Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and Girls! Welcome to Three Up, Three Down!

Are Ten-Year Deals Ever A Good Idea?

Are Ten-Year Deals Ever A Good Idea?

After the 2018 season, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are both set to become free agents. They are two of baseball's best players, and they will be entering their age 26 and age 27 seasons, respectively. Both are expected to be pursued by many teams and both are expected to sign long-term contracts for more than $200 million (I've heard as high as $400 million for ten years).

It made me wonder: are ten-year deals ever a good idea?

We'll ignore the ten-year deals signed by Wayne Garland in 1977, Richie Zisk in 1978, and Hall of Famer Dave Winfield in 1981, as free agency was in its infancy and the eras are financially incomparable.


Here are the decade-long deals that have been signed in this century:

Alex Rodriguez, Rangers, $252m through age 34

Derek Jeter, Yankees, $189m through age 36

Alex Rodriguez (again), Yankees, $275m through age 41

Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies, $157m through age 35

Albert Pujols, Angels, $240m through age 41

Robinson Canó, Mariners, $240m through age 40

Ryan Braun, Brewers, $145m through age 36

Joey Votto, Reds, $225m through age 40

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers, 8 years for $248m

Giancarlo Stanton, 13 years for $325m


I threw the Cabrera and Stanton deals in there because they're almost comically awful deals. Cabrera went from being one of the best bargains in the sport (8 years for $152m) to making $31m per year through age 40. It was as if the Tigers said "Thanks for all the great years you've given us. Here's an extra $96 million. Please stay and decline with us."

In other words, exactly the opposite of what the Cardinals did with Albert Pujols. 

Stanton's deal is arguably worse, even though his contract only runs through age 37 season and has several opt-out clauses. Whereas Cabrera's durability is legendary, Stanton, at the time of his signing, had played 150 games only once in his career. Three years in, he has yet to do that again. Not coincidentally, he has never hit 40 home runs in a season, despite his home run power being his calling card. He's a good player and (so far) he's staying healthy this year. He may even continue to improve, become one of the top three or four players in the game, and earn every penny of his $325 million ... but I doubt it. 

The Stanton deal aside, the players who came the closest to earning their contracts were the ones who signed their deals in their mid-twenties. Alex Rodriguez was 25 when he signed with the Rangers, Derek Jeter was 26 when he signed his deal, and Ryan Braun, who won an MVP award in the first year of his deal at age 27 and, despite his decline and his, um, off-the-field issues, is paid significantly less than he would be had he become a free agent (see: Nelson Cruz). 

Which brings me to my point: decade-long commitments are only worth it for players in their mid-twenties. So if I were signing a player at each position to a ten-year-deal right now -- throwing out everyone's current contract -- what would my lineup be?

THE TEN-YEAR TEAM

Catcher: 24-year-old Gary Sanchez.

With his nine-year-deal, Buster Posey is the only catcher ever to sign a deal longer than Mike Piazza's seven-year deal, and it runs through his age-34 season. If Sanchez signed a ten-year now, it would also run through his age-34 season, which is about as old as any player has ever been an effective catcher. And if his defense doesn't improve -- or worse, declines -- he can always move to first base. Although I've already got someone there...

First Base: 22-year-old Cody Bellinger.

This is an easy one. The obvious 2017 NL Rookie of the Year is the only top 10 first baseman younger than 27, and as good as Anthony Rizzo and Freddie Freeman are, I'm not about to sign either of them through their late thirties.

Second Base: 23-year-old Corey Seager.

I'm cheating a little bit here, as he's currently a shortstop (and a fine one), but I think he will eventually move either to second or third. I'm betting second, simply based on who the Dodgers have in their system. 

Shortstop: 22-year-old Carlos Correa.

He could end up switching positions just as easily as Seager, but I think Jose Altuve's presence makes him slightly less likely to. 

{Side note: Altuve is 27. He may be great, I'm going with the two guys in their early twenties.}

Third Base: 26-year-old Nolan Arenado.

Yes, he's a year older than Machado. But he's better. Not only is he better, unlike Machado, he has improved every single year: his WAR has risen steadily from 3.8 to 4.1 to 5.8 to 6.6, and he's already at 5.0 this year. He's led the National League in home runs, RBI, and total bases both of the last two years, and his defense is reliably otherworldly. He's going to finish top three for the MVP this season. He's better than Machado. 

Left Field: 25-year-old Kris Bryant.

Again, I'm cheating a little bit here, as he's currently a fine third baseman (though not as good as Seager is a shortstop). But I think Bryant is going to end up as left fielder. Bryant has always reminded me of a better version of Ryan Braun, which is why he's staying at third longer than Braun did. (He's a better person than Braun, too.) I'd bet on him ending up in left. 

Really, I just wanted a way to put both Bryant and Arenado on the ten-year-team. 

Center Field: 26-year-old Mike Trout.

This needs no explanation. 

Right Field: 24-year-old Bryce Harper.

This also needs no explanation, although Mookie Betts and Aaron Judge have cases to be made. Judge hasn't done enough to convince me he's worth a long deal, and too much of Betts' value comes from his defense (see: Jason Heyward). 

Pitchers:

I wouldn't dream of giving a pitcher a decade-long contract, but I'd give Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, or Carlos Martinez a seven-year-deal. A year ago I would have said Jose Fernandez. RIP.

So there you have it: the ten-year-deal team. Just for fun, let's make a starting lineup:

Seager 2B

Trout CF

Harper RF

Bryant LF

Bellinger 1B

Correa SS

Arenado 3B

Sanchez C


What do you think?

Our Kings of Queens: Let's Talk About the Window

Our Kings of Queens: Let's Talk About the Window

Stranger Swings: Volume 2

Stranger Swings: Volume 2