If recent reports are to be believed, it is only a matter of time before the Angels lock up Erick Aybar to a lucrative contract extension. Nothing is official yet, but reports are circling around a contract somewhere in the neighborhood of five years and $50 million for Aybar. That seems to be what Aybar is asking for, anyway. But is that what he should get?
We could debate for hours whether or not the Angels are making a smart decision to sign Aybar long-term, but that is a different topic for another time. Let's just assume that this is going to happen. What we need to figure out is what the Halos should pay him since they are going to pay him. Let's start with that five years, $50 million figure. Compared to recent extension recipient Howie Kendrick, that seems a bit steep. Howie got $33.5 million over four years, but that is somewhat misleading since the first year of the contract covers his last arbitration year. Really, he got a three-year, $27.6 million deal for his free agent years. That's an average of $9.2 million, which is obviously less than the $10 million per year Aybar is targeting. On first blush, that sounds like an overpay since Kendrick is, arguably, the superior player. However, Kendrick did take a hometown discount and plays a position where there is a deeper talent pool, so prices are suppressed a bit.
Where Aybar has a chance to extract more value is that he is closer to hitting the free agent market since he is in his final year of arbitration now. More importantly, he is about to become one of the top free agents in a very thin free agent pool, especially in the infield. In other words, he is perfectly lined up for an overpay, especially with a team like the Red Sox in clear need of a starting shortstop. So asking for $10 million per year seems almost like a bargain. In fact, according to sabermetric valuations, it is. Aybar has been an inconsistent producer throughout his career with his fWAR vacillating between 1.4 and 4.0 the last four years. With a win being valued at about $5 milliion on the open market, Aybar would have to average a 2.0 fWAR annually over the life of the contract. Despite his inconsistency at the plate, he seems like a pretty safe bet to meet that performance threshold. The risk the Angels would be taking by letting Aybar reach free agency is that his perceived value could get boosted further if he can come close to replicating his 4.0 fWAR season in 2011. The hint of increased consistency could likely convince someone that he is more of a 3.0 fWAR player than 2.0 fWAR player, meaning he could potentially push his asking price to as much as $15 million per year. Of course, on the flip side, if Aybar hits the skids this season, he'd probably have to knock a million or two off his asking price instead.
OK, so we've decided that he is asking for too much and also asking for too little. Great. How do we break the tie? The best thing I can think to do is look at some comparisons.
In the last year, here are the contracts other shortstops have received:
- Asdrubal Cabrera- 1, year $10 million (his contract also included $6.25 million for his final arbitration year this season, which is over a million more than Aybar got)
- Jimmy Rollins- 3 years, $33 million (with some crazy option stuff for the fourth-year, don't worry about it)
- Rafael Furcal- 2 years, $14 million
- Clint Barmes- 2 tears, $10.5 million
- Jose Reyes- 6 years, $106 million
- J.J. Hardy- 3 years, $22.5 million
Barmes is really only in their as a floor. He stinks. Aybar does not stink. Reyes is in their as a ceiling, one that almost shouldn't be taken seriously since the Marlins were going out of their mind to try and overpay somebody to prove that they were big spenders now. There is almost nothing Aybar could do to approach that number.
Looking at more realistic comparisons, the true ceiling on Aybar's value is the $11 million Rollins is making. Rollins is a superior player and more consistent, but he is also much older, which suppresses his price. Even with that, it would be hard to justify Aybar making that much even though the two of them are in the same ballpark when it comes to production now. Then there is Furcal, who actually strikes me as the most similar player stylistically to Aybar. However, Furcal is also much older and very fragile, which probably means that the $7 million Furcal is earning is Aybar's true contract floor.
Now the trick is figuring out whether he should approach the floor or the ceiling. The argument in favor of the ceiling is Asdrubal Cabrera who had a breakout season last year and parlayed that into $10 million for his first year of free agency eligibilty, which is something of a discount that he took in order to get the long-term stability. But even at his best, Asdrubal only posted a 3.6 fWAR, a figure Aybar has bested twice. That will be hard to argue against.
Of course, that is before we look at J.J. Hardy. Though he and Aybar have much different profiles, their production pattern is very similar. Hardy has had the same pattern of alternating between 4+ fWAR seasons and sub-2 fWAR seasons. Aybar probably is a bit "sexier" than Hardy since he is two years younger and has a better health track record. Yet Hardy settled for just $7.5 per season. Looking at the similar overall production, it is awfully hard to argue that Aybar is significantly more valuable than Hardy. At best he should get an extra million, maybe million and a half, due to being younger and thus still having more "potential" to unlock.
That makes the sweet spot for an extension $9 million, in my opinion. If the Angels can get that, they should jump all over it since they wouldn't want to risk Aybar hitting free agency and some other team getting desperate, throwing valuation out the window and wildly overpaying Aybar.
Or they could just let him walk and hope Jean Segura can be ready by 2013, but like I said, that is a different discussion for a different time.
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