Miggy’s Unexplainable Contract Extension

by Jason Epstein

The franchise that apparently could no longer afford Doug Fister’s $4 million salary (an absolute bargain considering his peripheral statistics) for the next two seasons has agreed to supplement Miguel Cabrera’s existing contract ($44 million over two years) with an eight-year deal totaling a mind-blowing $248 million. From the average annual value of his contract, the Tigers’ soon-to-be 31-year-old first baseman becomes the highest paid player in the game.

Why didn’t Detroit wait another year before talking extension with Cabrera? Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe suspects that the inability of general manager Dave Dombrowski to lock up Max Scherzer may have been a key factor:

[O]ne can’t help but feel that the Tigers are overcompensating at a time when they need a PR boost. With Cabrera two years away from free agency, there shouldn’t have been any real urgency to wrap this up now, and yet the team has chosen to strike when he’s at the absolute peak of his career, with nowhere to go but down.

After going back and forth on the pros and cons of the move, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs comes down on the Tigers like a ton of bricks:

Point: This contract is a ridiculous overpay.

The point of a pre-free agent extension is that a team gets a discount in exchange for taking away the player’s risk of injury before he gets a chance to land a big contract in free agency. By giving Cabrera the equivalent of 10/$292M when he was two years away from free agency, the Tigers are implicitly arguing that his open market value this winter would have been something more along the lines of $325 to $350 million.

There’s no reasonable justification for that valuation, not when Robinson Cano topped at $240 million and only had a single bidder over $175M. One can rationally prefer Cabrera to Cano, but there’s no way that Cabrera is 30% to 40% more valuable. Or, to put things into the Tigers own valuation formula, there’s no reasonable argument that Cabrera is twice as valuable as Max Scherzer, even though their final offer to him was less than half of what they have now committed to Cabrera. If the Tigers are lucky, they’ll end up paying something like $9 million per win over the life of Cabrera’s deal, and that’s including the two years that they already had under control. If they really wanted to throw this kind of money around, they simply could have done better than signing up for Cabrera’s entire decline phase.

Counter Point: There isn’t one. This deal is a ridiculous overpay.

I understand why the Tigers wanted to keep Miguel Cabrera around for the rest of his career. He’s going to go into the Hall of Fame as a Tiger, and he’ll be remembered as one of the greatest players to ever wear the Detroit uniform. It’s hard to let those guys leave. The Cardinals are pretty happy they let Albert Pujols go, though, and in a few years, the Tigers will wish they had let Cabrera go too.

Two autumns ago, I distinctly recall, Peter Gammons swore up and down on the MLB Network that big-league front offices had sobered up and those Pujols-esque monster contracts were a thing of the past.

Au contraire, it’s quite evident that happy hour has been extended indefinitely.

Right Field

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