As expected, on Tuesday afternoon at Maryvale Baseball Park, the Milwaukee Brewers announced a new five-year deal with catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
The five-year deal also includes a sixth option-year and will be worth at least $11M. The ultimate monetary value hinges on whether the Brewers’ catcher qualifies as a Super Two following this upcoming season. A Super Two player becomes arbitration-eligible after only two seasons instead of three, which results in four arbitration years and one less year at the league minimum. Only the top 22% each service class garners Super Two status, however, and Lucroy projects to be right on the cusp.
Thus, ultimately, his contract could be worth up to $18M, if the club exercises a $5.25M option to retain Lucroy for the 2017 season and he qualifies as a Super Two player. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal disseminated exact monetary value of the contract on Tuesday.
|No Super Two||Super Two|
As most contract extensions signed this early in a player’s service time are overwhelmingly team-friendly, this contract retains a quality catcher below market value. Jonathan Lucroy garners significant financial security by guaranteeing himself at least $11M in the remainder of his professional career. That is a very powerful motivator for young players because one play, one injury could end it all for good. For a young player such as Lucroy, who has a wife and a daughter, the peace of mind to understand that he can play baseball without worrying about securing money for his family holds significant sway.
For the Brewers, buying out Lucroy’s arbitration years does not only allow the organization to pencil in a solid, young catcher for the next five seasons at below market price, it also provides cost-certainty for the organization. The money guaranteed to players such as Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, Rickie Weeks, John Axford, Corey Hart, and Aramis Ramirez will steadily climb in the coming years. Doug Melvin and his front office personnel need to be able to more accurately project future contracts to determine just how much money is available to allocate elsewhere.
The issue of cost-certainty directly relates to the Brewers’ rumored interest in negotiating long-term deals with Zack Greinke and John Axford. The Lucroy contract does not guarantee that the organization will ultimately ink either player to an extension, though it should help clarify future payroll and help Doug Melvin understand if room exists down the road to lock up Greinke and/or Axford and still have adequate funds to make auxiliary moves to further better the team in future offseasons.
In terms of the contract itself, some have been critical of the fact that Milwaukee forked over guaranteed money to a non-elite player. The contract was not massive, however, and the Brewers should not have to worry about Lucroy playing up to the yearly value of the contract.
Most contracts are judged upon a simply wins above replacement (WAR) calculation in relation to the current dollar per win rate. Currently, that is perceived to be roughly $5M per win on the free agent market. Lucroy did not sign the deal at free-agent market value, though. Instead, we must adjust the numbers to better reflect how Lucroy must perform to be “worth” the contract.
The rule of thumb is that arbitration-eligible players receive 40% of their free-agent value in their first arbitration year, 60% the second year, and 80% the third year. Thus, the dollar per win values should be adjusted to that 40/60/80 model. The first year, Lucroy is not being paid $5M/win. Instead, he is being paid 40% of that, or $2M/win. The next year would be 60% of $5M/win or $3M/win, and so on.
Keep in mind that we are working under two different scenarios, one in which Lucroy qualifies as a Super Two and one in which Lucroy does not. The following table outlines how many wins Lucroy would have to generate each season (in both scenarios) to play up to his contract:
|No Super Two||WAR||Super Two||WAR|
Outside of the 2013 season in the Super Two scenario, Jonathan Lucroy is being paid to be roughly a one-win player. Considering he was a +1.7 win player in 2011 in his first full season in the big leagues, Milwaukee should feel exceedingly confident that they will pay far less than Lucroy is worth throughout the 25-year-old’s remaining stint with the organization.
He has developed into a fine defensive catcher, who controls the running game well and is one of the best in the league at framing pitches. At the plate, room for improvement exists, but Lucroy should be league average or better at the plate. In 2011, he hit .265/.313/.391 and compiled a .310 wOBA. The average wOBA in the National League for a catcher last season was .307. The Brewers are fortunate to have a league average (perhaps more down the road) catcher locked in at a good price for the next five seasons.
Kudos to Doug Melvin for thinking outside the box and locking up a solid, young catcher with potential to be above league-average without financially handcuffing the organization. Risk certainly exists with any long-term guaranteed contract — as Lucroy could get injured or severely regress — but simply buying out arbitration years at below market rate for cost-certainty purposes significantly helps this team in its current position.