Marlins Sign Wei-Yin Chen

The free agent market is still moving pretty slowly for hitters, but another pitcher has gone off the board, as the Marlins have agreed to terms with Wei-Yin Chen, according to Jon Heyman and others.

Hey, look, another opt-out, and in this case, a more interesting one than usual, because the Marlins have heavily backloaded the deal, as they always do. Chen will get just $20 million in the first two years of the contract, so his opt-out decision will be 3/$60M in guaranteed money after the 2017 season, which makes this one a a bit less likely to be used than some of the others signed this winter. Chen could certainly pitch well enough to get more than that in two years time, but given the attrition rate of pitchers, the more likely scenario is that he ends up choosing to stick with the full guaranteed years.

By backloading the deal, the Marlins make the opt-out less valuable for Chen, and in the scenarios where he pitches well, this could be a pretty nice deal for Miami; surrender a second round pick to sign a quality pitcher, get two good years for $20 million, then potentially get a draft pick as compensation (if that still exists in a few years) if he opts-out. In this scenario, the opt-out is less bad for the Marlins than it is for most teams who have handed them out this winter.

Chen’s deal fits in with Mike Leake and Jeff Samardzija at the top end of the mid-tier starting pitcher market, but I think I’d prefer Chen to the other two in terms of pitchers. The opt-out and the loss of the pick means that Chen did cost more than Leake — even with the same $80 million over five years in guaranteed money — but I think I’d probably still take this deal over the other two. For the Marlins, this looks like a pretty decent free agent value.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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6 years ago

Not many deals this year you haven’t liked Dave.

6 years ago
Reply to  Mooser

I think front offices are getting smarter and using their money wiser overall.

6 years ago
Reply to  astropcr

Might have something to do with opt-outs. While I still virulently disagree with people who call opt-outs win-win, I do think they allow players and teams to trade risk in a way that works out for both sides compared to the traditional contract structure.

A team is most worried about getting stuck with a big contract to an old, useless player. For a team, giving an opt-out to a guy like Chen means giving up some upside if he ages well, but realistically they aren’t giving up that much upside, probably no more than $10 million. However, for Chen, that upside means more, since he is comparing his own salary only to his other options, not to a team’s entire payroll. For the Marlins, getting $10 million of surplus value out of Chen is nice, but doesn’t change the franchise. For Chen, missing out on $10 million is a big deal.

So, the Marlins give up relatively little to give Chen a big benefit. Of course they have to be compensated for this, so Chen accepts a lower total commitment. This reduces the downside the Marlins can get hit with, and Chen is also ok with this, because this only matters if he is bad, and if he is bad, he’ll be overpaid even with the lower commitment, so he’s not complaining.