At a time of reduced sports, we are many of us understandably looking to engage within the sporting world without the advent of actual games. So I have no beef whatsoever with MLBTR popping up a video that explores some bad contracts in recent free agency.
But hey, oh, hey, whoa, come on now, stop that contract comparison baby:
— MLB Trade Rumors (@mlbtraderumors) March 17, 2020
A quick reminder on the contracts, each of which were signed four years ago: Davis got seven years and $161 million ($23M AAV), while Heyward got eight years and $184 million ($23 million AAV). Heyward, notably, is three and a half years younger than Davis.
The comparison is set up, understandably, because the two were in the same free agent class, and the author – Jeff Todd – concedes that they were differently-styled players. They both got huge contracts, and neither has performed to the level of their contract. But outside of that very superficial connection, it’s impossible for me to see how you could even really talk about these two contracts in the same breath (even in the otherwise very thoughtful way Todd tries to do – how are guys perceived by the market, why do big deals fail, etc.).
First off, I’ll do a little service and throw out Heyward’s ethereal World Series value as part of his contract. I do think his presence on that 2016 team really did have value that we cannot quantify, but I’ll just stick to the stats here, and I’ll acknowledge they were brutal that first year with the Cubs (including in the postseason). Since then, they’ve trended slowly up the last three years (and Heyward is still only 30 years old). It is exceedingly reasonable to hope – project, even – that Heyward will have value, when deployed properly, over the next four years of his deal.
For Davis, although he did provide some value in the first year of his deal, it was not overwhelming, and it is slid – almost incomprehensibly so – since then.
Indeed, the reversal of fortunes for the two players since the first year of their contract has been so extreme that the comparison of their performance over these four years is eye-popping:
Despite the first year difference being nearly two WAR in Davis’s favor, the three years since have been so exaggerated that Heyward now leads Davis over this four year period by 7.6 WAR(!). Heyward has the only above-average offensive season of the duo in the last three years. Heck, Davis, signed entirely for his bat, has been – by a healthy margin – the single worst hitter in all of baseball the last two years (50 wRC+ … FIFTY!).
To be sure, no one is going to argue with a straight face that Davis has been in Heyward’s (or anyone’s) league as far as value the last two years, and certainly Todd was not making any kind of claim like that. But to me, the staggering difference between the two players, signed to very similar contracts – when Davis was three and a half years older – makes any discussion of these two deals in tandem nonsensical.
Jason Heyward’s deal appears to have been much too high, much too long, and projects not to be worth it over the next four years. But there has been, and will continue to be, some value. He’s a player worth having on the team at some price tag lower than what he was given. C’est la vie with monster contract risks.
Chris Davis’s deal, however, has much more than negative value – the player being paid on it also has significant negative value. Davis, now 34, is highly unlikely to have meaningful value the next three years. He is not a player worth having on any team at any price tag, and he remains with the Orioles only because they are designed to be terrible and he’s already making the money. There’s no actual risk in it for them anymore, so whatever.
Jason Heyward was paid like a star and has performed like a role player. Chris Davis was paid like a star and has performed like a really good hockey player trying to play baseball. These contracts should not be in the same sentence.