In baseball this spring, the big story as usual it seems, deals with money rather than baseball itself, which is rather unfortunate and might just be one of many factors which seem to causing attendance and TV ratings to dip of late. Anyway, the story of the spring so far is the mega-contracts… the top two Free Agents, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, as well as the re-signing of Nolan Arenado with his current team.
Machado of course, signed a 10-year deal with San Diego for $300M; Harper just signed on with Philadelphia for a remarkable 13 years and $330M, while Arenado stays with Colorado for another 8-years and $260M. For those not so mathematically inclined, that equals out to average annual salaries of $30M for Machado, $25.3M for Harper and $32.5M for Arenado.
The surprising thing of that is that each of the 3 players can feel like they won. And then again, shouldn’t anyone getting literally hundreds of millions to do what they like feel that? Harper gets bragging rights for the biggest-overall contract, taking home eventually $5M more than Giancarlo Stanton will on his long-term deal. Arenado gets the biggest annual takehome of the trio and didn’t have to go through the ordeal of posturing and visiting all sorts of parks all winter long to get it. Machado falls somewhere in between but has the comfort of having the biggest contract ever handed out by San Diego and getting a better payday each year than Harper, with whom he was constantly being compared all winter long. For those interested in such things, using stats from Sporttrec earlier this year, Arenado should be the 5th highest paid player in the MLB, Machado tied for 7th and Harper 15th (surprisingly Stephen Strasburg leads this year at $38.3M, followed by his teammate Max Scherzer at $37.4M then Arizona’s Zach Greinke at $34.5M.
As skyhigh salaries go, I think the owners got it right this winter. Of the elite trio, Arenado is best, followed by Machado and then Harper. Let’s look at some numbers:
The numbers above are for (columns left to right): career games played, 2018 homers, career homers, 2018 RBI, career RBI, 2018 batting average, career batting average, 2018 OPS, career OPs and 2018 WAR/Career WAR (as measured by Baseball-Reference.
We can see there’s a strong simlarity between the 3. Last year all were 30+ HR, 100+ RBI, with a better-than-league-average OPS. There of course other factors that went into my evaluation as well as, more importantly, the thinking of the owners. For instance, Arenado isn’t quite the roadrunner on the bases as the other pair… Harper and Machado all had double digit stolen bases, Arenado only 2. Harper led the league with 130 walks, which more than compensated for his lowish batting average. However, other factors all make Arenado and Machado more exceptional than Harper. To start with, the two former ones play more valuable postions than Harper’s. And they do it better.
Arenado has won a Gold Glove every year he’s been in the majors, and at the all-important 3B. Last season was the first time in his career his defense hasn’t been listed at adding 2 or more wins to the team tally. Manny, as we’ve seen is equally proficient at Shortstop or 3B, has two Gold Gloves and has been a plus-defensive WAR every year but last year, when a poor showing in LA made him rate a neutral 0. Harper, on the other hand, plays in the outfield, and only does a fair job of that at best. He actually has a -3.2 defensive WAR. Ergo, he cost the Nationals three games over his years there by his glove, compared to if they’d had a run of the mill minor leaguer. That was surely overshadowed by his heavy bat, but is still a consideration. And while the normal trajectory would show Machado and Arenado having another two or three very good years in the infield before perhaps being shifted to a lower-stress LF or 1B position, Harper will in all likelihood have to become a first baseman, or hope that the NL adopts the dH rule soon to avoid becoming a significant sinkhole in the field for the Phils.
Worse yet, he’s the one of the three with a history of injuries. His past knee injuries are especially worrying to a potential employer, as that tends to be something that keeps coming back with age and wear and tear. While Machado played all 162 games last year (split between the two teams ), and has missed a mere 11 games over the last 4 seasons total and Arenado, just 16, Harper has missed 40+ games three times in his seven year career.
My assessment: all three teams are silly to be giving out contracts this long. Apparently the lessons of Troy Tulowitzki, Prince Fielder, Felix Hernandez etc haven’t been taken to heart yet. But Colorado looks the best out of the three. First, they keep a hometown hero which is of course, good marketing. Secondly, he’s the best defensive player of the trio and is least likely therefore to become an anchor on “D” in the duration of his contract.
Machado is not going to be a Gold Glove-type infielder a decade from now, but could still be hitting 30 or more homers and having an .850 or .900 OPS. Moreover, it shows the Padre fans the team is interested in winning and building a contender in the tough NL West. Coupled with their great farm system (ranked best in baseball right now), with a good added starting pitcher or two, they could be the team to beat by 2020 and stay strong for a few years. Not a bad signing.
Then you have the Phillies. I applaud them for not giving in to Scott Boras and the pressure to give Harper more money per season than anyone else. He simply is not that good. That said, while Harper should add some “oomph” to their improving lineup for a few years, giving a defensive liablility with a wonky knee a 13-year deal is only bound to backfire, and sooner than later.
Now for our Blue Jays… rumors continue that they swept in and signed Clay Bucholz and Bud Norris at the end of last week, which if true will significantly improve their pitching staff and make them a potential .500 club this year , if nothing else. But the team has yet to confirm that, so I’ll look at that if and when …