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UCB Roundtable – Buying out Colby

March 18, 2010

Throughout February and March the United Cardinal Bloggers have been running there traditional roundtable discussions, in which the various bloggers ask and answer Cardinal related questions via email.  Monday was my day to ask the question, and I went with

Buying out a prospect’s arbitration years has become a trend among MLB clubs.  Do you see the Cards taking a similar path with Colby?  If so what kind of parameters do you have in mind?

The responses are after the little read more link

Daniel Shoptaw from C70 at the Bat

I do think that they will likely try to buy out some of Rasmus’s arbitration years, if only to get a firmer idea of their budget. As with everything, it’ll be done with the Pujols contract in mind. They may sign Rasmus so that they can then structure the contract to AP with more certainty.

As for parameters, I don’t know about the money, but I’d say a four-year deal signed after this season. That should buy out all of his arb years, if I’m thinking correctly. Perhaps around $6 million per? Again, I’m terrible about putting money into context, so feel free to laugh at that being too high or too low.

Ryan Jones from Cardinal GM

I think the Cardinals would definitely be interesting in buying out Colby’s arbitration years. Since a player typically trades higher potential earnings through arbitration for more guaranteed money upfront in a long term deal, the Cardinals would be smart to lock in Colby at a lower amount than what he would make if he went through arbitration. With Holliday, Pujols, and the rest of the core due to make a lot of money in the upcoming years, the Cardinals need to save money in any way they can, and buying out Colby’s arbitration years is one way to do so. A model contract that the Cardinals could follow? If they want to lock up Colby soon, Grady Sizemore’s contract with the Indians could be a model. Grady signed a 6 year, $23.45 million dollar deal in 2006, which was the largest contract ever for a player with less than 2 years of service time (thanks cot’s contracts for that tidbit).

Mike Metzger from Stan Musial’s Stance

The Cardinals may buy out some of Rasmus’ arbitration years, but he certainly hasn’t demonstrated himself to be worth that kind of contract yet, at least at the major league level. I think Mozeliak will make a decision on Rasmus’ contract based on how he plays this year.

Remember, Adam Wainwright had 2 years of ML experience when the Cardinals signed him to his current contract, which bought out his arbitration years plus his first two free agent seasons. Wainwright also had successful 2006 post-season and 2007 seasons on his resume when they did that. Rasmus hasn’t had success, yet, on that level.

If and when they sign Rasmus to a new contract, I suspect that contract will cover his arbitration eligible years, plus options for his first two free agent years – just like the Longoria and Wainwright deals.

Travis from Fredbird Follys

…I say buy out Colby’s arbitration years and 3 years after that, but that’s because Colby is my favorite player…

Justin Adams from Intagiball

The “buying out” of arbitration years is a creative, if not crafty way for more budget-minded teams like the Cardinals to neutralize the marketplace. I’m reminded of Marlon Brando in The Godfather…by giving young, promising stars their first bona fide big league deal, you are making them “an offer that they can’t refuse”. One that, when all things are considered, offers far more upside than risk.

What kid is going to turn down a raise worth millions of dollars? Even if there is a part of them that fears being underpaid in the latter part of the term, it surely won’t negate the part that secretly fears a career shortened by unexpected poor play or injury. Colby Rasmus is no exception. He’s also not so deep into his big league career that he doesn’t remember triple-A bus rides. Should they tender Rasmus as they did Molina and Wainwright, the Cardinals essentially make the following statement:

We value you more than we have to. We want you to feel comfortable and secure, and to know that you have been treated well from the start…Now, someday, and that day may never come, we may call upon you to do a service for us, such as defer monies or resign at a discount, but until that day, accept this justice as a gift on our daughter’s wedding day.

…or something like that.

This is an organization that has mastered the art of passive-aggressive selling. They’ve not been forced into an arbitration hearing since Darren Oliver in 1999, and you can bet that means something to the players. Furthermore this is an example of how the Cardinals exploit their distinct strengths. The intangibles. Great fans, fair management, winning tradition, etc. And the long term effect of this shrewd strategy on the bottom line should not be underestimated any more than its impact on the roster. I think they should, and will, continue to buy out the arbitration years of promising young players whenever they have the chance.

Pip from Fungoes

You’re right: buying out arbitration years for young players is a smart practice. And it’s not only for “budget-minded” teams, either: The Boston Red Sox extended Dustin Pedroia after the 2008 season, and the New York Mets extended the contracts of Jose Reyes and David Wright near the end of the 2006 campaign. The Cardinals should consider a five- or six-year contract with Rasmus at the end of this year, assuming he stays on course. The nearest comp is probably Cleveland (small-market) and centerfielder Grady Sizemore, who had only a year and a half under his belt and 6.4 WAR when he signed what was essentially a seven-year, $33 million deal ; Rasmus has 2.2 WAR so far but could come close to Sizemore’s total by next spring and would be about the same age as when Sizemore signed (23). Something slightly under that range would be appropriate for both the Cardinals, who can diversify their assets, and Rasmus, who can’t.

Chris Reed from Bird Brained

I would like to see Colby Rasmus become the type of player that the Cardinals both want and need to have locked up for a long time. But I think he needs two more seasons of numbers at or above what he had in 2009. I believe that buying out some arbitration years is a great practice for players that figure prominently in a team’s plans. And a young lefty centerfielder with some pop, speed, and defense is a no-brainer. Let’s see what his sophomore year brings. Let’s see if he can command centerfield and keep improving at the plate. If everything checks out, and Rasmus shows more of the same in 2011, I say he’s a prime candidate to join the “core” group for 5-6 more years after that.

Nick from Pitcher’s Hit Eighth

When I asked about buying out arbitration years in the fall in more general terms, most agreed that Colby was the most likely candidate. I agree with that sentiment, but the real gamble is the price and length the team either has a bargain or an albatross.

As with any contract extension, there exists some amount of obvious risk. Are you getting a bargain at a big price, like Albert Pujols’ first big deal, or a franchise-choking dud like Vernon Wells’ current contract with the Blue Jays?

Are you going to give a youngster a bunch of cash and watch them continue to flourish like a Grady Sizemore, Evan Longoria, or Joe Mauer? Or do you find yourself on the losing end of a Nick Markakis deal (ok, it’s only one bad season – but it’s not a great start!)?

Timing is everything as well – do you wait for Rasmus to prove himself and risk a couple of All-Star seasons in 2010 and 2011 before approaching him about an ever-increasing contract, or do you approach his representation in the middle of 2010 if it appears he has his head on straight and is headed into the chapters of outstanding Cardinal center fielders?

I think the Cards would be fortunate to get a Sizemore-type deal (approx 6 yrs, $24mm). I guess in a way, they would also be fortunate – on the field, production-wise – to have to fork over a deal similar to what Justin Upton just signed (6 yrs, approx $51mm).

It’s a volatile market, to be certain. After all, Chris Young got 5 years, $28mm from the Diamondbacks. Rasmus surely would eclipse that, we hope, no?

As Pip said, expect a deal to pay a reasonable amount to buy out arbitration years and then a couple of dollar-heavy club options on the back end, like the Wainwright and Molina deals. The club loves those club options, probably with some vesting incentives as well.

If I had to put numbers to it, I’d say 6 years, $34mm with a couple of options tagged on to boot? Anyone?

Thanks to all of the bloggers that answered. My personal opinion is that the Cards should make a solid effort to buy out Colby’s arbitration years and the first couple years of free agency. Parameter wise, I think that Pip and Nick set a good range…

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  1. UCB February Project: Roundtable — United Cardinal Bloggers

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