The Wright Price

Wright WaveLast night, Ed Coleman of WFAN broke the news that the Mets and David Wright had agreed on an eight-year deal for $138 million. The deal begins immediately, replacing Wright’s previous $16 million option for 2013.

It is an extraordinary amount of money for an extraordinary baseball player.

 

The Mets will pay David Wright an average of $17.25 million for the next eight years, his age 30 through 37 seasons. If the price of a win (1 WAR) on the open market, Wright needs to produce an average of 3.1 WAR/year for the Mets to break even on this deal, or roughly 25 total WAR over the life of the deal. And that’s without discounting either the future money paid to Wright, or production earned. It also does not account for inflation. Baseball teams continue to sign ever more lucrative TV deals, so if players continue to receive roughly 50% of baseball’s revenues, there will be a dramatic rise in player salaries in the middle years of the decade. Wright has exceeded 3.1 WAR, by Fangraphs’ WAR in every year since 2005 except 2011, and by Baseball Reference’s reckoning in every year except 2009-2011 since 2005.

The deal looks better when compared to the other major signings of this winter. In terms of extensions for third basemen, Evan Longoria agreed to an extension that will pay him $136 million over the next 10 years with the Rays, an average annual value of $13.6 million. Thanks to deferred money, the Players Association values the deal at $131 million. It’s important to remember that Longoria’s deal includes one year, 2013, that would have been his final arbitration year, so it is not directly comparable to either Wright’s extension nor a free agent deal. Longoria has been great when he has played, but has played in just 207 out of 324 games in the last two years, his age 25 and 26 seasons thanks to back and hamstring problems. He is now under contract with the Rays through his age 36 season. Longoria agreed to his extension coming off the worst year of his professional career in 2012. Wright’s best season, his age 24 campaign in 2007, was marginally valuable than Longoria’s best (8.1 bWAR to 7.8), his age 24 year in 2010.  When he has played, Longoria has been more valuable than Wright (0.044 bWAR/game to Wright’s 0.031). However, Wright has never had a season in which he has played as few as Longoria’s 74 games in 2012. The slightly smaller AAV for Longoria reflects his status as 1. a player would still be arbitration eligible and 2. a player who has missed significant time in the last two years.

Wright is being paid just $2.25 million more per year than BJ Upton, who signed a five-year, $75.25 million deal with Atlanta over the next five years. Upton has averaged 2.4 bWAR over the last six years, since 2007, when he has been a full-time big leaguer. In those six years, Wright has averaged 4.8 bWAR per year. That is a massive difference, roughly the value of a solid regular player. Upton’s contract covers his age 29-33 seasons.

Wright is older than both Upton and Longoria. The concern around Wright’s deal should hardly be the money, rather it is concerns about how well Wright will play over the second half of the contract. Coming into the 2012 season, Baseball Prospectus’ ten-year forecast predicted Wright would have a .305 TAv (True Average); he exceeded that with a .312. True average is a total offensive stat like OPS+ or wOBA, that includes park effects, but excludes baserunning, scaled to batting average where .260 represents league average. So, the BP forecast for Wright for 2013 and beyond (before his bounceback 2012) were TAvs of: .305, .303, .300, .296, .291, .283, .272, .260. Basically, a slow, gentle decline, for four years, where Wright could be expected to produce around .300 TAV, (something like .280/.350/.500 for the first half of the deal before his decline became more pronounced in the back half of the deal. Notably, even in 2020, the projections were that he would still be a league-average hitter.

Extending David Wright was the Mets’ best chance of producing a winner in the next four years. He has been the franchise’s greatest offensive player and he signed for a reasonable annual value.

The Mets just locked up their best player, entering his decline phase from a 74-win team for the rest of his career. They have not come close to building a winner. Believe it or not, the hard stuff is still in front of Sandy Alderson and his staff.