Jeremy Affeldt has had a successful run for the Giants, but how much longer will he retain his value?
The Giants do not announce financial terms of their contracts, but the deal with Affeldt is reported to be worth $18 million total, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
While Affeldt has been an outstanding set-up man for the Giants, his age, recent injury history, past struggles with right-handed hitters, control problems and declining velocity make this contract an overpay.
The argument has been made that the 3-year, $22.5 million contract that the Los Angeles Dodgers gave to set-up man Brandon League created a new market for relievers this winter. However, the 2-year, $6 million contract that the Tampa Bay Rays gave to set-up man Joel Peralta provides evidence to the contrary.
If Affeldt was offered a contract similar to League's by another team, the Giants could have decided to let him walk away knowing that left-handed relievers Jose Mijares, Dan Runzler and Javier Lopez are all under contract for next season. They could have then allocated the money for Affeldt to improve other areas of the roster.
Affeldt has had a solid four-year run as a set-up man for the Giants. He's delivered a combined 2.73 ERA in that span, with an ERA under 3.00 in three of those four seasons.
His best season with the team was arguably last year when he put up a 2.70 ERA, 21.4 percent strikeout rate, 8.6 percent walk rate, 59.9 percent ground-ball rate and allowed just one home run in 63 innings. He also threw 10.1 innings of shutout ball in the postseason.
He allowed a meager .621 OPS to lefties and an equally impressive .656 OPS to righties.
If Affeldt was likely to repeat that performance for the next three seasons, the Giants would be paying market price with this contract. However, there are several reasons to believe Affeldt cannot maintain the level of performance he displayed last season.
Affeldt will turn 34 years old next year, so an age-related decline is one risk factor inherent in this contract. He has also had to go on the disabled list in each of the last two seasons due to freak injuries suffered away from the field. Those injuries are likely just flukes, but his risk for injury will continue to increase as he ages.
Affeldt had a very good season against right-handed batters last season, but he allowed a .764 OPS against them in 2011, and a .784 OPS to them in 2010.
His fastball velocity peaked at an average of 94.6 MPH in 2008 and dipped down to a career-low 91.4 MPH last season. He pitched effectively at that speed last season, but he could lose even more velocity going forward.
His control has improved with his loss of velocity, but his 8.6 percent walk rate remained below the league average of eight percent.
The age, risk of injury, past struggles with righties, loss of velocity and control problems make a three-year contract for Affeldt fraught with risk. He's been an excellent reliever for the Giants, particularly last season. However, the risk in free agency is paying for past performance rather than for the performance you are likely to receive in the future.
With that said, the Giants aren't exactly a small-market team that has to pinch pennies. This contract is more risky in terms of the length than the $6 million average annual value. A two-year contract would have been more palatable given Affeldt's age and the deal the Rays struck with Peralta.
Then again, despite having a $130 million payroll last season, they still could not find room in the budget to retain Carlos Beltran. Even with a large and growing payroll, every penny still counts for the Giants.
In the end, this is not an egregious contract. However, a three-year deal for a 34-year old reliever carries too much risk. With three left-handed relievers already under contract for next season, the money the Giants spent on Affeldt could have been put to better use this winter.
He's been a very good reliever for the Giants, but there are significant reasons to believe that he will not remain valuable throughout the life of this deal.