Reviewing Jon Singleton’s Contract One Year Later

One year ago, Jon Singleton was a consensus Top-100 prospect. Eleven months ago, he was making around $8,000 per month in Triple-A. Ten months ago, he was was promoted to the majors where the Major League Baseball minimum salary would have paid him a little over $300,000 for the rest of the season. Just yesterday, he was sent back down to the minors where he again would have been making around $40,000 for the season. He is not making $40,000, however, because Singleton signed a controversial contract last year guaranteeing him $10 million before he reached the majors. He’ll make $2 million this season, and every month he spends in the minors he will make 50 times as much money as he would have without his contract.

Nothing is going to change the fact that the Astros likely got a bargain when they signed Singleton. They lowered his potential arbitration salaries and received an option for a free agent year while only guaranteeing $10 million. Even if Singleton does not become a successful major league player, guaranteeing him less than what the team is paying Scott Feldman this year was an easy choice. For Singleton, the choice was not likely so easy.

As Dave Cameron wrote at the time, the Astros appeared to promote Singleton because he signed the extension. Cameron noted that Singleton’s signing bonus after being drafted was just $200,000 and had been signed five years earlier. If Singleton had not signed the extension, there was a decent chance that he would have remained in the minor leagues for some time longer. Singleton received criticism for signing the deal, particularly from Bud Norris, who took to Twitter and said, “Sorry but this Singleton deal is terrible. Wish the Jon listened to the union and not his agent.” At the end of his piece, Cameron was not sure the deal was necessarily a good or bad one for Singleton, given his options. Craig Calcaterra defended Singleton’s decision, and put the onus back on the union for forcing Singleton to make that decision.

After signing the contract Singleton did not perform well for Houston last season. He struck out 37% of the time, and a low, .238 BABIP caused a hitting line of .168/.285/.335 and a wRC+ of 79. He did post an excellent 13.8% walk rate and his .167 ISO was not terrible, but the strikeouts and poor BABIP in 362 plate appearances resulted in a disappointing season. Strikeouts are on the rise, but Singleton’s rate still stood out. In the last 100 years, there have been nearly 19,000 player seasons with at least 300 plate appearances, and only Melvin Nieves in 1997 struck out a higher rate than Singleton did last season.

Singleton is not the only player to strike out a lot as a young player in the majors. Also in the top ten of that list from above are Bo Jackson in 1987, Chris Carter in 2013, Russell Branyan in 2001, and Chris Davis in 2009. Each of those players went on to varying levels of success and had good seasons offensively despite high strikeouts. Javier Baez struck out in more than 41% of his 229 plate appearances last season, and his future still looks bright even though he has also been sent to Triple-A to start the season. The performance last season was poor, but Singleton’s projections are still decent. The Fangraphs Depth Charts projections give Singleton a .216/.318/.407 line with a wRC+ of 106. Those numbers are not great for a first baseman, but they are above average and a good indicator that Singleton can still contribute at the major league level going forward. At just 23 years old, Singleton still has some development ahaed of him, and could improve as he gets older.

Looking back, the contract extension looks about the same for the Astros and better for Singleton after his disappointing 2014 and beginning 2015 in the minors. Hearing that a player was guaranteed just $10 million and had a free agent year bought out is jarring, but the number of options in this case understate the value. Assuming Singleton is called back up before August he will have more than one year of service time at the end of this year. When the original five-year term of the contract ends, Singleton will still have two more years of arbitration left. The options during those years would pay Singleton another $7 million on top of the $10 million he was guaranteed. Compare Singleton’s pay to the amount potential Astros’ teammate Colby Rasmus who just went through three years of arbitration. For his first six seasons in the majors, Colby Rasmus took home a little under $16 million before hitting free agency. If Singleton is an average player, he likely did not cost himself any money at all.

Singleton could be much better than Rasmus, and then he might have cost himself some money, but the risk of getting nothing is great for a player who has not yet reached the majors. Before hitting arbitration, Singleton looks to make $7.5 million instead of under $2 million receiving the MLB minimum salary. He gives back some of that money in arbitration salaries, but it does not look to be a significant amount. Even in the free agent year that Singleton potentially gave up, he would make $13 million. When Evan Longoria signed his extension just after hitting the majors, he gave up two free agent years. The more recent extension Longoria signed does not even kick in until his first contract ends after the 2016 season. Singleton potentially gave up just one free agent season and could still be a free agent at the end of his Age-29 season after making $30 million.

Given the way the salaries are structured, his salaries are not likely to be cited by any parties in arbitration, and an extension prior to having any major league service time does not look to be precedent-setting at this time. Singleton was not the prospect that George Springer was, and his expected level of contribution and singing bonus coming out of the draft are not anywhere near the level of Kris Bryant. The union appears to have lost little due to Singleton’s extension while Singleton has been given security without making a major sacrifice to future earnings. The Astros would love for Singleton to be playing well enough in four more years to begin picking up their options and Singleton would be happy to be playing well enough to take the money. Criticism for Singleton last year was not justified, and it looks worse in hindsight after he did not make the Opening Day roster. The Astros might still be getting a bargain, but Singleton is likely quite happy with his “terrible” deal.





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

35 Comments
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philosofool
7 years ago

Fortunately for Jonathan Singleton, psychological studies on the value of money above a middle class wage reveal no marginal utility whatsoever. It turns out, Singleton will likely be as happy as he naturally is–which may be very, not at all, or somewhere in between–but money is incapable of making a difference as long as you are not impoverished. Singleton has locked down the minimum level of money necessary to be happy for at least the next five years, and he will be happy if he’s a naturally happy guy.

Yirmiyahu
7 years ago
Reply to  philosofool

That unnecessary money that you make that’s more than you need to keep you out of poverty? I’d be glad to take it off your hands. I’d also be glad to take it off the hands of the folks who wrote that study.

Alex
7 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

And you’d be no happier or sadder for it.

Kevin
7 years ago
Reply to  Alex

Well, you would be temporarily much happier and sustainably marginally happier. I’m pretty sure most studies find a marginal increase of happiness with money even after basic needs, but it’s clearly a diminishing return

Der Philosoph
7 years ago
Reply to  Alex

es ist high time for the proletariat to rise up
und end the reign des Bourgeouisie

beitritt zur Revolution!!!

Danke

Bpdelia
7 years ago
Reply to  Alex

This has been proven in study after study after study.

Note he did not say “above poverty” he said “above middle class”.

It was clearly the correct decision. And if bud Norris has a problem with it they can stop trading away the wages and benefits of professional and amateur players.

The obvious outgrowth of this is that a second yacht for a wealthy person has very little lasting marginal benefit to happiness while also directly contributing to dozens of AAA players being unable to live a middle class life.

And of course there is the fact of the consumption gap.

A person can only have so much stuff before money just piles up. Basically unused aside from investments that nowadays seem to have very little actual benefit to the non investing class.

Use investment money to build production? Great. Helps all.

Use it for stock buybacks and dividend payments? Not so much.

Jim S.
7 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

I am 66 years old and, looking back, I fully believe that one of the most important things in life is knowing when you have ENOUGH.

MGL
7 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

I have read the same thing as philosophool and agree with it personally.

Now, most people think/assume that they would/will be happier with more money, but what they think is completely irrelevant.

red
7 years ago
Reply to  MGL

Attaining money can make an unhappy person even more unhappy. All their life they may tell themselves “if I just had more money I’d be happy.” When they get the money and realize they’re no happier, they’ve lost the hope of being happier that they had before.

B N
7 years ago
Reply to  MGL

It can also make them less happy by giving them less to do. A mildly miserable person who is busy with work much of the time may end up only spending 10-20% of their time hanging around and being miserable, with the rest being busy.

On the converse, someone who has made enough money to avoid working entirely will then be able to devote all of their time to being miserable or doing potentially-destructive things to avoid misery. (Unfortunately, persistent avoidance behaviors tend to actually not end up being very happy in the long term: they tend to be too much sugar and too little substance).

SoxRox7
7 years ago
Reply to  philosofool

Cash, Rules, Everything, Around, Me
C.R.E.A.M.
Get the money
Dollar, dollar bill y’all

Thanks, Comcast
7 years ago
Reply to  philosofool

Indeed. And in many cases there actually appears to be a strong correlation between “money” and “problems”.

Cubs1908
7 years ago

Well, I have 99 problems. If the study is correct, having a guaranteed $10mil will not solve any of them. Perhaps, it will solve some of them but create an equal number of new problems resulting in still having 99 problems but it is 88 residual problems with 11 new problems.

B N
7 years ago
Reply to  Cubs1908

I had 99 problems, but after paying my cable bill, I now only have 23 problems.

Spencer
7 years ago
Reply to  philosofool

I think he made the right choice but you’re missing something.

Once this money is gone nothing is guaranteed to this young man who presumably has no college degree or work experience outside baseball. This is the reason for the need to maximize earnings while a player.

He could very well be have be impoverished beyond five years from now.

philosofool
7 years ago
Reply to  Spencer

I’m confused: it seems to me like Singleton would get a worse contract now if he tried to settle for one. So, in hindsight, the decision looks pretty good. Furthermore, if he does end up being an MLB regular in six years, which now looks like an okay but not great bet, he’s in line for another ~$16M contract, plus a few more that might be worth something.

If he were smart, by the way, the current $10M would be ample to sucure a life above middle class earnings: $100k per year (pretaxes) for 100 years….

Larry Bernandez
7 years ago
Reply to  philosofool

I’ve read (from Forbes maybe?) $85,000/yr is the magic number. Once you’ve accumulated that much money, anything beyond will not contribute to any gain in long-term happiness.

Paul
7 years ago

I’m guessing confounding variables such as the types of jobs normally necessary for $100,000+ salaries affects the happiness substantially. Lawyers and doctors have high levels of depression and low job satisfaction, so I’m not sure it applies to a person who doesn’t have to do that work each year. Plus, if you have that sort of money, he literally doesn’t have to work another day in his life if he so chooses.

Cool Lester Smooth
7 years ago

Of course, that does depend on where you live. A family needs well over $100k a year to live comfortably in the suburban northeast.

Padraic
7 years ago

But that family in the NE presumably has to pay for stuff like child care and cars for two people commuting to work, which a person who did not work would not have to pay for.

I live in the suburban NE, and you can certainly raise a family with two kids with less than 100 thousand per year.*

Cool Lester Smooth
7 years ago

True enough. And it only starts to become a real issue once college becomes a concern.

The Boston is expensive as fuck, though.

adsfds
7 years ago
Reply to  philosofool

This ignores the fact that we’re talking about generational money here. Singleton may well not be so much happier that he drives a lambo instead of an audi but being able to ensure his grandchildren won’t have to worry about college or financial security is a pretty nice thing to know.

Except....
7 years ago
Reply to  adsfds

People who repeatedly fail drug tests aren’t generally super concerned with their grandchildren’s well-being.

Bpdelia
7 years ago
Reply to  Except....

Wow so false it’s shocking.

Yes people with drug problems are an actual different species that do not care about their families.

That being said many are not realizing how much money 10 million is.

That’s 100 payments of $100,000. If your kids have to worry about college you’re doing it wrong.

My kids don’t have to worry about college and we make less than 83,000 combined.

Der Philosoph
7 years ago
Reply to  philosofool

es ist high time for the proletariat to rise up
und end the reign des Bourgeouisie

beitritt zur Revolution!!!

Danke