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MLB Teams Are Committing Further Into The Future


The other day we took a look at how relatively few players (21%) are under contract for 2016 and beyond, either because they’re still under team control and can simply not be offered a contract next year, or because they’re in the last year of their current contract.  Is this an abnormality or simply the norm for players?

Going back to 2013, the last year for which reliable data is available via the USA Today Baseball Salaries Database, this more or less appears to be the norm. The table below shows the percentage of players under contract for the given number of years beyond 2015. In other words, 7.8% of all players on Opening Day rosters in 2015 are under contract through 2016:

Years Left on Contract

2015

2014

2013

0

79.1%

78.2%

79.8%

1

7.8%

9.3%

8.4%

2

5.0%

4.3%

4.3%

3

3.0%

3.5%

2.6%

4

2.2%

1.4%

2.3%

5

1.5%

1.3%

0.7%

6

0.7%

1.1%

0.3%

7

0.2%

0.5%

0.5%

8

0.3%

0.1%

0.0%

9

0.0%

0.4%

0.0%

10

0.0%

0.0%

0.0%

11

0.0%

0.0%

0.0%

12

0.1%

0.0%

0.0%

Total

100.0%

100.0%

100.0%

At a high level, there seems to be very little difference between the three years, with just 20%, 22%, and 21% of player under contract for at least one more year in 2013, 2014, and 2015, respectively.

However, those numbers are hiding one fact, and that is the total number of years of guaranteed money that players have remaining has increased substantially in the last few years:

Years Left on Contract

2015

2014

2013

Batters

306

307

233

Pitchers

154

157

138

Total

460

464

371

The way to interpret this is that at the start of the 2015 season, there were a total of 306 years batters were under contract, and 154 total years pitchers were still under contract. While the total contract years remaining is nearly identical in 2015 as it was in 2014, there was a huge jump from 2013 to 2014 for both types of players, but especially batters.

There were an abnormally high number of lengthy contracts or contract extensions that began with the year 2014, including ten year contracts given to Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, and Robinson Cano.  Additionally, there were eight year contracts given to Dustin Pedroia and Freddie Freeman, and seven year contracts given to Andrelton Simmons, Clayton Kershaw, Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Shin-Soo Choo (oops) that all started with the 2014 season.

There is one thing that stands out both from the names in the paragraphs above and in the numbers in the table above.  Despite the decrease in hitting over the last decade, teams are still more willing to extend their batters to lengthy contracts than they are their pitchers.  While we should reserve making broad generalizations based on the top 1% of all players, and despite increases pitchers as a whole have made in regards to total salaries being spent on batters compared to pitchers, batters remain much more likely to be signed to more guaranteed years than pitchers.

Furthermore, the Clayton Kershaws of the world aside, teams are more likely to be signing batters to really long contracts than pitchers.  In the table below of all players signed through at least 2020, there are a total of just 26 contract years remaining for pitchers, compared to 125 for batters.

Players Signed Through at Least 2020

Player

Years Remaining

Pitchers

Max Scherzer

6

Clayton Kershaw

5

Jon Lester

5

Masahiro Tanaka

5

Raisel Iglesias

5

Batters

Giancarlo Stanton

12

Joey Votto

8

Miguel Cabrera

8

Robinson Cano

8

Elvis Andrus

7

Evan Longoria

7

Albert Pujols

6

Buster Posey

6

Dustin Pedroia

6

Freddie Freeman

6

Kyle Seager

6

Andrelton Simmons

5

David Wright

5

Jacoby Ellsbury

5

Jorge Soler

5

Mike Trout

5

Prince Fielder

5

Ryan Braun

5

Shin-Soo Choo

5

Troy Tulowitzki

5

While it’s true that Giancarlo Stanton does account for nearly 10% of that total, it shows that despite salary increases across the board, and a relatively even amount being spent on batters and pitchers, teams are still: 1) much more willing to commit into the future for batters, and 2) even more willing to commit to a lot of years into the future for batters than for pitchers.



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