Let's face it - the Cole Hamels situation is relatively straight forward. You cannot look at his performance over the past five seasons and the free agent market over the past few offseasons and not conclude that he is worth at least $20 million per year of six years on the open market. He is an elite pitcher, and he has every reason to expect that he will be paid like one. The decision is a philosophical one -- how much money is a team willing to commit to a position that can see a career end with one shoulder injury?
Shane Victorino is another story. His career is like an ink blot -- you can see what you want. The only center fielders with a higher OPS over the last three seasons are Matt Kemp (.863), Curtis Granderson (.831), Jacoby Ellsbury (.830), Andrew McCutchen (.822) and Torii Hunter (.815). Victorino checks in with an .800.
As we noted in today's column, Victorino showed last year that he has the potential of producing a huge walk-year performance.
After the 2007 season, Torii Hunter signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the Angels. In the three seasons leading up to his free agency, Hunter hit .279/.335/.487 with 73 home runs and 53 stolen bases. Compare those numbers to the ones Victorino has posted over the last three seasons: .277/.347/.454, 45 home runs, 78 stolen bases. Victorino will be entering his 32-year-old season when he hits free agency, the same age Hunter was when he signed his monster deal. While Hunter's production slipped last season, he still has a solid .279/.349/.465 line with averages of 22 home runs and 13 steals in the first four years of the deal.
Granderson, meanwhile, has a $13 million option for 2013 that is almost certain to be exercised by the Yankees. He too will be entering his 32-year-old season.
Ellsbury and McCutchen are both rising stars who would stray more to the Matt Kemp end of the spectrum than Hunter and Granderson.
Which brings us to Victorino, and the question of where he belongs in the hierarchy of center fielders. Is he in the class of the five players above him in OPS? Does he deserve to be paid like a centerpiece player?
1) What is the minimum the Phillies should expect to pay?
The absolute minimum would have to be a contract similar to the three-year, $31.5 million deal that the Rockies gave Michael Cuddyer this offseason.
The comparison over the last three years:
Cuddyer: .276/.341/.465, 66 HRs, 24 SBs
Victorino: .277/.347/.454, 45 HRs, 78 SBs
The key difference is that Victorino plays a premium defensive position.
2) What is the maximum the Phillies should expect to pay?
Kemp is in a class all by himself, so throw him out. Next up is Carl Crawford, who signed a seven-year, $142 million deal with the Red Sox heading into his 30-year-old season. The numbers over the three years leading up to his free agency:
Crawford: .297/.349/.454, 42 HRs, 132 SBs
Similar power, similar on base, better contact and more steals.
By the numbers, the best comparison is Hunter. But Hunter signed his contract after the 2007 season, so it is tough to use him as a market comparison.
3) Making some sense. . .
If I'm Victorino, I am making the case that I am worth a five-year deal, which would run through my 36-year-old season. Thirty-six appears to be the age at which most teams are comfortable guaranteeing money. The Tigers signed Prince Fielder through the age of 36. The Yankees did the same with Teixeira. Carl Crawford? 36. Jason Bay? 36. Ryan Howard? 36. Matt Holliday and Jayson Werth both signed beyond their 36-year-old seasons.
The target Average Annual Value is where things become open to interpretation. Minimum, I would think, is the $13 million that the Yankees are likely to pay Granderson. Maximum, I would think, is the $18 million per season that the Angels paid Hunter.
Victorino and Michael Bourn will be the top two center fielders on the market. But center field is a position that is in demand. Victorino can also play right field. And he has the skill set of a lead-off hitter. Among the teams that could be looking for that type of player? The Yankees, for one. The Nationals, for another. Perhaps the Marlins. If you are the Phillies, you have to anticipate that there will be a significant market for Victorino, barring an injury or a down season.
If you take the mid-point of Granderson and Hunter you get $15.5 million salary.
Is Victorino worth a five-year, $77.5 million deal? What if he was willing to sign right now for five years and $65 million, which would mean an AAV of $13 million per year?
Assuming it takes an AAV of about $20 million to sign Hamels, a five-year, $65 million deal for Victorino would leave the Phillies with $144 million committed to 10 players for 2013. That doesn't include an arbitration raise for Hunter Pence that will likely be at least $13 million. So that is $157 million for 11 players. Carlos Ruiz's $5 million option? $162 million for 12 players while still needing a third baseman. It is certainly workable, particularly if the Phillies can back Jonathan Papelbon up with six relievers who are all earning close to the veteran minimum. As we have pointed out before, going over the luxury tax is not exactly detrimental for a big market club.
The options for replacing Victorino are hardly plentiful. Maybe John Mayberry Jr. has a big year and emerges as an option. Bourn is the only player similar to Victorino available on the free agent market (B.J. Upton is probably the third-biggest name behind those two).
The worst-case scenario, at least fiscally, is Mayberry failing to establish himself as an everyday player and Victorino having a huge season. At that point, the free agent market could easily view Victorino as an $18-million-per-year player, leaving the Phillies with a very expensive decision to make: Let Victorino walk and enter 2013 with big question marks in 2/3rds of their outfield, or pay a premium price.