Harper and Machado's Contracts: Are They Worth the Money?

Updated on April 1, 2019
Mr Archer profile image

Archer has been an online baseball writer for over seven years. His articles often focus on baseball strategy and team management.

Bryce Harper and Manny Machado
Bryce Harper and Manny Machado | Source

Why am I adding my opinion to the mix?

With all of these professional baseball/sports writers authoring their opinions on why Bryce Harper and Manny Machado haven't been signed yet, why should I throw my hat into the ring? After all, I am not a professional writer, I simply dip my toe into the shallow end of the pool. They are the pros, the ones who make their living writing. (Although, from time to time, I do believe they should use their spellcheck a bit more).

Every writer says the same thing, "They [Harper and Machado] are worth the money." They are proven superstars, they produce better than any other player in the game, they are "generational talents." Well, as I said, everyone has an opinion, so why not hear mine?

One thing I haven't read so far are facts regarding past "generational talents" who signed mega long-term contracts and how they have played out. I think that plays a part, because owners have gotten smarter, teams have gotten smarter, and even if a player is great now, how great will he be in five years? Or even Ten years? I think those questions need answering before either one signs a contract.

Let's Look at Some Facts

While researching my article on Albert Pujols returning to St. Louis this year for the first time since he left here after the 2011 season for the shores of California and the Angels, I discovered some interesting facts. One, Albert was a "Generational Talent" if there ever was one. His time in St. Louis and what he did with a bat had never been seen in Major League Baseball before. He was the first player in history to begin his career with two seasons of batting over .300, have 30 or more home runs, and more than 100 each runs and RBI's. The first ever. So, how did he follow up those two years? With four more doing exactly the same thing. During his eleven years with the Cardinals he had one year of less than 100 runs (99); one year of less than 100 RBI's (99); one year of less than a .300 batting average (.299) and his worst home run year was the year he hit 32. Think about that for a minute. In those eleven years at St. Louis, if you combine his worst stats from those eleven years would be .299/32/99/99. His worst WAR year during that time was a 5.3 and his worst OBP was .366; his worst OPS was .906 and his worst Slugging percentage was .541. These are his WORST stats over eleven years!

Sorry, Bryce and Manny, you are just a bit short when comparing yourself to Albert. Albert set the bar on what a "Generational Talent" is and neither one of you is even close. It is time for the baseball writers to stop referring to them in those terms.

Then, he signed a then-monstrous contract with the Angels for ten years and $254 million. The Cards had originally offered him a five year contract, to which his wife stated on a radio talk show had confused and insulted them. They upped the offer to ten years and $210 million but ultimately lost out to the Angels offer.

While playing for the Cardinals those eleven years his average line was as follows:

155 games .328 avg; 40 home runs; 117 runs; 121 RBI's; OPS 1.038; 7.9 WAR

That, people, was his average year, spanning eleven years. Then, he went to California. This happened:

141 games .260 avg., 27 home runs; 69 runs; 93 RBI's; OPS .765; 1.9 WAR

Yes, things fell off just a bit, didn't they. Dramatically. His salary during this time has been an average of $21.8 million per year and his average WAR has been 1.9, meaning the Angels have paid an average of $11.5 million per 1 WAR. At the present time, writers say that WAR is worth $10 million per 1 WAR so they are paying 10.5% more per WAR than average. If I recall correctly, to be considered an "average" player in the MLB you have to gather 2 WAR; so during his run for the Angels Albert has been "average".

Now compare that to what took place during his Cardinal years. His average salary was $9.4 million and he produced 7.9 WAR average per year, meaning the Cards paid an average of $1.2 million per 1 WAR. During this time the average salary went from $1.9M in 2000 to $2.5M in 2005 to $3M in 2010. So for the duration of his time with St. Louis he was well paid by league standards, averaging more than three times the average salary of a player. Could have been better but not too bad.

But now he is being paid far more money and producing far less. This is the very thing owners and teams are trying to prevent even as agents and players are trying to continue. How does this get fixed?

Let's Look at Someone Else

Maybe this is an aberration, a one-off. Let's look at Miguel Cabrera. Another long term player, played five years with Florida and eleven with Detroit. Signed a big contract, long term. What do his stats look like?

Cabrera's career

Age
Avg.
HR
Runs
RBI's
WAR
OPS+
20
.268
12
39
62
.6
106
21
.294
33
101
112
3.5
130
22
.323
33
106
116
5.2
151
23
.339
26
112
114
5.8
159
24
.320
34
91
119
3.2
150
25
.292
37
85
127
2.7
130
26
.324
34
96
103
5.1
144
27
.328
38
111
126
6.5
178
28
.344
48
111
105
7.6
179
29
.330
40
109
139
7.1
164
30
.348
26
103
137
7.3
190
31
.313
52
101
109
5.1
150
32
.338
28
64
76
5.2
169
33
.316
31
92
108
4.7
155
34
.249
22
50
60
-.8
93
35
.299
11
17
22
.6
130
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Solid year in and year out until the past couple of years. But if you compare him to Pujols over his career, he falls short. In two fewer years he has 30% less WAR (99.9 to 69.4) and his home runs (633 to 505), RBI's (1,982 to 1,635), and runs (1,773 to 1,388) are short and I just do not think he will suddenly will cover the difference in the next two years. His average is a bit higher (.316 to .301) but his K's (1,653 to 1,211) are too and his BB's (1,087 to 1,279) are lower. During the life of his Miami contract he was paid an average of $480,000 per 1 WAR and with Detroit $4.6M per 1 WAR. Pujols early years were amazing while he began to fade at age 33, while Cabrera remained strong through age 34 then began to slide. So, if we look at both of these players together we can see that their years age 21 through 33, they do well but after that, all bets are off.

So, how does that affect Harper and Machado's market? How do they compare?

First, Harper

Age
Avg.
HR
Runs
RBI's
WAR
OPS+
19
.270
22
98
59
5.2
118
20
.274
20
71
58
3.7
133
21
.273
13
41
32
1.1
111
22
.330
42
118
99
10
198
23
.243
24
84
86
1.5
114
24
.319
29
95
87
4.7
156
25
.249
34
103
100
1.3
133
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Harper's stats are all over the map, no consistency whatsoever. Is this a "Generational Talent" or an average player with a couple or seasons that are above average?

Machado's stats

Age
Avg
HR
Runs
RBI's
WAR
OPS+
19
.262
7
24
26
1.6
98
20
.283
14
88
71
6.7
102
21
.278
12
38
32
2.3
110
22
.286
35
102
86
7.1
132
23
.294
37
105
96
6.9
130
24
.259
33
81
95
3.4
108
25
.297
37
84
107
5.7
146
Better than Harper's, somewhat similar to Cabrera's but far short of Pujols.

What about Mike Trout?

Age
Avg.
HR
Runs
RBI's
WAR
OPS+
19
.220
5
20
16
.5
89
20
.326
30
129
83
10.5
168
21
.323
27
109
97
9
179
22
.287
36
115
111
7.6
168
23
.299
41
104
90
9.4
176
24
.315
29
123
100
10.5
172
25
.306
33
92
72
6.7
186
26
.312
39
101
79
10.2
199
While Pujols was the "Generational Talent" of the early 2000's, Mike Trout is a true "Generational Talent" for the current decade. Slightly more inconsistent year to year but Trout has more weapons (speed, speed, speed).

Trout dwarfs both Machado and Harper, doesn't he? Just a dominating player, much in the mold of Pujols and Cabrera but still young enough to continue to improve on this tremendous beginning. But I don't think I would give a ten year contract to him; maybe offer one that covers his next five years and pay $50M a year. Harper is a good player, not great. He has been called great for so long that I think the media is afraid to call him what he is: slightly above average, pretty good. One of the better players, maybe top 15% no more.

Machado? He's a bit better, more consistent so far. Plus he plays a position that is considered premium in the league so that makes him more valuable in my eyes. But is he worth $300M, $30M per year? Will he average 3 WAR per year for a decade? Maybe, but I doubt it. Cabrera put up 43.3 WAR over the last nine seasons and he started off with numbers approximately Harper's at 26.1 through his age 26 season, while Machado has 33.7 WAR so it might seem that if he ages like Cabrera he would be a good deal at 10/$300. Pujols has put up 53.3 WAR over the past 12 years so again that might seem to be a good deal but his contract is now known as an albatross, an anchor hanging around the neck of the Angels, hamstringing them from adding better players to help Trout win. So for writers to say such a contract won't hurt a team simply isn't true, it can.

So long as teams continue to pay less for a player's early years in the league, players will demand more in their later years once they hit free agency to compensate for what they didn't get early on. It stands to reason. But do teams have to continue this pattern?

No, they do not. Baseball has become a business and a business is in business to make money. A player is a commodity whether they like it or not. They chose to become this type of person, this line of "work". They worked hard and long to get to the major leagues and cash in on their talents. But do they have the right to demand to be paid for what they did rather than what they do? I have a thought.

What if a player were paid similar to how we who work in the real world are paid: by our effort, our time put in as we put it in: paychecks based upon your previous month's achievements Those of us who punch a time clock do not get paid unless we show up for work and perform. What if players were treated that way? Paid a base salary league wide, every player every team. Then get additional pay for the number of games they play in, hits, extra base hits, runs scored, RBI's, all of the stats that are kept during the game (well, some or most). Then detract for things which negatively affect the team like striking out or making errors. Pitchers could be treated the same way with payment for innings pitched, batters k'd and such while BB, hits and other negative stats take money away. Each team has a minimum amount of money they have to spend annually, thus eliminating teams which are tanking. And players could play where they wanted to play due to no team overpaying for their services. If you want, add in things like bonuses for All Star appearances, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, MVP, Cy Young and such. Then add bonuses for post season appearances and World Series and you shouldn't have anyone tanking anymore. If a team doesn't make it to the postseason or have anyone qualify for the money dedicated to those bonuses then the money would go to a preselected charity or sport sponsored entity. I really believe that if each player was held to such a standard you might see better baseball than we do now.

In the end, I know this will never happen. Contracts like the mega ones of Pujols, Cabrera, ARod and Heyward will continue and the teams will end up regretting them. Hell the Mets are STILL paying Bobby Bonilla a million a year! If the teams don't, the players will take them to court, claim collusion and get something for their trouble. Someone will pony up the money for both Harper and Machado and in five or six years, maybe seven that someone will be moaning about how much the contract is holding them back. They will produce to a degree (I think Machado more so than Harper) and someone else will come along and be called a "Generational Talent" and life will go on in baseball.

But, to answer the question I posited at the outset "Are Manny Machado and Bryce Harper worth $300 million over ten years?" I suppose the answer is, surprisingly enough to my own self, yes. They should produce enough WAR over the length of the contract to pay for what the "experts" say a win is worth. However, I also believe that the owners have the absolute right to decide to pay that or not: they own the team and therefor they decide what direction they want to go. No team should be forced to do something such as pay this or hire them: if they do not want to pay that much on one person they do not have to.

In the end, someone will blink, either a team or two and both players. I think an early out option will be in both of their contracts but unless they seriously out-produce their contracts they will not exercise them. All I know is that I am ready for Spring Training to begin.

Go Cardinals!!

Questions & Answers

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      • Mr Archer profile imageAUTHOR

        Mr Archer 

        2 months ago from Missouri

        You just never know. On one hand I don't blame the owners for not going after these guys on a long term basis but then again, how they underpay them so severely the first few years and manage them by holding them out of the big leagues until they gain a year of control is wrong. I do think the system is broken and the players need to be paid for what they do on a yearly basis, not as they are currently.

      • Angel Guzman profile image

        Angel Guzman 

        2 months ago from Joliet, Illinois

        I would try to lock in a player from age 24-34 as I would consider those years their peak performance but then again look at other players like Andrew Jones and Tom Brady. You want more bang for your buck. I wish I was a professional baseball player :) lol

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