The San Francisco Giants and Buster Posey have a seemingly difficult task ahead of them when it comes to determining a fair contract for one of the most celebrated young baseball players that the game has ever seen.
The challenge facing both sides is finding comparable contracts for players with similar service time and similar accomplishments.
In the case of Buster Posey, there are simply few comparisons, if any.
Since Posey made his big league debut at the end of the 2009 season, he has played in 308 regular-season games. That is 16 games short of two full seasons.
It is almost impossible to comprehend that a player with so few games played over parts of four seasons could generate such confusion over how he should be compensated.
Posey’s accomplishments in this short amount of time are astounding. In just under two full seasons of games played, Buster Posey has amassed a career’s worth of hardware:
- Two World Series Championships
- Rookie of the Year
- NL All-Star starter (and leading vote getter)
- NL Batting Title
- NL Most Valuable Player
- NL Silver Slugger
- NL Comeback Player of the Year
Buster Posey will enter the 2013 season with two World Series rings, an MVP and a Rookie of the Year award.
In the history of the game, only two other catchers won the Rookie of the Year, at least one World Series and at least one MVP over their entire career: Johnny Bench and Thurman Munson.
Bench is in the Hall of Fame, and one can argue that Munson belongs there as well.
Buster Posey is in unprecedented territory when it comes to understanding his rightful place in the salary hierarchy of the game.
Initially it makes sense to look at the young stars who have recently signed long-term contracts and compare them to Posey—players such as Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who signed an eight-year, $160 million contract through 2019, or Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds, who signed a 10-year, $225 million dollar contract through 2023.
Votto is the closest comparison as he has won an MVP award and finished second for the 2008 Rookie of the Year award; he is also a three-time All-Star and has won a Gold Glove.
Matt Kemp is a two-time All-Star who finished second in MVP voting in 2011 and has won two Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger awards.
Neither Kemp nor Votto play the demanding position of catcher, so let’s take a look at the accomplishments of one of the best young catchers in the game, Joe Mauer.
Mauer signed an eight-year, $184 million dollar contract through 2018. Over his career he has amassed three batting titles, one MVP award, three Gold Gloves, three Silver Slugger awards and five All-Star appearances.
Mauer’s statistics are probably the most comparable to Posey's. Obviously, the one factor that Mauer, Votto and Kemp have over Posey is longevity, relatively speaking. Baseball traditionally rewards consistency over time.
Posey hasn’t shown consistency over time yet, but only because he hasn’t been around long enough.
While these players' accomplishments are impressive and prove that they have earned their contracts, ultimately a baseball player is judged in one way.
Is he a winner?
It is one thing to lead the world in statistics, but can a player transcend numbers and lead his team to the pinnacle of the sport?
Posey has been the unquestioned leader for two World Series-winning teams in each of his semi-full seasons (remember that he still has not played two complete seasons strictly in games played).
Forget statistics for a minute and where they place him among the elite of the game—his leadership is what really stands out.
Contracts are negotiated based on comparable players and their statistics. It is easy to look at the numbers of player X and decide that he is similar to player Y from a numbers perspective.
But how do you compare leadership ability at the negotiating table? There are many different types of leaders, but how many leaders have been as successful as Posey has been in such a short period of time?
Three questions face both sides of this contract showdown.
Is Posey capable of maintaining consistent numbers over the course of the deal?
Is he a catcher or will he ultimately be a first baseman?
I haven’t mentioned his gruesome leg injury because I feel that it is currently a non-issue, but over time will that injury affect his production?
There is no question that Posey is a leader. That will not change. The other intangibles are the same for any contract negotiation.
The stakes are high when determining how and when to lock up a young player long term. Injuries are just one thing that can derail a promising career; at least the Giants have seen how Posey can rebound from a career-threatening injury.
No matter where the two sides ultimately land, there will be risk. The Giants are going to have to pay him, and they know it.
A deal similar to the one Joey Votto signed should be a good starting point for the negotiations. Where the contract goes from there will depend on how much money the star from Leesburg, Georgia wants to squeeze out of the organization.
Note: All contract information used in this piece was obtained from Baseball Prospectus' Cot's Baseball Contracts http://www.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/