Sunday, January 09, 2005

Its 99% official - Carlos Beltran will sign with the Mets with a mammoth 7 year, $119 million contract. So Carlos is jumping from my favorite team to my second favorite team, and he'll play 10 minutes from my apartment in Forest Hills, NYC.

Is it a good deal for the Mets? How could it not be? Beltran is surely one of the top 10 position players in the game, and this was the market price. They only paid $10 or $12 million more than Houston offered over the life of the contract, a premium well worth paying if you're in the market for buying great players. At the top level, "overpaid" is a misused term. Great players are only overpaid to the extent that their deal is so much more generous than any other team would have offered. A-Rod was overpaid. Beltran is not.

Anyway, its still useful to compare this deal. A good benchmark to compare this deal is Vlad Guerrero, who last year received a 5 year, $70 million deal. They had very different experiences in their run-up to free agency:


-- Beltran is probably considered the better defensive player right now, because he plays very well (but not the best) at a premium defensive position, while Guerrero's range has declined somewhat due to his back troubles, though he still has a fantastic throwing arm.

-- They were both about 28 when they signed their free agent deal.

-- Beltran is a premier basestealer both in terms in quantity and success rate; Guerrero was once a basestealer but was also caught at a too-frequent rate, but with his back troubles doesn't steal much anymore.

For my money, though, 80% of a player's value is in what he does at the plate. Let's do the numbers, using OPS and VORP:

Year Beltran Guerrero
1998 n/a n/a .960 69.0
1999 .791 38.5 .978 67.7
2000 .675 2.3 1.074 92.2
2001 .876 63.4 .943 61.3
2002 .847 49.3 1.010 86.6
2003 .911 64.2 1.012 48.6
2004 .915 74.5* .989 88.5

* Combined with KC and Houston

Guerrero is without question the more productive offensive player. Guerrero's lowest OPS is higher than the HIGHEST OPS ever posted by Beltran, though the VORP gap has narrowed in recent years. But the thing that Beltran has in his favor, in terms of perception, is that he's trended upward every year (with a slight blip in 2002); the perception is that he keeps improving, though he's not likely to get much better than his 2004 numbers (but he could sustain them for a very long time.

On balance, Guerrero is at least Beltran's equal in terms of production, and I would make the case that he is the more valuable commodity, even taking into account the injury risk. Vlad is a perennial MVP candidate, but I don't think of Beltran as that kind of player. He's a notch below, a Bernie Williams-esque hitter with superior defensive skills.

Either way, there is no objective way to explain why Beltran deserves $49 million more in guaranteed money than Guerrero.

Its all about the timing - Beltran couldn't have picked a better moment to go onto the market, and Guerrero couldn't have done worse. Beltran's consistent yearly improvement, solid play in a premium defensive position and offensive explosion in the 2004 playoffs has created the perfect storm of free agency for him, resulting in a mammoth contract. Guerrero, on the the other hand, has been highly productive since he entered the league, but had the misfortune of having his worst season in his walk year (solely due to injury).

In sum, Guerrero limped into his free agent window, while Beltran roared into his.


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