
Stat Line: 6.07 fWAR avg wRC+ 107
Alex Rodriguez (First Deal) (Retired)
Stat Line: 79.8 fWAR & avg wRC+ 150
Alex Rodriguez (Second Deal) (Eight Years Completed)
Stat Line: 22.3 fWAR & avg wRC+ 119
Giancarlo Stanton (Four Years Into Deal)
Stat Line: 17.2 fWAR & avg wRC+ 140
Joey Votto (Four Years Into Deal)
Stat Line: 22.5 fWAR & avg wRC+ 157
*Todd Helton (Retired)
Stat Line: 41.5 fWAR & avg wRC+ 146
*Todd Helton’s contract was officially a nine-year deal, but he played two more seasons with Colorado after the contract expired, so I included his 2011 numbers as well.
Most of what you hear from people is that ten-year contracts are not worth it. However, looking at what we have in front of us here, maybe it’s not as bad as the perception is. Todd Helton amassed roughly four wins per season and was on average 46% above average at the plate. I think most teams would take that consistency any day of the week.
You have Votto, Stanton, and Cano all on the same path as Helton. However, Votto and Cano are considerably older than Helton was at the same career points. There is a chance that Cano and Votto both start a downward trend in their careers before the contract is up, but it would be quite odd to see both of them suddenly flame out in the next couple of seasons.
Now Stanton, on the other hand, is playing in a hitter-friendly park and like Helton is considerably younger than that of the other two. The only bad deals here are the Albert Pujols deal and the Alex Rodriguez second deal.
While we may not see too many six to seven win years out of these players, it wouldn’t be out of this world to see at least a few more three to five win seasons which would put them around their career average.
Now, I am just using what is available to me via Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. Teams have far more access to data that I don’t have access to and I am not even digging into stuff like exit velocity, sprint speed, or any other statcast data. With my research, it doesn’t seem like these contracts would be keeping teams from making an investment on Harper/Machado.
Players who debuted at a young age
While there hasn’t been a ton of ten-year plus contracts dolled out in MLB history, there has been a number of players who have debuted at or around the age of 19 much like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
While I don’t quite see the reasoning of avoiding a ten-year contract due to previous contracts not working out as there’s not much precedence for that; I can see a point that players who debut younger will fade earlier in their careers than players who debuted at an older age.
The prime examples for this would be players like Ken Griffey Jr., Andruw Jones, Robin Yount, and Tim Raines. These players all saw their production dip quite a bit after their age 30 seasons and for some of them, their production began to dip around age 28.
Now there are examples of players like Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez who didn’t see the same dip in their production. However, both of these players were also coincidentally steroid users. So, in reality, their careers were likely extended due to using the PEDs and it likely strengthens the concern for a production dip.
Another example would be Miguel Cabrera who coincidentally signed an eight-year $152 Million deal at the age of 25 and from age 30-33 produced 23.2 fWAR. This deal was an absolute bargain for Detroit. However, they really should have just let this deal expire, as the second eight-year deal looks like an absolute albatross for the Tigers as his age 34 and 35 seasons have been really bad.
Now, as good as Harper and Machado are, they aren’t on the level of Rodriguez and Cabrera. So, on this leg, the owners actually have some cause for concern on a ten-year contract.
One of the most common concerns is the health of these players over the course of time. Which on the surface level is a valid concern. Players over the age of 30 are generally more apt to get injured than they were before that age.
The problem here doesn’t necessarily stem from the dollars attached to that player. The team that signs the Harper/Machado will likely take out an insurance policy on the contract so that they are not paying the guy if he suffers an injury that limits his ability to perform.
The problem here is the commitment to said player. Let’s talk about the Cardinals here for example. Let’s say the Cardinals sign Bryce Harper to a ten-year contract tomorrow and he plays three seasons and then injuries riddle him in his fourth year and keep his production down. Now that the team has hitched their wagon to him there won’t be a viable option to replace his production at the major league level.
If Harper struggles through the season and a better player were to be available in free agency, it would be the Dexter Fowler situation times a billion.
Some teams don’t want to take the risk that their long-term commitment to the player doesn’t work out.
Now, I feel it is pertinent of me to point out that I am a firm believer that Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are worth every penny they will get in free agency. I would love to see Bryce Harper sign with the St. Louis Cardinals. I think it is a move that would propel the team into immediate World Series contention.
I wouldn’t blink at a ten-year commitment for either one of these players, as they’re absolutely worth it. While I do believe Harper is the better player by far, he is also at a greater injury risk playing in the outfield than Machado is in the infield. So, we could see either one of these guys not completely finish out a ten-year contract due to inability to keep up or injury.
Either way, I do not see a reason to balk at a ten-year contract. However, I am not the one writing the check and there’s probably a reason I don’t work in an MLB front office.