Opinion

Another Point: Was Herrera’s contract a dis?

Herrera.jpgWhen you think about the Phillies giving Odubel Herrera a new contract worth more than $30 million with the potential for it to rise to nearly $55 million over seven years, the last thing anyone is thinking about is whether the team disrespected its center fielder, who they obviously consider part of the franchise’s bright future.

But … umm …

Did they?

It’s already been well documented that Herrera’s contract is team-friendly as long as he keeps putting up the same kind of overall production he did in 2016. We see the $30.5 million for the next five years – which includes 2021, the first year he would have been eligible for free agency – and we immediately think, “That’s a lot of money for a Rule 5 guy.”

Get that out of your head. Immediately. Herrera is no longer a Rule 5 guy – he’s a player with two years of major-league experience with an 8.0 WAR for those two seasons. That’s a very good player if he came from Venus, let alone something like the Rule 5 Draft.

But according to Cot’s Contracts, the contract will pay Herrera $3.35 million in 2018, the first year he would have been eligible for arbitration. Over at MLB Trade Rumors, they make an extensive, annual list of everyone eligible for arbitration, along with their service time as of the end of the season and the projected contract of that player. The amount of service time historically plays a large part in what an arbitration judge rules as a sufficient salary.

Here is a quick list of comparable players eligible for arbitration before the 2017 season, with their service time and what they can expect to receive in an arbitration award:

The list doesn’t include starting pitchers with comparable service time and production, because starting pitchers make much more in arbitration. For example, Shelby Miller, who had such a stinkbomb of a 2016 he had to be demoted, is projected to make $4.9 million with fewer than 3.2 years of service time.

There are 10 players on that list projected to earn more than Herrera’s $3.35 million for 2018. Exactly two of them – Arenado and Springer – had a higher WAR in 2016 than Herrera’s 4.2.

Don’t forget, these are 2017 numbers – they’d be bound to go up in 2018 when Herrera would’ve had the necessary service time to file for arbitration. But at these 2017 numbers, the contract figures say the Phillies have the potential fourth-year value of Avisail Garcia and Jonathan Schoop. Garcia, in his only two full seasons of play, has yet to crack .700 OPS. Schoop had a breakthrough year in 2016 with 25 home runs and 82 RBI, playing in all 162 games. But he showed near disdain for the strike zone with 21 walks against 137 strikeouts. He also hit .160 in eight playoff games, including 1 for his last 15.

The names above Herrera ooze pedigree, which factors into the contract projections. But if the White Sox call inquiring about Herrera and offer Garcia straight up, would they be able to finish their sentence before the Phillies hung up on them? Whether or not the Phillies have J.P. Crawford waiting in the wings (let’s assume they didn’t right now) I think the Phillies would be close to offended if the Yankees offered Didi Gregorious for Herrera straight up.

So why should the Phillies be offering that kind of money to Herrera? They obviously value him. Why would they make him a contract offer that he may end up being mad about in three years?

For as team-friendly as the contract is, as Matt Gelb astutely pointed out at Philly.com, it’s very comparable to the contract Adam Eaton signed in 2015, just one full season and parts of two other seasons into his major league career. And since baseball contract negotiations are all about comparison and precedence, Eaton’s contract is the perfect guide to how Herrera received his extension. At this point, you can safely say Eaton has outperformed the average annual value of his contract, let alone the actual annual value. He has three guaranteed years left on it, with two more possible years of team control.

And because that contract was so team-friendly, it allowed the White Sox to deal Eaton to Washington this month. Team and player got what they wanted in that deal. The White Sox got back a bushel of top prospects to the point where you have to wonder what the heck the Nationals were thinking. The player got out of what now looks like a nasty five-year rebuild on the South Side. So maybe this is Herrera’s protection in the midst of the Phillies rebuild. If things don’t work out with this batch of Phillies prospects and everything goes south by 2019, but Herrera keeps putting up his 2016 numbers or even better, he’s in a great position to get out of Philly and be sent to a winner, and the Phillies likely will get some good value back.

Even if that is Herrera’s thinking, it’s an awfully expensive Possibly-Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. Let’s hope he doesn’t regret it and take it out on the Phillies in 2020 after making his third all-star team.

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