Previous installments in the “Contracts for the New Core” series:
Billy Hamilton | Eugenio Suarez

On March 26th, just days before the 2018 season would officially start, the Philadelphia Phillies signed prospect Scott Kingery to a six-year, $24 million dollar contract. The signing stuck out for obvious reasons – Kingery would become just the second drafted player in history to sign a multiyear contract before debuting in the big leagues. Kingery is struggling so far in his rookie season, but looks to be a productive player once he gets adjusted to the big leagues.

On April 18, 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays signed Evan Longoria to a six-year, $17.5 million dollar guaranteed contract, after just six big league games. The contract included a few team options which could have maxed out at nine years and $44M, but a contract extension was signed that locked Longoria up (seemingly) for life. Longoria had a fantastic career in Tampa, building his case for the Hall of Fame on one of, if not the most team-friendly deals in MLB history.

But why? It’s clear that Evan Longoria deserved to be paid much more than he actually was during his time with the Rays. Why auction off a Hall of Fame future after only playing six games in the majors?

Well, just like everything else in life, where there’s a success story, there’s a gigantic letdown to match it.

Remember when I said Scott Kingery was the second drafted player to sign a multiyear contract before stepping foot on a big league field? The first player to accomplish this feat was Jon Singleton of the Houston Astros. At the time, locking up Singleton for five years at $10 million seemed like a good deal. Singleton was the team’s third ranked prospect, behind only Carlos Correa and Mark Appel. He was a consensus top-100 prospect, much like Kingery himself.

But, being a star in the MLB wasn’t in the cards for Singleton. Despite the pedigree, Singleton bombed miserably at the major league level, not even sniffing the Mendoza Line, and striking out almost 40% of the time over 430 plate appearances between 2014 and 2015. He hasn’t appeared in the big leagues since.

Another Tampa Bay Ray, Matt Moore, signed a five-year, $14 million extension in 2011 after just 19 innings pitched for the Florida club. Perhaps hoping to strike gold twice, Moore’s tenure with Tampa was marred by injuries, although it was still fairly successful. Moore was eventually traded to San Francisco at the deadline in 2016.

So what does all of this say? Signing players early poses both risk and reward for clubs and players alike. Teams are taking a chance on young players who haven’t “proven it” at the big league level, and are definitely at risk of the plan not working out. However, there are plenty of examples of players signing these contracts and exploding onto the scene, and suddenly becoming one of the best assets in baseball due to their contracts and ability. Names like Chris Archer and Christian Yelich were dropped in almost every tweet last off-season, mostly due to their team-friendly contracts and young age.

For the players, the risk is a little more substantial. If a player is good enough to be considered for a contract extension at such an early stage in their career, the chances are they’ll likely be worth it, and then some. It was certainly the case for Longoria. However, as we all know, entire careers can be shipwrecked by one injury. Signing a contract this early is a great insurance policy, and is a huge step up from the pathetic wages minor league players are being paid today.

Okay, time to put this in context. At this point in the rebuild, there are a ton of young players on the Reds roster. We’ve seen a lot of good things from these guys, but we’ve also seen some growing pains. Are any of the young Reds players worthy of an extension like this? And if so, what would it cost the Reds?

As far as hitters go, this decision really came down to Nick Senzel vs Jesse Winker. With Senzel’s recent illness potentially being related to his 2017 season ending vertigo, there’s a new uncertainty that we need to factor into his prospect status. I’m not saying it’s going to detract from his greatness, but if it keeps cropping up every once in a while, it’ll be a factor.

Another reason I didn’t opt to include Senzel in this hypothesis is the unpredictability of his agent, Scott Boras. We’re likely a few years away from an ugly divorce between team and player, if Boras’ history tells us anything about teams being able to extend his clients.

There’s also the fact that he hasn’t made his major league debut yet, and even though all signs point to him making that leap with flying colors, we’re going to deal with someone a little more established in this scenario.

So far in 2018, Jesse Winker has been a revelation at the top of the Cincinnati lineup (when he’s actually in the lineup, that is.) The 24 year old is batting .287/.404/.362 over 114 plate appearances, and is currently second on the team in both walks and doubles. The power hasn’t shown up just yet, but as a leadoff hitter, Winker has been exactly what the Reds have been missing at the top of the lineup for years. If the power does come around even a little bit, Winker becomes a cornerstone of the Reds offense for years to come.

So what’s he worth? Let’s take a look at both the Kingery and Longoria deals. Keep in mind that these two deals were almost exactly a decade apart, so the numbers won’t line up exactly. But, both contracts include three option years, which is an important factor.

Right away, we can see what economics has done to baseball over the last decade. Players are getting paid, which is a good thing. You can see the ramps in salary are steeper and happen earlier in the Kingery contract, despite him not having nearly the prospect clout that Longoria did at the time of his signing. It’s the Kingery contract we’ll need to model any Winker signing after.

Winker isn’t quite the prospect that Kingery is at the national level. Although most Reds fans would have Winker higher on top 100 lists than most analysts ended up placing him, he just doesn’t have the top 50 prospect status that Kingery has. However, Winker obviously has more experience than Kingery did at the time of his signing. Although 256 plate appearances is hardly a large sample size, Winker is already well on his way to establishing himself as a major league regular.

What Winker has done in those 256 plate appearances though, leaves a little to be desired. He’s been great, don’t get me wrong, but the Phillies paid Kingery ‘future star’ money. Winker’s lack of power in 2018 likely rids him of a ‘future star’ label, and saddles him instead with an ‘everyday player’ label. Still fantastic for a 24 year old, but it’ll need to be considered when talking money.

So, what’s a Jesse Winker contract look like? Maybe something like this:

The six-year guaranteed, nine-year including club options is a good base that the Reds shouldn’t be too cute with. It’s a solid contract that provides the player with longevity, and allows the team to capitalize on the investment by locking the player up until his age 33 season. It’s a good trade-off that gives everyone what they want in this situation.

The money is slightly less than what Kingery is getting, but is still a very respectable major league salary. When compared to the recent Eugenio Suarez contract, it’s somewhat comparable. Suarez is being paid more than this projection from ages 26-29, but Winker would be making more money in his age 30-33 seasons. This would give the Reds two manageable contracts for two cornerstone players near the end of Votto’s contract, when players like Taylor Trammell, Tyler Stephenson, and Hunter Greene should be around.

At the end of the day, signing players to contracts at a young age can be much more sensible than the current system of signing free agents to big-dollar contracts when they hit their thirties. It makes more sense that you’d want to be paying your players the most money during their most productive years – literally paying for their production – than it does paying players a premium for work they’ve done in the past. Contracts like these could become the new normal after an off-season like 2017, when front offices seemed finally to get wise to the fact that paying old players top dollar might not be a good idea.

So, what do you think? Would you be comfortable with this contract? Why or why not? What other young players do you think deserve an early-20’s extension?

16 Responses

  1. SultanofSwaff

    With the amount of analytical data available, I like these deals a lot for position players. Pitchers on the other hand need to show durability, and that takes time.

  2. JimBobCraig

    I understand the appeal of a high OBP guy, but the book is still out on whether or not Jesse Winker will be a good MLB player. Suppose, over the course of a time, he proves to be a guy with below average power, defense and baserunning (and I think this is a possibility). And suppose he proves to be a guy that, when you look at the total package, is maybe a 2 WAR guy (or whatever an avarage player would be). How is that different than Billy Hamilton? How is it different to have a guy who generates all of his total value to the team through high OBP versus a guy who generates all of his value through defense and baserunning, if the overall value is that of an average player? It’s easy to look at Winker today and find it refreshing to have a high OBP guy there at leadoff. Perhaps years after billy hamilton is gone we’ll be clamoring for an elite defensive center fielder. The Reds need players with above average production, period. I’m not sure it should matter where the production comes from.

    • Matthew Habel

      Winker hit for power at every minor league stop until AAA and it came back in a big way last year for the Reds. The chances are that he will have at least average power.

      Also, Winker’s plate discipline and hit tool project and age much better than Hamilton’s speed, which is already declining slightly (sprint speed of 30.4 ft/s in 2016, 30.1 ft/s in 2018).

      I understand your argument and who knows how good he will actually be, but Winker is the type of player you want to take the risk on.

      Honestly, my first reaction is that Winker might not take that but I guess the club options at the back end would add up quickly if he does kill it and the Reds keep him around long term.

      • CaptainHook

        Average power for a corner infielder? He did not hit double digit HRs in the last two seasons and his career high is 16 HRs in single A.

      • abado

        Winker only had average power in AA (’14-’15) and well below average in AAA (’16-’17). He needs at least average power to be a good hitter, and he needs to be a good hitter to be an average everyday major leaguer.

        He is slow, and he’s a bad defender not just a below average one. Those obvious flaws along with his inconsistent power would scare me away from the terms of this deal. (Winker would certainly jump on it if the Reds offered.) Given the current system, he’s already on team-friendly terms for the next 6 years. Why give guaranteed money that is certainly more than he will make in arbitration plus questionable team options? I mean, what are the odds that Winker is worth $10-15M from 2024-2026? Probably not very great. Also, a side note: Suarez’s team option at the end of his extension is $15M. What has Winker shown to warrant that much? I’d be more open to this deal if his arb years topped out at $4-5M and his team options were $8M or less.

        Pitchers are more risky for extensions, but that means you could probably get them cheaper. I’d look at Castillo and Garrett. Castillo on similar terms to what I described for Winker, and Garrett 30-40% cheaper.

    • CaptainHook

      Yup. By the way, his WAR on Baseball Reference is -.5 and it is 0 on Fangraphs. (Contrast that with Hamilton who is .5/.4) We need to see a bit more to know that Winker will not be essentially one-dimensional.

  3. liptonian

    I think this model is the only way the Reds will be able to compete going forward. We know that they payroll will always be an issue and that the talent will have to come from the farm system. The more chances you take on young, high ceiling players, the more likely you are to get a success. There is also the injury factor to consider. Let’s say we have 3 players locked up for 6 years vs. 9 years. That is 3 more years of availability for those players to be healthy and playing together. If you lose your top player in a year, it is possible that year is lost. The more opportunities you have to have your best players playing at the same time the better. I understand that you are going to miss on these contracts, and the rule of averages says you’ll probably miss more than you hit, but waiting until a player has proved himself for 3 years or so in the majors before trying to extend them will almost guarantee that they will price themselves out of the Reds market (assuming they deserve an extension).

    • liptonian

      One problem though is that you also must have a front office who is willing to admit a sunk cost. If they are going to play players that have signed these types of contracts just because they are signed, and not because they deserve to be on the MLB roster, then you are going to be looking at a field full of could-have-beens rather than a competitive team.

  4. SultanofSwaff

    Can we please stop with the ‘Jesse Winker is slow’ narrative??? According to Baseballsavant he is slightly below the ML average at 26.5 ft/sec, but well within the median and solidly average for left fielders. Suarez is slightly slower (26 ft/sec), but I don’t hear anyone complaining about him giving away value on the basepaths…’s just that these guys aren’t creating additional value.

    Of note, Schebler would be in the median for center fielders, Duvall would be elite if he played RF.

    Point is, all 3 are playing out of position if you want to maximize their athleticism!

    • abado

      Top speed isn’t the only measure of speed, and it’s not the most important quality related to speed. On defense, a player’s range (including the ability to make good reads and take good lines) is more important. And on the bases, reading the pitcher and situation and getting good jumps are also important.

      This year, Winker’s speed score (measures baserunning ability) is atrocious, as are his measures for range in the outfield.

      His top speed may be average, but it doesn’t play that way. (Just like Schebler’s elite top speed doesn’t play.)

  5. Phil

    1B – Joey Votto (L) – signed through 2023
    2B – Nick Senzel (R) – team control though 2025?
    SS – Jose Peraza (R) – team control through 2022
    3B – Eugenio Suarez (R) – signed through 2025
    C – Tucker Barnhart (L) – signed through 2022
    LF – Jesse Winker (L) – team control though 2024?
    CF –
    RF – Scott Schebler (L) – team control through 2022

    This is how I see the core of position players for the near future. Blandino, Duvall and Scooter could be decent bench pieces. Billy Hamilton is a free agent after 2019. Since the beginning of the 2016 season his wRC+ against left-handed pitching is an awful 46 while against right-handed pitching is a still below-average 82.

    My first trade offer to the Nationals would be Iglesias for Robles. Robles has been well above average offensively every year in the minors and hits right handed which would balance the line up. He is a plus defensive center fielder according to all scouting reports I’ve seen. He would also be on the same time frame as Senzel, under team control through 2025.

    If the Nats refuse to trade Robles I would ask them about Michael Taylor. He is also right-handed, plus defensively in center and an offensive upgrade from Hamilton. He does not have the upside of Robles though and is only under team control through 2020. I would not trade Iglesias straight up for Taylor but maybe Iglesias for Taylor and prospects Carter Keiboom and Erick Fedde? Or Taylor in exchange a couple relievers like Hughes or Hernandez? A platoon of Taylor and Hamilton could be adequate until one the Reds prospects is ready.

    • bmblue

      Scott Schebler is not an everyday player on playoff team unless the rest of the team are all stars

      • earmbrister

        Have to disagree BM. We don’t need to recreate the Big Red Machine. A few All-Stars with average to above average players filling out the lineup will suffice.

        The pitching will determine how successful they are.

    • bmblue

      You basically just submitted the same lineup they have now, plus nick senzel. That mystery center field better be Mike Trout, or that lineup is not winning a world series.

  6. Walt S.

    No way would I sign Winker to an extension over Senzel. Senzel will be a star with power. Winker will walk a lot.