Welcome to Rounding the Bases, a weekly column where writers Ryan Topp and Steve Garczynski participate in a discussion on one baseball topic. You can follow @RyanTopp and @SteveGarczynski on Twitter.
Rickie Weeks is struggling at the plate, John Axford can’t get back on track out of the bullpen, and the Brewers remain below .500. It sounds depressing, but there have been a few bright spots. Carlos Gomez has improved on his breakout from a season ago, and Jean Segura has been a game changer in the field, on the bases and especially at the plate, so it’s a positive sign that the front office already approached him about an extension.
Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal says Doug Melvin and Co. made Segura an offer about a month ago, though the details of the offer weren’t released. Segura’s agent, Joe Klein, seems to be slow playing at the moment, saying that it’s difficult to gauge his long-term value and figure out the appropriate numbers for a deal.
I really hope that’s just a negotiating tactic because the Brewers have worked out pre-arbitration extensions with Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy, and teams like Tampa Bay have also been doing this for a number of seasons. There is definitely a road map, and since the Brewers made an offer, it’s pretty much up to Segura whether or not he wants to make a deal.
But first, Ryan, what would a deal look like for Segura? He has less than a year of service time, so this isn’t some monster free agency offer.
First, let’s set up some parameters here. MLB’s basic salary structure for players is you have to put in two to three full years before being eligible for salary arbitration and six nearly full seasons before becoming a free agent. In Segura’s case, this means he won’t qualify for arbitration until after 2015 or be eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season. Until arby, he is totally at the mercy of the team deciding to give him anything more than the big league minimum, something right around $500K at the moment. Starting in 2015, that number will start to rise, how drastically it does that depending on how productive he is in the interim.
This situation gives teams a lot of leverage, and in recent years they have started to exploit it much more frequently. The Brewers have done it with Braun and Lucroy as you noted. Getting control of a year or more of a young player’s free agency time can be something of a gamble, but it’s also a tactic that has allowed teams like the Brewers and the Rays to control some of their best players a bit longer than they might otherwise have been capable. If a team can get the right player at the right price, these are the sorts of deals that can be franchise cornerstones for years to come.
On the players side, there is really only one reason to do deals like this: financial security. The common perception may be that all ballplayers are millionaires, but the reality is that they have to produce and then wait a while before they can truly cash in most of the time. If a players is still multiple years of productive play away from big guaranteed money, the offer of “set for life” cash is often too much to turn down. Especially since these deals typically only run to around to the end of the players 20’s, where another (often bigger deal) awaits those that make it that far.
To me, there just isn’t any reason to give Segura the security of guaranteed long term money right now without getting back both savings and some ability to control him past the normal 6 years. The best way to get control while minimizing risk is to try and do what the Rays do so often and get multiple club option years on the end. I could see something like a six year deal (2014 to 2019) worth 25-30 million and a club option or two worth perhaps an average of 10 million per year at least getting both sides talking. That sort of deal gives the Brewers a young budding star locked up through most of his prime while giving Segura set-for-life money and still leaving him young enough at the end to cash in again. What do you think, does that make sense, Steve?
Obviously, your deal kind of shows that Segura’s agent is full of crap by saying that there isn’t a road map for the deal. You outlined a deal that is increasingly familiar to MLB fans since large and small markets are making these types of deals to lock up young potential stars.
Your deal is similar to the seven year, $41 million deal that Anthony Rizzo just signed with the Cubs, and not in the range of the $60 million contract that Starlin Castro signed. That should be doable in Milwaukee.
It makes sense for the Brewers to make this kind of deal with Segura because 1) Good shortstops are hard to find. Segura was a very good prospect and has the pedigree that its worth locking him up with a short MLB track record, 2) Milwaukee needs cost certainty. The Brewers front office will have a budget with enough locked in money that they can make better off season decisions, and 3) It’s the opportunity to build another window. Combined with Lucroy and Braun’s extension, there is another core to build around.
That isn’t to say that there is no risk involved for the Brewers. Keith Law noted recently that Segura did struggle with injuries in the minors which prevented him from a higher prospect rating. There is also the Bill Hall possibility, where Segura’s production severely declines. This is where you have to trust his prospect ranking (Hall wasn’t a prospect) as a signal that his early season success is sustainable.
Am I missing any other scenarios that the could bite the Brewers?
Injury and performance slips are concerns, of course, but teams have to take some risks to win. Given that the payroll seems destined to climb into the 100 million range, and any contract with Segura would probably guarantee less that 10 million annually even at it’s peak, the risk is at least manageable.
Going back to your earlier point about his agent, I have to think that the Brewers offer before the season was considerably lower than the one I laid out. Probably more in line with the one that Lucroy got before the 2012 season started, which was for five years and 11 million total. I can see why an agent would turn that sort of offer down at this point, and Segura has certainly raised the expectation bar over the first six-plus weeks of the season to the point where more money is certainly in order.
It may well be that the Brewers simply don’t have a long enough track record with Segura right now to offer him the sort of contract that would be acceptable to him. The Brewers had close to three years with Braun and almost five years with Lucroy as employees when they made those deals, and Segura hasn’t even been with the club 10 months yet. We also don’t really know how much Segura and his agent want for him right now. Playing as well as he currently is, the price has certainly risen since the start of the season.
While it’s becoming more and more common for players to do deals like this, the reward for those that get to free agency as quickly as possible with a high level of performance has never been better than now. It is hard to blame someone for exercising their right to try and get top dollar for their talents when those talents are so handsomely rewarded on the open market these days. If there is a number out there that both sides can agree on, it’s going to be manageable for the team while also giving Segura the security of knowing he’s set for life. It’s that sort of win-win situation that is driving so many guys to do deals like this and I’m not going to be surprised if Segura gets one of his very own before too long.
I’d say that it’s a pretty solid bet that the two side agree on a seven year extension before the end of the season. The Brewers get to lock up a young player, buying out an extra year or two of free agency, and Segura is set with a multimillion dollar contract. The injury risk for a player up the middle is too high, and free agency is still too far off for a player that young to reject at least $30 million, and that would be a minimum
The Brewers put together a core in the early 2000’s and we’ve watched them reach the end of their time in Milwaukee. It’s time for the front office to build a younger product on the field and that should start with a player like Jean Segura.