Buyer Beware: The Risks of Big Contracts for Position Players Over 30

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Buyer Beware: The Risks of Big Contracts for Position Players Over 30

Analysis and Commentary

alex gordon royalsWith another report hinting at the Cubs interest in 31-year-old Alex Gordon, as contrasted with conversations about 26-year-old Jason Heyward, there is no better time than now to dig into some recent contracts that might be similar to what Gordon projects to get in free agency.

Fangraphs’ crowdsourcing efforts pegged Gordon’s next contract to be worth $90 million over five years.

Since 2006, eight deals of at least five years, valued at $90 million or more have been signed by free agent hitters for their age 30 seasons or later. Gordon, who will be 32 in 2016, could be next on the list.

Here is a look at the contracts handed down to those players.

Carlos Lee, Astros (2007-12): Six years, $100 million

Fangraphs value: $49.3 million, which ranked 161st among 385 qualifying players during that span.

Lee was 31 when he signed what turned out to be his final big league contract. He slashed .283/.337/.466/.803 with an OPS+ of 113 mostly with the Astros before finishing up with the Marlins.

His 7.7 fWAR (or 1.3 WAR per year) in 896 games played over the life of his contract ranked 71st of 159 qualifying outfielders.

Alfonso Soriano, Cubs (2007-14): Eight years, $136 million

Fangraphs value: $130.6 million, which ranked 69th among 472 qualifying players

Soriano’s deal with the Cubs was the highest given out in franchise history, prior to Jon Lester’s six-year deal worth $155 million. The Cubs had winning seasons in each of Soriano’s first three years — the first two of which were All-Star seasons for Soriano.

Over the life of his contract, Soriano slashed .261/.313/.489/.802 with a 109 OPS+. His 19.8 fWAR during that eight-year run ranks 31st of 190 qualifying outfielders.

Torii Hunter, Angels (2008-12): Five years, $90 million

Fangraphs value: $107.3 million, which ranked 46th of 349 qualifying players

Similar to Gordon, much of Hunter’s value came in his defense. And to his credit, Hunter was a quality defender in center field at the start of his contract and aged gracefully enough into right field where it didn’t hurt his overall value.

Hunter was stellar with the bat, slashing .286/.352/.462/.814 with a 122 OPS+ during the deal. His 16.4 fWAR in his 713 games with the Angels represented the 19th best among the 144 qualifying outfielders during that stretch.

Alex Rodriguez, Yankees (2008-present): Ten years, $275 million

Fangraphs value: $156.3 million50th of 483 qualifying players

Rodriguez has been stellar with the bat, even though his contract comes with copious amounts of baggage. His slash line in 815 games since the start of 2008: .274/.367/.496/.863 with a 128 OPS+. Pretty good.

A-Rod’s 23.0 fWAR over the first seven years of his contract comes out to per year average of 3.3 in his age 32-39 seasons.

Jayson Werth, Nationals (2011-present): Seven years, $126 million

Fangraphs value: $91.7 million; 79th of 335 qualifying players

Much like when the Cubs signed Lester, the Nationals showed they were ready to spend and compete with the big boys when they spent more than $100 million on Werth’s age 32-38 seasons. Werth has posted a .272/.364/.441/.805 slash line and respectable 120 OPS+ in the first five years of the deal.

His 12.3 fWAR ranks 32nd among 135 qualifying outfielders since 2011 and still has two years and $42 million left on his contract.

Adrian Beltre, Rangers (2011-present): Six years, $96 million

Fangraphs value: $202.2 million4th of 335 qualifying players

Beltre has been so good with the Rangers, he has produced more than twice what his contract has been worth. The only players who have accumulated more fWAR since 2011 than Beltre’s 27.3 are Mike Trout (38.5), Andrew Mccutcheon (33.4) and Miguel Cabrera (29.9).

Arguably baseball’s best third baseman of the last decade, Beltre has slashed .309/.358/.514/.872 with a 133 OPS+ in 732 games since starting the deal in his age 32 season.

Talk about an outlier.

Albert Pujols, Angels (2012-present): Ten years, $254 million

Fangraphs value: $66.6 million88th of 290 qualifying players

Pujols enters the fifth year of his 10-year mega-deal with the Angels as a shadow of his former self. He has slashed .266/.326/.478/.804 with a 126 OPS+ in 569 games, dealing with nagging injuries in recent seasons.

And while good things still happen when he puts bat on ball, Pujols’ plate discipline seems to have taken a hit, exemplified by a .326 OBP that is nearly 100 points lower than the .420 OBP he owned with the Cardinals .

Pujols’ 9.0 fWAR ranks 12th among first basemen since 2012. Meanwhile, Anthony Rizzo has posted a 14.9 fWAR in 547 games since 2012, which is the sixth best in baseball in that stretch. And just for fun, Fangraphs has valued Rizzo’s value at $111.8 million since 2012 — or more than $45 million more than Pujols.

All the while, Rizzo has made approximately $7.8 million since 2012.

Josh Hamilton, Angels (2013-present): Five years, $123 million

Fangraphs value: $25.5 million164th of 233 players

Hamilton will enter the fourth year of his five-year deal with the Rangers, which is the team he left when he signed with the Angels in free agency. The first three years of Hamilton’s contract have been worth $53 million, while the final two years were valued at $30 million per season.

The odds of Hamilton living up to that deal are slim, considering the lack of production in the first three seasons. Then again, Hamilton’s health and well being are more valuable moving forward than his baseball career.


Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.