Why Did C.J. Wilson Sign for Cheap?

Thursday morning C.J. Wilson, the consensus top free agent starting pitcher, signed a five-year, $77.5 million contract with the Angels. His new contract has an average annual value of $15.5 million, which is only $1 million more than Mark Buehrle’s four-year, $58 million deal signed less than 24 hours earlier.

Wilson is younger — 31 to 32 — and better — career FIP- 83 to 92 — than Buehrle, so why did he sign such a similar deal?

In this year’s FanGraphs contract crowdsourcing, the readers predicted Wilson’s final contract to the penny — 5 years, $15.5 AAV. Looking at this, one could conclude that Wilson got market value. However, the crowdsourcing results have been fairly conservative thus far, with Albert Pujols, Jonathan Papelbon, CC Sabathia, Jose Reyes, and Buehrle getting more years and/or AAV than the crowd predicted. Seemingly, the market has been set higher this offseason, and thus Wilson could have gotten more.

In interviews this morning, Wilson confirmed two facts that gives more insight to how the market valued him. Reportedly, Wilson had a six-year offer for over $100 from Miami. He also revealed that the Rangers’ offer was about half in total value of the Marlins’ offer. It is unclear, but likely that the Marlins offered a higher AAV than the deal he eventually signed with the Angels.

Wilson will become teammates with Pujols, who signed a massive 10-year, $250 deal earlier this morning. If you assume that Pujols will be an six WAR player over the next ten years, which is admittedly a rough estimate, then the Angels essentially paid him about $4.1 million per win. Wilson tallied 5.9 WAR last season, so an estimate of his average WAR would be about five per season. At that level, he would earn about $3.1 million per win, a full million dollars less than Pujols.

To recap, Wilson’s contract is favorable in comparison to the next-best pitcher, which was signed a day ago, and favorable in terms of $/WAR to a contract that his own team signed earlier this morning. Either the market did not value Wilson as highly as expected, or Wilson took less to play for the Angles. Let’s quickly run through some factors that could have contributed to those two scenarios.

– Wilson’s playoff struggles. It is unlikely that this changed Wilson’s contract by more than a few million, but it is impossible to know if more teams may have been involved if he had a dominant postseason.

– Wilson’s unconventional career path. Wilson was only made into a starter in 2010, so there may have been some concern about his workload as his career progresses.

– Playing in Los Angeles. Wilson, who was born in Newport Beach, has made it clear that he highly valued the opportunity to return to his hometown. In fact, Wilson said that he would love to play for the Dodgers in the National League, but that their current situation did not allow them to be serious contenders.

– Weaver and Dan Haren. Wilson also expressed that he was excited to join a rotation which already featured two ace-caliber starters.

– The Pujols factor. Wilson expressed that he considered the Cardinals as a possible destination, if only because he wanted to play with Pujols. When Pujols signed with the Angels this morning, that certainly helped attract Wilson as well.

It is likely that all of these factors played some role in Wilson’s contract offers as well as his choice of a destination. Also, if Wilson was desperate for more money, he could have held out longer — there was no deadline to sign today. Whatever the reasons, the Angels have a potential third ace to anchor their pitching staff, and they signed him at a very team-friendly rate.

We hoped you liked reading Why Did C.J. Wilson Sign for Cheap? by Jesse Wolfersberger!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Jesse has been writing for FanGraphs since 2010. He is the director of Consumer Insights at GroupM Next, the innovation unit of GroupM, the world’s largest global media investment management operation. Follow him on Twitter @jesseberger.

newest oldest most voted
david
Guest
david

“Wilson tallied 5.9 WAR last season, so an estimate of his average WAR would be about five per season.”

If CJ Wilson reaches 5 WAR in even two of the seasons on this contract, it would be pretty surprising.

Kev
Guest
Kev

Surprising? Really? Strongly disagree.

OrgoneDonor
Member
OrgoneDonor

Pitchers have to be really good to get to 5 WAR. For a 31-year old guy with two season of 200IP, getting 2 of 5 years to produce at 5WAR would be quite the success. At this point, they’re paying him for 3WAR/year, which I think is a reasonable expectation for the life of the contract.

LRG
Guest
LRG

3 WAR a season??? That is just ridiculous.

Marshmellow
Guest
Marshmellow

LRG, he was saying the Angels are PAYING him 3 WAR/year ($5 million = 1 win; $15 million = 3 wins) , not what they’re expecting from him or what is expected from him.

Personally, I think he will provide a lot more value than his contract is paying him for.

Adam R
Guest
Adam R

He’s the same age as Haren, less mileage and playing in a friendlier pitcher’s park. I think 4+ WAR is a very reasonable guess.

LRG
Guest
LRG

Yeah I think that’s just a ridiculous comment too. This guy has a lot left in the tank (just 708 IP in his career) and he showed significant improvements across the board from 2010 to 2011. CJ Wilson was the steal of the offseason. Excellent acquisition by the Angels. I could easily see him being a 23-27 WAR player over the life of his contract which would be much more than what the Angels paid for.

Joe
Guest
Joe

LRG – So you see him ‘easily’ averaging ~5 WAR over the next 5 years? To put it another way…. basically show no decline between now and his age 36 season?

There are 6 pitchers who have topped 27WAR over the last 5 years (Halladay, CC, Velrander, Haren, Linceum, Lee).. so you’d have him just below this level in his age 32-36 seasons?

Here are the guys in the 23-27 WAR range over the last 5 years that Wilson should “easily” reach: Felix, Greinke

While he certainly could post something in that range, that he easily does that I think is a bit of a reach given his age.

Of course he only needs about ~15 WAR for the deal to make sense which seems like a pretty good chance of happening, but I’m not sure about the surefire bargain narrative… I don’t think people are accounting for the probability of him (or any pitcher) being healthy all 5 seasons…

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu

~15 WAR (what the contract pays him) is something that only 30 pitchers did in the past 5 years. Do we expect CJ Wilson to be one of the top 30 pitchers in baseball over the next 5 years? He’ll be 31-35 over those seasons.

Probably, but if you think about it in those terms, this deal is far from a surefire bargain. If you were to make a list of your projected top 30, or if we were to hold a draft auction, I think he’d end up near the bottom of the list of top-30-pitchers-over-the-next-5-years.

Eric
Guest
Eric

He averaged 5.3 WAR in his two seasons as a starter. I don’t see how it would be surprising if he maintained that level for at least a few years. He’s improving not getting worse (unlike his new teammate)

cs3
Member
cs3

to be fair, all his teammates are new

Colin
Guest
Colin

Agree, people are taking CJ’s ONE really good year too far here, he’s already 31, calm down. I’ll give you that he has developed some quality stuff in recent seasons. It’s probably a fair deal relative to what he is likely to produce.

Jonathan
Member
Jonathan

If he’s really found himself in keeping his pitches in the zone (a nice 2.98 BB/9 last year), I think we can expect similar quality and efficiency. I do have doubts as to whether he’ll be able to maintain K/9 level (8.3 last year) as a starter for much longer.

With that said, I think he’s a safe bet for about 4.1 or 4.2 WAR with upside towards 5 or even 6. The Angels made a smart move.