While we wait for the Dodgers' contract with Kenta Maeda to be finalized and, perhaps more importantly, the specific details known, the information we do have now in many ways bring more questions than answers.
Christopher Meola has been ahead of the game in the reporting of Maeda to the Dodgers, first in reporting the agreement — later confirmed by Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, and Joel Sherman of the New York Post; with Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times saying a deal was "close" — and first to report any kind of contract details, later essentially confirmed by Sherman.
Meola is not a reporter, but this isn't his first baseball transaction rodeo. He was also the first to report both the Hanley Ramirez deal with the Red Sox, and the Giancarlo Stanton 13-year contract with the Marlins, both in November 2014.
Ramirez and Stanton, like Maeda, were represented in these transactions by Wasserman Media Group.
But about those contract details for Maeda ...
If it matters, heard guarantee on Maeda’s deal with #Dodgers is 8yrs at $25M, not $24M. Gambling on self with tons of performance bonuses— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) January 2, 2016
On its surface, that looks like one of the most team-friendly deals possible. That surprisingly low guarantee is a far cry from what was expected over the last few weeks:
- Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors on Nov. 9 projected Maeda would get five years, $60 million once posted.
- Eno Sarris at FanGraphs came up with six years, $85 million for Maeda on Nov. 25, though admitted that with so few comparable players "it's guesswork any way you slice it."
- Diamondbacks beat writer Jack Magruder reported on Dec. 7 that Arizona, with a freshly-minted Zack Greinke in tow, were out on Maeda, who was "said to be seeking $60 million."
- Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News said on Dec. 9 that the Rangers didn't have the funds nor the interest to invest a $20 million release fee for Maeda, plus $12-15 million per year over at least four years.
- Ken Gurnick of MLB.com speculated as recently as Dec. 26 that Maeda's contract would be five years, $80 million.
Those guarantees range from $48 million to $85 million over four to six years, without counting the $20 million release fee. To go from that expectation to only $24 million, and to be spread over eight years is quite the shocker.
Again, it is important to note that we still don't have all the details.
There might be one or more opt-out clauses in the deal, which would make sense. Let's say, for instance that there is an opt-out clause after three years. That would mean the Dodgers would have spent the $20 million release fee plus roughly $9 million in guaranteed salary over the three years (assuming for the moment that the salary is spread evenly throughout the deal).
But for Maeda to opt out, he will presumably have had to pitch well enough to create a market for himself. So let's assume he also reaches all of his incentives in those three years, $12 million per year per Meola for a total of $45 million in salary over the three years, plus the $20 million release fee. That's three years and $65 million for the Dodgers to invest, which is more in line with the current market for mid-rotation starting pitchers like Rick Porcello (4 years, $80 million with Boston last year), Jeff Samardzija (five years, $90 million with San Francisco) and Mike Leake (five years, $80 million with St. Louis).
But such an investment for the Dodgers — and again, this is just a hypothetical case in which Maeda might have an opt-out clause — would come with less risk, since Maeda would have to pitch well enough to earn that much, which the Dodgers would take eight days a week, I would imagine.
What makes the small guarantee more hard to fathom is that Maeda was allowed to negotiate with other teams during his 30-day posting period (any team willing to pay the $20 million release fee once a contract agreement was reached). This was not two parties using all 30 days to come together on a deal; that was the case with Hyun-jin Ryu three years ago, and even then he was able to secure a guarantee $6 million per year for six years.
Meola reports that both Arizona and Houston were in on Maeda. Maybe Maeda all along simply preferred Los Angeles, as was speculated by Japanese media, and noted by Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker on Dec. 5.
To date, there have only been two deals for pitchers as long as Maeda's in MLB history. In the infancy of free agency, pitcher Wayne Garland parlayed a 20-win season with the Orioles in 1976 into a whopping 10-year, $2.3 million contract with the Indians. That prompted Cleveland general manager Phil Seghi to tell the Associated Press, "If you want to dance, you have to pay the fiddler."
Mike Hampton after 2000 signed an eight-year, $121 million contract with the Rockies that made him the highest-paid player in all of baseball for a spell. "I make my living getting ground balls," Hampton told the Associated Press. "Unless they want to hit the ball under the fence for a home run, it doesn't matter to me."
Hampton allowed 31 home runs in 2001, his first year with Colorado, 13 more than he had ever allowed in any single season.
Hampton, like Maeda, was 28 in the first season of his eight-year deal. Garland was 26 in 1977. Garland had a decent first season in Cleveland but thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness he was out of baseball within five years. Hampton was a disaster with the Rockies and was traded after two seasons.
But again, Garland and Hampton received guarantees at the top of the market, while Maeda's guarantee per season is over $1 million under the average annual salary in MLB.
What if Maeda is hurt? The right-hander has averaged 200 innings per season in Japan over his last seven seasons, so he hasn't been sidelined for any extended period to date. But even at a worst-case scenario, even if the current market rate of roughly $8 million per WAR says flat over the life of the contract, the Dodgers would only need two, maybe three good years out of eight from Maeda to make their total investment ($44 million plus earned incentives) worth it.
Betting on himself
With so much in performance bonuses available, up to $10-12 million per year per Meola, and such a low annual guarantee, one would imagine that several of those incentives are relatively easy to earn.
Incentives can't be awarded for performance like wins or strikeouts, and are generally limited to measurements of participation and/or availability, like games pitches, starts, innings pitched or days on active roster.
Brett Anderson, which as checkered an injury history as anyone, had up to $4 million in bonuses possible in 2015 - he earned $2.4 million of them - but they didn't begin until 150 innings pitched, thanks in part to his relatively high guaranteed base salary of $10 million.
Brandon Beachy, out a year and a half recovering from Tommy John surgery, had up to $3 million in incentives based on starts, and his bonuses began at just one start, with his lower base salary of $2.75 million.
Whenever the Maeda deal is finalized, I can't wait to see the full details of the contract. They figure to be very interesting at least, and should keep people searching our payroll worksheet quite often, so that's a win either way.