Melky Cabrera is having a career-year. After posting 4.2 WAR last year, Cabrera has once again been effective. The 27-year-old outfielder has already passed that total this season, accumulating 4.8 WAR so far.
Cabrera’s performance comes at a great time for him. At the end of the season, he can become a free-agent. And it looks like he’ll have a chance to hit the market, since the San Francisco Giants have put off negotiations with him until then. Cabrera’s two-year breakout is also interesting since he’s never produced like this before. All of those factors make Cabrera one of the most unique players to hit the market in quite some time. Because of that, no one is really sure how much he’ll make.
For the purpose of this article, I’m not going to focus on whether Cabrera’s performance is sustainable. Many teams will likely be cautious with Cabrera considering his past performance never gave any indication that he would breakout like this. I’m going to focus mainly on how much value he’s produced recently, and compare it to similar contracts.
Trying to find similar players to Cabrera is difficult. Sorting by players who accumulated similar value throughout their careers may not be helpful since Cabrera is mainly going to be paid for what he’s done the last two seasons. At least it gives us a starting point, and more examples of potential contract ideas for Cabrera. Over his career, Cabrera has been worth 11.6 WAR. His first year in the league with significant playing time came when he was 21-years-old, and he’s 27-years-old now. Sorting with those parameters gives us a good starting place. (You’ll have to skip to page three on that list to find Cabrera.)
As expected, the list doesn’t give us many great comparisons. Most of the players on that list were average players who never signed long-term deals, or younger guys who accumulated the same amount of WAR in less time than Cabrera. There were three players that stood out on the list.
|Justin Morneau||Age-23||12.0||Six-year, $80 million|
|Torii Hunter||Age-23||12.6||Four-year, $32 million|
|Alex Gordon||Age-23||11.8||Four-year, $37.5 million|
All of these players produced similar value to Cabrera during their careers, and signed deals at age-27. This list is far from perfect, though. All three players on the list experienced their first seasons with significant playing time at age-23, two years later than Cabrera. All three players also signed extensions with their teams, which means they probably took less than they could have received on the market. This also gives us a wide range to work with. Gordon and Hunter made around $30 million, but Morneau made $80 million. The most comparable player of this bunch is probably Gordon, who experienced a similar surge in value right before he signed his extension. And that could be a fair starting point when you consider Cabrera’s breakout has lasted two seasons, and Cabrera will be able to test the market. At the very least, Gordon’s contract gives us the floor for a Cabrera deal.
In order to account for Cabrera’s recent performance, we can use the same criteria, but sort to only include players during their age-26 and age-27 seasons. That should give us players who experienced similar value just before receiving a new contract.
In his last two years, Cabrera has accumulated 9.0 WAR. There’s a good chance he’ll add to that number before the season is out, too. Using the new list, there were two players that produced similar value, and signed a deal after their age-27 season.
|Jimmy Rollins||9.3||Five-year, $40 million|
|Alex Rios||10.6||Seven-year, $70 million|
Again, these deals are not completely ideal as both were actually extensions. Still, they give us an idea of what might happen. What’s interesting is that Jimmy Rollins made $40 million while signing an extension in 2006. That could suggest that Cabrera is sure to make more this off-season.
The more interesting comparison here is Alex Rios. Rios had a decent career before exploding for two straight seasons of +5 WAR before signing his extension with the Toronto Blue Jays. Cabrera is highly unlikely to receive a seven-year deal on the market, but should make more per season since he’ll make it to the free agent market. In the first two years of his extension, Rios made less than $6 million both years. Since Cabrera is already making $6 million this season, he’s unlikely to take a pay cut with his new team.
So, let’s put together the information that we have and estimate a contract for Cabrera. Since Gordon was our most recent example, let’s assume Cabrera signs a four-year deal. We’ve also determined that Rios’ deal is too long, and too cheap early on. The Blue Jays were able to make those two seasons relatively cheap since Rios was an extension. That won’t happen to Cabrera on the market. So, we’re going to sign Cabrera to four years of the Rios contract, but drop the first two seasons. That gives us a four-year, $46.2 million deal for Cabrera. And Assuming Cabrera demands five years, we can add in the final year on Rios’ deal, giving us a five-year, $58.7 million deal. Either way, Cabrera will make slightly over $10 million per season.
Going back to Gordon’s deal, this actually makes sense. Gordon is our most recent comparison and he only made $37.5 million over four years. But since Melky will hit the market, he’ll likely command a larger salary. It looks like anywhere between $45 million to $60 million is what it’s going to take to sign Cabrera.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.