Six years, $100 million. That's supposedly the opening salvo in the war that will be signing the New York Mets' biggest star and current best player. To some, that's woefully inadequate. To others, that's just the first step towards a bigger contract.
What does the market say?
If we limit the comparable players to just star third basemen who signed nine-figure contracts around the age of 30 in the 2000s, we get a small but eye-opening pool of players:
|2012 - Ryan Zimmerman||145||578||93||163||36||1||25||95||57||116||5||2||.282||.346||.478|
Yup, that's it. Ryan Zimmerman. The Nationals star signed a deal that will kick in when he turns 30. Wright's extension, which would kick in after this year, would start when he turns 31. David Wright has 13.7 wins above replacement (FanGraphs.com) over the last three years. Zimmerman had 16 WAR over the last three years before he signed his extension. They're even friends. With inflation in hand, Zimmerman's six years and $100m absolutely makes sense at this point.
Why not Alex Rodriguez? He signed his first deal when he was 26. He signed his extension when he was 33. He had 20.3 WAR over the last three years going into that second deal (ten years / $275 million). As good as Wright looks now, and as bad as Alex Rodriguez looks now, it's Rodriguez that was worth more at the time of his signing, and it's Rodriguez' late-nineties excellence that prices him out as a comp for David Wright. Wright fans and the Mets should be happy about that.
Miguel Cabrera's story is pretty much the same. He wasn't really a third baseman when he signed his eight-year, $152 million extension in 2008, but more importantly, he was also coming off a three-year stretch with more wins (16.1 WAR 2006-2008).
We've already exhausted the list of nine-figure third basemen in the league, but it's worth pointing to a few more third-sackers. In 2001, Chipper Jones signed a six-year, $90m deal to stay in Atlanta. He was a 29-year-old coming off a three-year stretch with 20.5 WAR. According to this calculator, that's $114 million in 2011 dollars. We still have to remember that Jones was worth more than Wright going into his negotiations.
And then there are two third basemen that signed very interesting deals. Adrian Beltre got five years and $80 million starting in 2011. He was 32 going into that season, and coming off of 13.4 WAR in three seasons. Even if he was older, his three-year profile was similar (coming off his best season). Aramis Ramirez signed with the Cubs after the 2006 season, and he got $75 million for five years. He had 12.2 WAR in his three years going in, but was 28 years old. Both of these players got contracts that make six and $100 million for Wright seem absolutely legitimate.
It's tempting to just look at Wright's 2012 value, but we can't. We can't use Wright's 7.8 WAR as his true talent, not after two years in which he only combined for 5.9 WAR. And we have to know that he's entering his post-peak phase, and that paying for his peak would be folly.
Let's try to do a real rough estimation of his projection for next year, which gives us a sense of his 'true talent.' MARCEL is a monkey -- he projects things at a 5/4/3 weighting (five for last year and so on) -- but he does well enough for our quick-and-dirty purposes. If you (sorta) MARCEL Wright's WAR, you get 4.88 WAR. Let's call him a five-win player. On the open market, that's worth around $25 million right now. The 'quick' aging factor says we subtract .5 wins a year going forward. If a team wanted six years of a current five-win player as he drops half a win a year, they'd want to pay $112.5 million for those services.
Hey! WAT. You say he was hurt last year and only managed 447 plate appearances. The other two years he was healthy and had 670 plate appearances (on the nose!). What if you pro-rate his 2011 numbers and made him healthy? Well, then Wright's a true-talent 5.2-win player, and you'd need to pay him closer to $120 million.
Come on now, you might say. He's had negative defensive numbers dragging his value down. This year he showed his true ability on the field and his value jumped. Well, after so many negative years, it seems silly to just take his positive numbers without a grain of salt. Let's call him a scratch defender. That puts a two wins on the board for 2010 and 2011... and takes 1.5 wins off the 2012 ledger. Given the weighting, that's a push.
Using the third baseman on free agent contracts that are currently comparable to David Wright produces $100 million as a viable answer. Using true talent value estimations produces a number that's ten-to-twenty million more.
That's good news if you like David Wright and you want him on the Mets. If the team can afford to throw $100 million out there as a first offer, it seems likely they can afford $120 million when push comes to shove.