Yadier Molina’s extension reshapes catcher’s market

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The announcement of Yadier Molina‘s extension with the St. Louis Cardinals became official today at 2:00 PM. Molina is set to earn $75 million over five years (spread evenly at $15 million per season) with a mutual option for 2018 also worth $15 million and he has a full no-trade clause. Earlier in the week, even without full knowledge of the deal, as soon as it was reported that Molina would be signing a five-year contract in the neighborhood of $70-75 million, the market for catchers took an immediate turn upward. Now that is it official we can review how his deal will affect catchers who will be on the free-agent market in 2013 and 2014.

At the end of the 2012 season Mike Napoli of the Texas Rangers, Miguel Montero of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Russell Martin of the New York Yankees will become free agents. Atlanta Braves backstop Brian McCann has an option for the 2013 season, but there is a chance that he could begin discussions with the team about an extension. The Molina deal has put smiles on the faces of all of these men.

Both Napoli and Montero were in talks with their respective teams up to the point that Molina’s contract extension was announced. Not more than 24 hours later, both players decided they will test the free agent market. Martin was close to signing a three-year extension with the Yankees during this past offseason, but it was tabled. I would now assume that he too will welcome the opportunity to see what the market has to offer.

Each of the these players are close enough in talent and production (some certainly better than others) to make comparisons to Molina’s deal. This is not to say that Molina’s deal will be repeated for each player at a minimum, but at the very least Molina’s contract has raised the market for the top flight catchers in the league. If they were worth $10 million on average per season, they may now be worth $12 million per season.

Molina’s deal is going to make him the second highest paid catcher in average annual value of all-time. Only Joe Mauer‘s albatross salary exceed’s Molinas. Mauer’s contract was so outlandash that it never could be used by the rest MLB catchers as a basis. Molina’s, while a reach in some eyes, is just far enough ahead to signal to the catching elite that it is time to see what the free-agent market has in store for them.

Below is a chart of recent statistics for the players mentioned for the last three seasons combined.

I provided a few of the standard stats that everyone loves to see plus some of the advanced metrics which I believe tell a better story. Please see the FanGraph’s glossary for detailed explanations of the advanced statistics. Again, Molina is the basis. I supplied Mauer’s stats to show his dollar value still towers over the next group and what the Twins have received in return. The advanced metrics are best to draw comparisons between players when evaluating contracts.

Molina ranks third on this list in WAR, but 5th on the list in wRC+. This tells us that a good amount of Molina’s value is generated from his superior defensive skills and not from his presence at the plate, despite the fact that he had a very successful season as a hitter in 2011. Another telling stat is wRAA (weighted Runs Above Average) which tells you how much offensive value above average (being 0) the players gives his team. Molina is also fifth in that category.

Many will point to Molina’s fielding and ability to throw out would be base-stealers and this is an obvious point to make. Clubs must determine what fielding and caught stealing statistics are worth to them in dollar value. Defensive metrics, especially those for catchers, are still in their infancy and difficult to place a price on. So too is the ability to quantify how the catcher handles his pitching staff. Each team is going to have a different feeling about these factors but they cannot be dismissed. I would note that while Molina’s rate of 40% over the three seasons is the highest among the group, he had an indivual career worst percentage of 29.2% in 2011. Some other catchers improved their career rates in 2011. Montero for example raised his by throwing out 40% of attempted base-stealers in 2011. For more on the break down of Molina’s contract check out my full analysis on Redbird Rants here.

Now individually we can point to areas where Molina’s contract helps each player with theirs. Beginning with Russell Martin; he seems to be the outlier among the group as far as total production over the three-year period. But, he had a nice bounce back season with the Yankees in 2011 and it got him a deal worth $7.5 million for this season. This is $500K more than Molina is making in 2012. Molina has been more productive than Martin over the three seasons, but if Martin can reel off another year like 2011, he should be able to command somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million per season and possibly get four years.

Montero is looked at as a very good hitting catcher who is making advances in his all-around game. He sits on the lower side of the contract value in comparison to the others as he has less service time. This will be his first chance at free agency and he has never had a multi-year deal. Montero is one year younger than Molina and has caught fewer innings which is an important factor. If Montero is able to maintain his offensive production and continues to improve behind the plate, he could be looking at a deal worth the same five years and about $60 million. If he explodes behind the plate in 2012 he could get even more.

Napoli is a little bit different than the rest because he will play some first base and DH as well. This allows him to rest his knees a bit and keeps him in the lineup. Napoli may be the most dangerous hitter in the group now that Mauer has taken a step back. Napoli’s slugging percentage is by far the best of the group. His issue is health and he is about two years older than Molina. Notice Napoli’s WAR figure is close to Molina’s with more than 200 less plate appearances. He is the highest paid among the group this season behind Mauer at $9.4 million. His age may limit the number of teams willing to give him five years, but he will be able to play some first and could take some at-bats as a DH if he sticks with an American League club. He should be able to equal Molina’s deal in years and total value simply because he would be a great DH toward the end of any deal. A contract in the neighborhood of four years for $68 million up to five years for $90 million is not out of the question. He is that productive with the bat and the ability to be a DH and excel as one aids in his prospects of securing such a deal.

If McCann does not want to give a hometown discount to the Braves, they will have to pay handsomely for his services. He has an option for the 2013 season worth $12 million, which now seems like a bargain. The Braves could let the season play out and take the chance that McCann will want to stay with the team. Or they could re-work the deal. Based on the metrics here, Atlanta would be on the hook for five to six seasons (if 2013 is included) for $15-18 million per season. McCann has been a very productive catcher for several years now. He is only 29 now and his WAR numbers resemble those of Mauer’s so if anyone is going to be able to approach the $20 per season mark it will be McCann. He is not a great defensive catcher but he is among the best offensive catchers in all MLB.

Earlier in the offseason the relief pitcher market rose when Jonathan Papelbon signed a massive deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. It sparked several other deals along the way and each one was given a bump by the Papelbon signing. Now, Yadier Molina’s extension has set the tone for at least four comparable catchers. It’s a great day for the backstops.

Be sure to check out all of Call to the Pen’s transaction breakdowns for the 2011-12 offseason. You can follow Call to the Pen on Twitter at @FSCalltothePen or like us here on Facebook. You can also subscribe to our RSS feed. You can follow Chris Carelli on Twitter at @Chris_Carelli.