BP: How many years are too many?

Another day, another Hank Steinbrenner article
Yanks, Twins talkin' Santana

Since no one really wants to talk about stadium construction, Hank Steinbrenner or, to a lesser extent, the Yanks’ own Action Jackson, let me pander to the commenters just go back to Johan Santana.

In a free piece at Baseball Prospectus today, Steven Goldman writes on lengthy multi-year contracts. His overall point as it relates to the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez is that 10-year contracts for position players are generally not as bad as pitchers. Of course, the scarcity of ten-year contracts makes an in-depth study of them next to impossible, and we’re really relying on the evidence from Dave Winfield as a barometer of success.

When it comes to pitchers, however, Goldman takes a look at multi-year contracts and Johan Santana. He concludes that “the odds of a pitcher surviving ten years unscathed are minuscule.”

But what about the seven years Santana is rumored to want? Let me excerpt:

Of course, many lefties have pitched well at that age [36], but the list of those who maintained their value to a degree that they would be worth the kind of length and value that Santana is apparently demanding is pretty small: Lefty Grove, Randy Johnson, and Steve Carlton comprise the top tier, after which you have to start cherry-picking the odd Jamie Moyer, Warren Spahn, Kenny Rogers, and David Wells seasons. As good as Santana is, history and human physiology are against him.

That said, it’s possible that no one cares. One of the interesting things we’ve seen this offseason—particularly in the contracts for A-Rod, Jorge Posada, and perhaps also what Santana will get—is the kind of contract where no one involved really thinks that the player will deliver value commensurate with the dollars involved throughout the term of the contract. The team does what it has to maintain its ability to win now, figuring that it will deal later with the problem of having an expensive, underperforming vet around.

I like what Goldman has to say here but with a few caveats. First, he doesn’t really control for inflation when it comes to the Posada and A-Rod deals. It’s quite possible that Jorge Posada will be a good deal in a few years as the market for catchers explodes. The same holds true for A-Rod. We just won’t know if these two players become dead weight until after the fact. So assuming that teams are willing to take on contracts that extend beyond the reasonable shelf life of a player is something of a flawed conclusion considering where baseball economics are heading.

But more germane to the Santana discussion is something we’ve mentioned before. The Yanks would be giving up lots of young potential and around $150 million for a player who probably won’t be able to live up to the demands of a $20-$25 million a year contract after the fourth or fifth season. Considering that Santana’s stats put him more in the mold of Johnson or Carlton but physically, he doesn’t profile to be as durable as those lefties, his long-term outlook doesn’t look at rosy as those two pitchers. Wells and Rogers have relied more on pinpoint control and slow, slower, slowest breaking ball approaches to pitching and have managed to stay effective by honing their craft. In other words, it’s unlikely that Santana 2008 and Santana 2012 will be anywhere near the same pitcher.

For A-Rod, a deal of this magnitude makes sense, and the marketing bonuses seem to support the belief that the Yanks will recoup this investment and then some. But for Santana, a lefty hurler at his peak now at nearly 29, it’s buyer beware.

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Another day, another Hank Steinbrenner article
Yanks, Twins talkin' Santana
  • http://www.thisiswhatwedonow.com Larry

    I find it mind-boggling that a trade is even being considered since the Yanks can get Santana without having to give anyone up in one year.

    • http://deleted Mike R.

      That is precisely the problem. There are no guarantees that he will reach free agency. Passing on him with the idea that you could sign him next winter is just as risky as a trade. If you do not trade for him you risk someone else trading for him and signing him long term.

      • http://www.thisiswhatwedonow.com Larry

        I’m more than OK with someone else foolishly dumping their top-shelf prospects for Santana. Especially if that someone else is, say, the Mets, which would allow the Yanks to face Santana less than they already do.

      • http://yankeesetc.blogspot.com/ Travis G.

        yeah, we all thought Zambrano would hit FA this year. didn’t happen.

        i dont care if position players last longer, 10 years is still WAY too long for a 32-year-old.

  • dan

    Forget the money aspect, as well as the other prospects… I’d rather have Hughes for the next 7 years than Santana, based on the odds of staying healthy and effective.

  • Stephen

    “Considering that Santana’s stats put him more in the mold of Johnson or Carlton, his long-term durability outlook doesn’t look at rosy as a Wells or Rogers who rely more on pinpoint control and slow, slower, slowest breaking ball approaches to pitching.”

    I don’t know what you mean by that statement. Johnson was a top five starter at the age of forty and Carlton was very effective throughout his late thirties. Maybe I misread this but I would rather have Johnson at forty than Rogers at any point in his career.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      I cleared up that section a bit. I hope that addresses the confusion.

  • kunaldo

    Dan, the odds of Hughes staying healthy are probably close to those of Santana doing the same(meaning it’s unpredictable w/ pitchers, even if santana has more innings under his belt)

    That being said, I don’t think 7 years is that bad. Granted, I dont agree with the $25mil/year part, but Santana will be great for at least 3-4 more years, and then probably still be very good thereafter. He is a very competitive player, and he has a ridiculous workout regimen, which lowers the risk of injury(somewhat at least).

    I definitely think Hughes can be great, but who knows? Especially at this age, and what if those injuries last year affected him for the longterm? I’m torn about him, but having a guy like Santana will put the Yanks over the 1st round playoff exit hump…

    And lets think about this, how many highly touted prospects have come and gone without ever really amounting to anything? there’s so much unknown with young pitchers, that it hard to expect ALL 3 of joba, hughes, and IPK turning into big time pitchers(not to mention all the other prospects we have down in the minors such as Horne and Betances)

    If the yanks can do it for $20mil/yr, and hughes and melky, it’s very, very tempting…

  • kunaldo

    Oh and PS, Johnson was throwing 95+ after 40…so who’s to say santana will lose much velocity by 35-36? Adding in the aforementioned workout regimen and the fact that it’s been written by those in the know that he has great mechanics, I’d say it’s not as big a risk as some are making it out to be.

  • dan

    The article isn’t free. Don’t worry, we won’t tell anybody.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      Whoops. My bad. That’s fixed now too.

  • steve

    another thing santana has got going for him is hes mostly a fastball change up guy, which is great for his arm. now that being said. its still a tough tough call on if hes worth it (assuming you give hime 20-25 a year for 7 years plus top prospects to get him)

    if it was my call, i’d pass on him and hope he becomes available as a FA

    • dan

      That’s definitely a positive in terms of long-term health, but I think a factor that outweighs his pitches is his delivery. He has a very short delivery, keeping his elbow bent much more than any starting pitcher I’ve seen. Generally relievers have those kinds of motions, and they usually aren’t models of health (although the actual action of relieving is a huge part of that). Keith Foulke comes to mind as a guy with a short-arm delivery who hurt his elbow. Kevin Whelan is another, but has yet to have a (serious) arm injury.

      • kunaldo

        apparently they say that liriano has more of a short arm delivery, but his mechanics are still excellent(TJS was due more to a freak injury), and Santana does use his lower body more, meaning he’ll preserve his arm for longer…

  • Relaunch

    I agree with everything except your point on how the market will explode and catch up to the Arod, Posada contracts. The market explodes becasue of these contracts, not because of inflation mostly. Pavano deal raised the pay of bad pitchers like Adam Eaton. BJ Ryan deal raised the amount for closers, etc.

  • Chip

    I’d much rather risk injury with Hughes than Santana seeing how we won’t have to pay Hughes in the 25 million range while he’s coming back from injury. I just don’t want this trade to look horrible in 5 years when Santana is broken down due to injury and Hughes is tearing up the league. Just remember the deal in which the Twins got Liriano, the Giants still look like idiots on that one.

  • Steve S

    The question is, does Santana make them a favorite for the World Series next year. Arguably he does, assuming they keep two of the three “studs”. I think we can all speculate but this is the cost of pitching now a days. And that cost is doubled when trading for someone of this caliber. We can all speculate as to his health and projected value. But the bottom line is, for the next two years you have a better idea of what you are getting from him than what you can get from any prospect including Joba, Phil, and IPK. The contract length and amount shouldnt be an issue to the Yankees. Cashman talks about fiscal responsibility but in the end they can afford to overpay. And its a huge advantage. Why fight it? We all can speculate but on a conservative estimate Arod’s total contract is about one years worth of gross revenues for the Yankees (probably not including YES). Not many teams can say that. The cost and wisdom behind a 6 or 7 year contract is a debate for the fans of other teams. At least until they demonstrate that they will actually stop spending. This should be about whether the players they want are prohibitive. And I think IPK, Melky, and two prospects would be fair. and i think everyone should realize that if they start with a certain package, thats a starting point. Its up to Brian Cashman to ascertain the market and properly negotiate down.

  • Kevin23

    I’d rather win 5 of the next 10 than win next season or two and get buried again in a cycle of bad deals and veteran free agents.

  • http://ibleedblueandwhite.blogspot.com Jamie

    Is it just me… or does all of this just make me wish that there was a 4 or 5 year contract limit in the MLB?!?!

    • dan

      Right on. That would also help poorer teams by lessening overall financial burdens on bad contracts (limiting the damage on their mistakes). Good idea Jamie.

  • NYFan50

    This should come as no surprise, but Hank confirmed the Yankees are actively talking Santana with the Twins:

    http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/ne.....;type=lgns

  • JOBA_Rules

    Any chance at all the the Yankees could package Wang, Melky and Jackson for Santana? In light of this post season, I think that the upside for Hughes, Joba and Kennedy is better than Wang. This might be easier for the Twins to swallow considering Wang has won 19 games each of the last 2 seaons.

    • Malcard89

      How is trading Wang going to improve our rotation? Even forgetting about the massive difference in their salaries, where are you going to replace those 200 innings of 3.60 ERA ball? And its ludicrous to think he cant perform in the postseason, who was the only pitcher on our staff to beat detroit in the 2006 playoffs when none of our other overpaid stars could? The whole purpose of getting Santana is to add another proven starter to our rotation to lessen the burden on the kids, so how exactly would trading Wang, plus two centerfielders, accomplish this? Dont judge him on two games, look at the big picture first and then decide.

  • NYYank55

    The Twins won’t take Wang, who is a ground ball pitcher, to pitch on artificial turf. Same can be said of IPK. So, it’s either Joba or Hughes. I think Joba has more of an upside than Hughes. I didn’t care for the way he came back after his injury. Including Melky in the deal does not sit well with me either. We finally have a centerfielder with an arm. When was the last time we had that? Mantle???? Give them Hughes, Damon, a prospect and some cash to cover Damon’s salary and I bet you have a deal. On the contract side, I wouldn’t go past 5 years and I doubt there is any team that will.

    • Kevin23

      I agree that Melky is an under-rated part of the team. I love knowing that runners are actually stopping at third base now. Which is why I was the biggest critic of the Damon signing. It just doesn’t make sense to have an armless left side of the outfield. But I also know that good fielding and throwing centerfielders are easier to come by than ace pitchers. If we can learn one thing from the Red Sox, it is that you can still win without having a bona-fide superstar at every position. Sometimes, a less proven guy who can play his heart out is just better, even though his plate numbers are less than stellar. Melky’s good play was more a wake-up call that many veterans are over-rated than it was a realization that Melky is the cat’s meow.