White Sox Hope to Hit It Big with Tim Anderson Contract

Tim Anderson and the Chicago White Sox have agreed to an extension that will pay the young shortstop $25 million over six years and which includes two team options that could double the amount of the contract.

The deal is both big and small. It’s the largest contract ever given to an MLB player with less than a year of service time. So that’s significant. On the other hand, the contract also figures to pay Anderson an average annual value that equates to an amount less than deals signed this winter by Boone Logan and Mitch Moreland. If Anderson doesn’t progress as a major-league player and is out of the league in a couple years, he’ll have at least made $25 million — a substantial figure, in other words. If Anderson is good, then the White Sox will have themselves a huge bargain.

Contracts like Anderson’s aren’t very common. While extensions are signed with some frequency by players who’ve recorded a year-plus of service time — and occur with similar frequency for players at each year of service time until free agency — that’s not the case for players like Anderson, who have little experience in the majors.

Consider: since 2010, there have been 143 extensions of three or more years given to players who’ve recorded less than six years of service time, per MLB Trade Rumors. Of those deals, Tim Anderson’s is just the fifth signed by a player with less than a year of service time. That’s a rarity, as the graph below reveals.

As to why these contract extensions are so rare, one likely explanation is the lack of incentive for a team to pursue a deal any earlier. While extensions such as these can certainly represent bargains for team — and while teams certainly like bargains — clubs can frequently secure players for similar terms after a year or two of play. That allows them to gather more information about the player in question.

The table below present the average and median guarantees for players by service time. Keep in mind that, for less than one year, we have a very small sample of players.

Contract Guarantees By Service Time
Service Time Average Guarantee Median Guarantee
Under 1 $16.0 M $14.0 M
1-2 $25.0 M $23.0 M
2-3 $40.0 M $30.5 M
3-4 $41.0 M $27.0 M
4-5 $72.0 M $51.0 M
5-6 $66.0 M $51.0 M
SOURCE: MLB Trade Rumors

I didn’t separate out super-2 players in this table, but doing so would push that 2-3 number down even further. Teams would love to get a bargain right away, but after a year or two of data, they know a whole lot more about a player and are still compelled to offer very little in terms of guarantees. It might look like the bargains actually continue into arbitration at the 3-4-year period, but those contracts tend to buy out the fewest free-agent seasons, which suppresses the overall values of those deals. Once players get close to free agency, that’s when teams start giving up money that can really affect the bottom line.

Let’s compare Anderson’s deal to those of other players who’ve signed contracts with under a year of service time. We’ll look at the four other players since 2010 and the one other deal from the past decade.

Contracts Under One Year of Service Time
Date Yrs./$M, Options Service Time FA Years WAR/YR Years Left w Options
Evan Longoria 4/18/2008 6/17.5, 3 0.024 3 5.2 0
Matt Moore 12/9/2011 5/14, 3 0.017 2 1.4 2
Salvador Perez 2/27/2012 5/7, 3 0.05 2 2.5 2
Chris Archer 4/2/2014 6/25.5, 2 0.156 2 3.8 5
Jon. Singleton 6/2/2014 5/10, 3 0 1 -0.3 5
Tim Anderson 3/21/2017 6/25, 2 0.115 2 NA 8
SOURCE: MLB Trade Rumors

Remember that contract extension Evan Longoria signed nine years ago, just as he was starting his MLB career? Had he not signed another extension in 2012 (which takes him through the 2022 campaign), that deal would have lasted until the end of last year and paid Longoria $41.5 million over its duration. Over that same period of time, Longoria produced roughly $330 million in value. Longoria’s current guaranteed will pay him $99 million over the next six years.

Longoria’s not the only player who received a contract extension that wasn’t entirely necessary at the time. Last year, the Royals extended Salvador Perez’s contract from above. Last season, Dave Cameron ranked Chris Archer No. 21 in his Trade Value Series. At the time, Archer had a 4.25 FIP and 4.66 ERA and Cameron indicated a strong second half could push his value up. Archer put up a 3.25 ERA and 3.29 FIP and is projected for a four-win season. Archer would still have a lot of value — three more years of control — had he not signed the contract, but three more years at a reduced price ($18.5 M) compared to arbitration plus two more years at $20 million total makes him one of the most valuable players after accounting for salary obligations.

Even one of the failures above should be considered a success. After signing his contract extension, Matt Moore had a solid 2012 season, a decent three-quarters of a season in 2013 and was mostly worthless in 2014 and 2015. All it took was an average first half in 2016 and Moore, along with three reasonable team options beginning this season, netted the Rays Matt Duffy, Lucius Fox, and Michael Santos. The only deal that hasn’t worked out for a team is Jon Singleton’s, whom the Astros extended before Singleton was called up. That contract will end up not buying out any free-agent seasons as Singleton hasn’t played much in the majors, but the $2 million commitment is just a drop in the bucket for the Astros.

As for Anderson, he does receive the biggest contract ever for a player without less than a year of service time — this despite not having been a top-five prospect like Longoria or Moore. Anderson had a solid debut last season, hitting .283/.306/.432 for a 95 wRC+, an above-average mark for a shortstop. It’s possible, given his physical skills, that could post higher-than-average BABIPs, but likely not close to as high as the .383 he recorded last year. With just a 3% walk rate, he’s not doing his OBP any favors, either. And while he does have decent power, he struck out in 27% of his plate appearances. When he was called up, Eric Longenhagen had this to say:

Though there’s some volatility in discerning just how impactful he’ll be, Anderson is almost certainly going to be a useful major-league player given his explosiveness and ability to play shortstop. I wouldn’t suggest White Sox fans or redraft fantasy owners get their collective hopes up this season, but Anderson has a chance to be an above-average everyday player if even some of his present ills are remedied — and a star if all of them are.

If Anderson were a free agent and the White Sox were making a major investment, this move might be questionable in light of what Anderson has shown thus far. Anderson isn’t a free agent, though, and this isn’t a major investment. If Anderson is even an average everyday player, this deal will work out well for the White Sox with the potential for a tremendous bargain, both in arbitration and in the two potential free-agent seasons the team bought out. As for Anderson, the key for him is 2020. That is the first year Anderson would have been eligible for arbitration. For the next three seasons, assuming he stays in the majors, he would have made just the minimum. He was given a guarantee for roughly 50 times that amount, and it probably doesn’t make sense to turn that down.

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Azizal
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Azizal

As someone pointed out on another thread, Anderson didn’t start playing *any* baseball til like Sophomore or Junior year in HS. So I am guessing the White Sox saw how quickly he developed and expect his improvements to continue. Seems intuitively correct.

I like the move a lot, not just because they’ve had success with it before (meaning they seem to be good at id’ing which guys are worth this kind of extension) but also because Anderson seems to have a really high floor. At worst, he is a plus defender at SS with a little pop and speed.