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Tigers’ Big Contracts Provide Great Value


Today, the Los Angeles Angels signed Albert Pujols for $254 million over ten years. They followed that up almost immediately by purchasing C.J. Wilson for $77.5 million over five years. Those deals, while huge, were apparently dwarfed by the offers given to those players by the Miami Marlins. Pujols, a first baseman, is undoubtedly one of the best hitters in baseball history. Wilson, since becoming a starter in 2010, has emerged as one of the better left-handers in the game today, as evidenced by the fact that his new contract will pay him more annually than Mark Buehrle will get for the next four years from the free-spending Marlins.

The respective positions of Pujols and Wilson, as well as their star statuses, make it logical to compare them to the two $20 million men on the payroll of the Detroit Tigers; Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander.

As far as the pitchers are concerned, the Tigers’ Verlander holds an obvious, decided edge over Wilson. The former won both the American League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards this year and has been worth 12.7 Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference) over the last two seasons. Wilson, on the other hand, has been worth 9.4 over the same span, a very respectable number but one that pales in comparison to the best pitcher in the AL. The Angels’ new hurler, who turned 31 last month, is also two years and three months older than Verlander. Much of Wilson’s value comes from the fact that he is left-handed.

Wilson’s deal will pay him $15.5 million annually and will take him through his age 36 season in 2016. His average WAR for the last two seasons is 4.7, a mark I believe he’ll stay very close to throughout his contract. He’s not an ace, but at the same time, his age doesn’t necessarily mean he’s wearing down as he has only logged 708 innings in his career. If he’s worth a total of 23.5 WAR for the next five years, the Angels will be paying around $3.3 million per win.

Verlander’s contract, which bumps up to $20 million for 2012 and stays there through all of it’s remaining years, will last through his age 31 season in 2014. It’s probably conservative to project a WAR of around 6.1 for each of those seasons, which is his average for the last three. However, he is entering his prime, so it may be more realistic to project him to stay closer to the 8.6 he posted this year. If he puts up a total of 18.3 WAR for the next three years, the Tigers will be paying about $3.28 million for each win.

I believe those WAR projections are slighted a bit in favor of Wilson, but Verlander’s contract still looks better by the slimmest of margins; about $20 thousand per win. Verlander also puts fans in the seats, whereas Wilson will be rightfully overshadowed by Dan Haren and Jered Weaver in Los Angeles.

I don’t need to tell you how good Pujols is. He’s incredible. Not only is his skill at the plate unmatched, he’s fantastic defensively. But Miguel Cabrera, who will make an average of $21.5 million annually for the next four seasons, is no slouch himself. 29 next April, he’s also more than three years younger than Pujols, and that’s if you don’t subscribe to the belief that the latter is actually a couple years older than he says he is.

Assuming speculation about his age being understated is untrue, Pujols will turn 32 next month. His contract, then, will pay him an average of $25.4 million for it’s remainder and run through his age 42 season in 2021. The former St. Louis Cardinals slugger has been a WAR machine throughout his career; in baseball history, only seven players have posted a WAR higher than the 88.7 he has through age 31. That said, since posting a 9.6 in 2008, his WAR has regressed every year all the way down to 5.4 in 2011. Regardless, let’s be extremely generous in projecting Pujols’ value for the rest of his career and say he’ll maintain his current career average of an 8.1 WAR for the next ten seasons and total 81 over than span. Given the regression he’s already seen plus his age and potential injury risk (not even factoring simple logic), this will certainly not happen. Even if it does, the Angels will be paying $3.14 million per win. More realistically, he’ll total about 38.3 WAR on his new contract, as ZiPS projects, meaning the Angels are paying about $6.63 million per win (keep in mind that none of these figures adjust for inflation).

Cabrera posted a WAR of 7.2 in 2010 and 7.1 this year, and his current contract will take him through the prime of his career. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him keep his WAR above seven for the next four years, but sticking with a more conservative guess, we’ll say he’ll average a 6.5 and total 26 WAR through 2015, bought with the $86 million remaining on his contract. That means the Tigers are paying $3.31 million per win.

Pujols may be the better hitter today, but his ten year contract, which includes a no-trade clause, will likely handcuff the Angels in the latter half of his deal.

What it really comes down to is one question; assuming no prospects, draft picks, or cash were to change hands in the deal, would the Tigers be wise to trade Verlander and Cabrera for Wilson and Pujols straight up? To me, the answer is clearly no. Whether you agree with that or not, the Tigers were smart to lock up Verlander and Cabrera when they did, because in today’s market, who knows if they would have been able to afford them? As it is, the Tigers did themselves a favor by securing their two best players for reasonable durations and, by comparison, reasonable salaries.