Talking Baseball

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Posted by Jon on Wednesday, April 14, 2004

48-Garret Gold

The market for baseball players has dramatically changed since its heyday back in the summer of 2000. There are no more $20 million annual contracts for fantastic hitters. Never again will we witness the signing of the world’s best all-around player for more than $25 million per season – at least not in the today’s market. These days, the top players sign for much less: Sheffield for $13 million annually with the Yankees, Maddux for $6 million annually, I-Rod for $10 million (if he stays healthy). Even Miguel Tejada, the 2002 AL MVP could only muster a $12 million annual contract with the Birds. Vladimir Guerrero? Although comparable to Manny Ramirez at the time of his free agency, Vlad’s new contract is worth fourteen million dollars per season. Teams across the continent are wising up, paying their players less per the market’s dictation.

Or, at least, so we thought. The Anaheim Angels, one season removed from a World Series Championship and mere months after the signings of Bartolo Colon ($12.75 annually for five years), Jose Guillen ($3 million annually for two years), and the aforementioned Guerrero have signed outfielder Garret Anderson to a four-year contract extension worth $12 million annually with a fifth-year club option or $3 million buyout.

Anaheim should have learned its lesson this winter when they were able to sign Vlad for only $14 million. Back problems not withstanding, Guerrero was the cream of the crop over the winter, and he was signed out of free agency. The Angels then turn around and extend Anderson’s contract for a mere $2 million less annually than what they are paying Guerrero. Furthermore, the ball was in the Angels’ hands during the negotiating process; a player asking for a contract extension eliminates himself from the open market. Anderson reported after the signing that “Never once did I think about leaving. They would have had to nudge me out the door. I just couldn't see myself in another uniform.” This seems like a classic case of rewarding a player for his past contributions instead of his future value. Anderson has spent his entire professional career, since the 1990 amateur draft, in California and led the 2002 squad to their first World Championship. But that was in the past. Looking forward, the $48 million deal appears to be a poor business move for those Haloed A’s of Anaheim.

At this juncture, take a look at Garret Anderson’s stats over the last three years.
Year AB   2B  HR  RBI  BB  SO   BA   OBP   SLG   

2001 672 39 28 123 27 100 .289 .314 .478
2002 638 56 29 123 30 80 .306 .332 .539
2003 638 49 29 116 31 83 .315 .345 .541
His production has been undoubtedly consistent, and it even looks as if he’s been hitting better in each subsequent season. What worries me is his career .328 OBP, which is anything but heavenly. You see, Garret is no young’un. Before July, he’ll be 32 years old. If his power wanes even a little, his OBP will not be able to keep his value afloat. If age weren’t a factor, the deal wouldn’t be so preposterous. But understanding that Anderson has most likely peaked already and will probably become less productive over the next four years (certainly the chances are greater that he’ll become less productive than more productive) makes the deal look foolish.

Much analysis has been devoted to defining baseball players’ peak performance years, most finding that right around age 27 is where most hitters top out. I direct your attention to J.C. at Sabernomics’ analysis of age and hitting. J.C.’s study finds that players typically peak at 27 years old, but it is interesting to note that the higher a hitters’ OPS+, the more likely he is to peak at a later age. Considering Anderson’s career OPS+ is 130, it's possible that he is such a late-peaker and that his 31 or 32 year old seasons will be his best. But Anderson will be 33, 34, 35, and 36 years old during the duration of the contract, which should nevertheless be post-peak years. Dwindling production at the plate could easily make Anderson’s contract look really bad in a few years, unless he ages like the man of steel, Barry Bonds.

Could Anderson’s contract possibly look more foolish? Certainly! All it takes is a comparison to one Trot Nixon. Nixon was in a similar situation during the winter. He openly stated his desire to stay with the Red Sox, and with that kind of leverage, Boston was able to sign the 30 year-old to a very reasonable deal: $6.5 million annually for three years. Note that the Angels will be paying an older player almost double that total for one more year. Garret’s higher compensation and his longer tenure are both massive risks that the Angels agreed upon when signing Anderson. Garret, though, is a two-time All-Star, you may be recalling. He must be a better player. Must he really?

Anderson had a 2003 campaign similar to those in his past, while Trot Nixon broke out in a major way, setting career highs in multiple offensive categories. Let’s compare their 2003 VORPs and one Talking Baseball’s favorite offensive measures, Runs Created per 27 Outs.
			VORP		RC27

Garret Anderson 45.1 6.57
Trot Nixon 44.4 8.54
According to VORP, in nearly 200 fewer at-bats, Nixon contributed to just about as many wins as Anderson – about 4.5. The RC27 stat, which tells us how many runs a lineup consisting of nine Garret Andersons or nine Trot Nixons would score with 27 outs to play with, Nixon clearly dominates. Two of Trot’s last three seasons (2001 and 2003) compare favorably to Anderson over that span. While the Red Sox were able to sign the better corner outfielder in 2003 for less money over a fewer seasons, the Angels outbid the market.

All that having been said, Anderson has been somewhat of an anomaly for years, hacking away at the plate and producing while ages, all with a low OBP for an All-Star (actually, he had Shea Hillenbrand to keep him company at the 2002 All-Star game). While it seems impossible for him to live up to this contract’s value, I wouldn’t be surprised if he remains an above average hitter for at least the first three years. Even if this is the case, he had no business being offered the contract extension he just signed. All signs point to a future in which Arte Moreno learns the price of loyalty the hard way.

Don’t get me wrong. Garret Anderson is a valuable outfielder that the Angels should be happy to retain. He’s posted fantastic numbers over his career and should be up there with Captain Underrated himself, Aubrey Huff in consideration for the outfielder least appreciated for his value. But he’s just not $12 million worth of good in today’s market.

Consider this: Albert Pujols’ new $100 million contract averages $14.25 annually. He has absolutely dominated the Major Leagues over his first three seasons, with Barry Bonds his only real rival as best hitter in baseball over this span. But because Pujols was entering his first year of arbitration eligibility, he didn’t have the leverage of a free agent. Garret's new contract is worth only $2.25 million less than Pujols'.

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