Bill Shanks

Baseball contracts out of control – again!

We are used to seeing big contracts in baseball. Alex Rodriguez signed a contract for a quarter of a billion dollars 16 years ago, so we all know baseball players make a fortune. They basically win the lottery with the type of contracts that are signed.

There have been a couple of new contracts signed this past week that are simply stunning. It shows you don’t actually have to be that good to make a lot of money in baseball.

The first was last week, when the Houston Astros signed right-hander Charlie Morton to a two-year contract for $14 million dollars. There are even incentives in the deal based on additional starts each season, as if the $7 million base salary is not enough.

The Astros said it was Morton’s ground ball to fly ball ratio (2.48) that made him attractive to join their rotation. There’s one thing that still doesn’t add up. Morton made just four starts in 2016. He tore his hamstring and missed most of the season.

But Morton still got two-year, $14-million-dollar contract?

I’m not mad at Charlie Morton. He’s a great young man. He came up in the Braves organization and there have not been many better kids that have come through Atlanta’s farm system than Charlie. I’m happy for him. Heck, he’s already made $26 million in his career, but he’s going to make more with this new deal.

This winter’s free agent market for starting pitchers is not good, so the price on some of these mediocre pitchers will likely make them richer than necessary. Teams that need a starter may overpay for a pitcher they know may not be worth the money, but what choice do they have?

That being said, it’s still shocking the Astros would give Morton a two-year deal when he only made four starts last season. And then there’s this: in Morton’s career, he’s won 46 games, lost 71 and has an earned run average of 4.54.

Morton has had just one winning season as a starter in his career. He was 7-4 in 20 starts for Pittsburgh in 2013. But that is it. And he’s had only two seasons when he’s had more than 25 starts – in 2011 when he made 29 and in 2014 when he made 26 starts.

Houston needed a starter. They must be convinced Morton is healthy. And they value his potential impact at $7 million for next season.

Amazing. Seems like quite a gamble to me.

Then there’s Jason Castro, who was with the Astros. They decided to let him go in favor of trading for former Braves catcher Brian McCann. So the 29-year-old Castro was available in the free agent market.

Castro is a former first round draft pick that has been a significant contributor for Houston since 2012. He’s a career .232 hitter, and last season Castro hit just .210 with a .307 on base percentage.

The Minnesota Twins agreed to sign Castro on Tuesday to a three-year contract worth $24.5 million. He’ll make $8 million per season for the next three years, and he’s coming off a season where he hit .210.

They say Castro has value as a very good catcher that is excellent at pitch framing. An article I found had this paragraph:

In 2016, the former Astros backstop netted his pitching staff 96 called strikes above expectation, according to Stat Corner’s pitch framing metrics. Kurt Suzuki, according to the same stats site, cost the Twins 38 called strikes. (Castro’s numbers were similarly good in 2015 and 2014, while Suzuki was closer to even the year before and terrible the season before that.)

Baseball Prospectus rates Castro as having contributed 17 runs to the Astros last year with his pitch framing alone. Buster Posey led the lead with 27.6 framing runs, per Baseball Prospectus. Kurt Suzuki cost the Twins 7 runs, by that same metric, so according to this theory, the swap would have netted the Twins about 24 runs last season, which is nontrivial.

We should also point out that Castro has thrown out 26.6% of potential base stealers in the last three years, so there’s no doubt he’s a solid defensive backstop.

But is the value of that type of player really $8 million per season, even if he can hit only .232?

This is a new baseball world we live in, where stats judge everything. I’m not downplaying the importance of a catcher doing a solid job behind the plate, with pitch-framing and throwing out runners. It’s still just shocking that someone like that, who really can’t hit, will make $8 million per season the next three years.

The Braves, thankfully, did not sign Castro. They were not interested in going that far, with that type of commitment for a catcher that is not more well-rounded. I don’t know Tyler Flowers’ numbers as far as what he netted or cost his team in called strikes last season. I know, off the top of my head, that he didn’t throw many runners out at second base. But I think they’ll be fine with him and Anthony Recker behind the plate, if that’s what they go with.

Flowers did a solid job last year with the young pitchers. I think – not know but think — that he did a solid job at framing pitches. Okay, I looked at up. Flowers’ numbers were actually better than Castro’s stats. Posey was best, then Flowers was fourth and Castro fifth. Don’t ask me what the stats were or what they meant, but it was enough for me that Flowers was a tad better than Castro.

With Flowers’ offensive ability (he had his best offensive year of his career in 2016), I think the Braves will be fine at catcher. Anthony Recker came in late and did well, hitting .278. The Braves probably need another option at catcher, but they certainly didn’t need to invest $8 million per season in someone.

Good for Morton and Castro to get those great financial commitments. I’ll never fault a player for making the money. They don’t hold a gun to the owners of these teams to get this money. That’s what the market has created. But it’s still absolutely nuts that players like that can make that much cash.

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