One-hundred million dollar contracts are a risky business in baseball. According to Cot's Contracts, there have been 35 in baseball history and it's safe to say there are some cautionary tales. Many would argue Prince Fielder and his fifth largest ever nine-year deal will turn out to be one of them. Another player on the Tigers, however, is well on his way to showing they aren't necessarily a terrible idea: Miguel Cabrera.
After trading for the superstar back in December of 2007, it didn't take long for the Tigers to lock Miggy up long term. Three months later, in fact, they inked him to an eight-year, $152.3 million deal. I don't have a perfect memory by any means, but I remember the reviews of the deal as pretty positive. Tiger fans seemed to agree the Tigers had to lock them up after what they had given up to get him. On a wider scale, people seemed to agree young superstars on Cabrera's historic track were exactly the kind of player for whom you do a deal like this. After all, he'd only be 32 by the time the contract was over.
It's by no means been a ride without its bumps, but Cabrera is well on his way to making this deal a bargain for the Tigers. According to the invaluable Fangraphs.com, he has accumulated 25.3 wins as a Tiger if you include this season's output. The website values that contribution (based on the free agent market rate for "wins") at $110.7 million. That leaves Cabrera just $41.6 short of making good on his lucrative contract. Even if you don't allow for any inflation in the value of wins over the next three years, Cabrera needs 9.2 wins to achieve this.
That gives him the rest of this season and three more seasons to achieve an output he may match in the remainder of this season and 2013. Skeptics, however, might point out Cabrera wasn't the only player who came to Detroit in that blockbuster deal. The Tigers also acquired Dontrelle Willis. They didn't just acquire him; they gave him an extension as well. Just like with Cabrera, they didn't want to have to compete against the open market for his services so they locked him up for three years, $29 million.
Nobody is saying Willis's deal or how it turned out is Cabrera's fault, but it could be argued that Willis and his contract were part of the price of getting Cabrera. So what would Cabrera have to do to "cover" Willis's awful contract and nightmarish stay in Detroit?
Well, I'm glad you asked. Willis's contract paid him $7 million in 2008, $10 million in 2009 and $12 million in 2010. According to how Fangraphs.com was valuing wins in those seasons, the Tigers paid him for about 6.8 wins of output.
Add that on to Cabrera's balance sheet and all the sudden he needs to get up to 16 wins over the balance of the contract. If you want to be a real stickler, you could also point out that in his time with the Tigers Willis's terrible pitching was 0.7 wins below replacement. Let's throw that in the mix, too. With this line of thinking, to cover both his contract and Willis's, Cabrera would need to amass 16.7 wins over the rest of 2012 and the next three seasons.
How hard is that going to be for Miggy? Well, according to fangraphs.com and the ZiPS projection system, he's expected to tally 2.8 more wins this season. That would leave him on the hook for 14.9 over the next three seasons. In other words, it would require him to be a five-win player for each of the next three seasons. No doubt that is asking a lot of him. Five-win players aren't all that common.
Luckily for Tiger fans, five-win seasons for Cabrera are very common. In eight full seasons, he's hit five wins above replacement six times. This season stands as a likely seventh. With the shaky track record of nine figure deals, I find it incredible Cabrera has a very good chance of covering his even when it's combined with one of the worst deals the Tigers ever made.
Note: I've tried to take the most skeptical view possible of Cabrera's contract. I realize he's meant more to the team than just his production. I realize the wins he's provided are more valuable to a Tiger team that's usually right on the cusp of the playoffs. I realize the cost a win on the free agent market is unlikely to stay constant for the next three years. On the other hand, there is some cost to losing the cheap players the Tigers gave away in the trade that I didn't calculate. To be honest, I wasn't sure how to calculate that value. I'm not too worried about it, though. The only guys who have had positive value are probably Cameron Maybin and Burke Badenhop.