Initial reports have the deal at 7 years/$122 million. This is on top of next year’s $16 million team option, taking the total years and value of the contract to 8/$138.
It always pays to be skeptical of long-term deals for players on the wrong side of 30, simply because we know — on average — that performance only declines from this point on.
Let’s take a look at how this might play out for the club.
Using a basic 5/3/2 approach — where you weight last year’s WAR .5, the year prior .3, and the year prior to that .2 — Wright is roughly a “true” 5.3 win player entering 2013. We can take that and estimate his value and performance going forward using some techniques borrowed from Tom Tango (and Jeff Zimmerman). Assume that player’s lose roughly .5 WAR per year from ages 28-32, and then .7 WAR per year after 32. Further, assume that the price teams pay for wins increases 5% per year.
Here’s how the Wright deal projects:
|Year||Age||$/W||WAR Projection||Value in millions (year)||Total Value of contract (millions)|
By this approximation, the deal should work out well for the Mets. At the end of eight years, Wright is projected to accumulate roughly 25 WAR and those wins will be valued at around $156 million — an excess of $18 million from the actual contract. In reality, Wright only needs to accumulate roughly 21 WAR over the next eight years for the Mets to break even. Note that if the rate of contract inflation is higher than 5% per year (which it very well could be after all is said and done given the growth of television deals) then the contract is even more team friendly.
Of course, the big question is will Wright actually perform to this projection: does he have 25 wins left in him through age 38?
One way to answer that question is to look at his comparables at third base. Since 1970, only 16 players have accumulated at least 30 WAR through their age-29 season (sorted by total WAR):
Six of the 14 players are still active. Of the 17, Wright ranks fourth with 47 WAR and sixth in terms of WAR/700 plate appearances (6).
Looking over how the non-active members of the list performed from ages 30-38, there aren’t a whole lot of red flags:
Only two of the eight players listed above failed to accumulate at least 24 WAR after age 30; Matt Williams and Travis Fryman. Williams never played a full season again after his age-33 season and was a below league-average hitter when he did manage to take the field. Fryman made the initial list mostly because of early playing time; he played in 66 games as a 21-year old and then took over full time at age 22. Looking over his career, he never really had much of a peak in terms of overall performance, reflected in his 3.9 WAR/700 PAs before age 30. Furthermore, if you look at the two active players that have accumulated over 3000 plate appearances since turing 30, both have so far exceeded 24 WAR (Chipper Jones – 44 WAR; Scott Rolen – 24.4 WAR).
If Wright is to make good on this contract it will come down to how he ages offensively. He’s had some good years with the glove, but third base is a hard position play above average as players age. Of Wright’s comparables, half managed to post wRC+ of at least 125 for the later halves of their careers (min 3000 PAs). Wright has a career 135 wRC+ and has never been a below average hitter in any year.
This isn’t to say that Wright is a lock to make good on this contract. Dave Cameron brought up some valid concerns back in September. However, there is reason to believe that Wright’s 2012 is closer to his true talent level than his 2009-2011. After three straight seasons of poor plate discipline, Wright returned to being a selective hitter. This coincided with the altered dimensions to Citi Field, allowing Wright to return to his old approach of generally driving the ball up the middle and the other way.
All contract extensions are a bet, but for the Mets this is a solid one. They’ve locked up their franchise player for (basically) life, one that has demonstrated that he still has the ability to provide above average value at a difficult defensive position. Moreover, while there still remains some risk that the team will not “break even”, locking up a franchise player to a long term deal that has a solid chance of breaking even is an accomplishment in itself. This is will certainly help with the fan base and provide an anchor as they begin to cycle in new, younger players.
Bill leads Predictive Modeling and Data Science consulting at Gallup. In his free time, he writes for The Hardball Times, speaks about baseball research and analytics, has consulted for a Major League Baseball team, and has appeared on MLB Network's Clubhouse Confidential as well as several MLB-produced documentaries. He is also the creator of the baseballr package for the R programming language. Along with Jeff Zimmerman, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @BillPetti.