ESPN.com is reporting that Carlos Gonzalez has signed a seven-year extension with the Rockies worth $80 million. This deal is rather questionable, for several reasons.
There is no question that Gonzalez is young and talented, as evidenced by his .336 batting average, 34 home runs and a .974 OPS. Conventional thinking would seem to say that this is a strong move. However, a deeper look shows this move could have potential downside.
More advanced stats do confirm that CarGo had an excellent season in 2010. He posted an OPS+ of 143; OPS+ adjusts for the park a player plays in to determine how much above average their OPS was. So, Gonzalez was about 43 percent above average. Wins above replacement (WAR) is a stat that accounts for batting, defense, playing time and position to figure out how much better a player is than the average player who could be picked up off waivers. A five WAR player is about All-Star level; Carlos racked up six in 2010. Clearly, he is a good player. Additionally, he will be 25 next season, meaning his contract would run until after his season at age 31, meaning his entire prime should be covered.
There are some worrisome factors, though. For example, Carlos posted a 1.161 OPS at home, but only a .775 OPS on the road. Granted, players don’t usually hit as well away from home; however, he was still only about 18 percent above league average in that situation.
Additionally, and easily more worrisome, is his batting average on balls in play. Basically, BABIP calculates how many balls in play the defense converted into outs while a player was batting. CarGo hit .384 last year once he put the ball in play. This looks to be .030-.045 above what we should expect, based on his career, meaning his average will likely fall next season. Given his low walk values, his offense will likely drop in 2011.
Realistically, he shouldn’t be horrible in the near future, barring bad luck equal to or greater than his luck on balls in play this year. Bill James projects him to finish with a slash line of .308/.357/.545, which is still more than fine. Also, most estimates currently place the value of one WAR at $5 million on the open market. Essentially, Gonzalez will have to produce just over two WAR per year over the contract, which should be more than manageable.
Really, the only confusing thing about this deal is why the Rockies jumped this early on the topic. Gonzalez just finished a career year, with just over two years of service time. He was due major league minimum for this year, and had three years of arbitration before he would even be a free agent. Really, the Rockies only gained three years.
Wouldn’t it have made more sense to wait a year (or even two) to see how he does in his third season and beyond? If he regressed (as he seems likely to do), they might have been able to strike this same deal next year or the year after, when it would get the Rockies an extra year or two and save them money by not buying out a year of CarGo at major league minimum and possibly arbitration. Really, though, this is a fairly realistic, if somewhat premature, deal.