(This article is just over 1,000 words, but I promise you that they’re all worth it in understanding exactly how much money the Phillies will and can commit to Shane Victorino.)
A benefit to the Phillies having the second most wins in baseball since 2007 (473, the Yankees have 479) is that few players want to leave.
Going back to that first playoff season since 1993, every free agent the Phillies let walk — save for Jayson Werth — found work elsewhere because the team decided to move on.
Shane Victorino is the latest in a series of players who have expressed their desire to remain in Philadelphia, but his words were a bit more direct than most. Victorino explicitly used the words “hometown discount” this week, which was sonic beauty to Phillies fans and torture to his agents, the Levinson Brothers.
“I’m willing to give up free agency,” Victorino told ESPN’s Jayson Stark at the beginning of the final week of February. “A lot of guys won’t. In the game of baseball, free agency is what every major league player dreams of. You want to maximize your value, and of course I do, too. But what’s important to me is, I want to be here. I love playing here. My family loves the city. I love the city. So when I made that statement (to Todd Zolecki, that I’m not going anywhere), that’s what I meant.”
Victorino likely realized after those comments that no matter how badly he wants to stay in Philly, it isn’t worth making public comments and losing so much leverage. He clarified things a bit for CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury Thursday morning.
“I look at it this way, if it’s a significant difference, I have to weigh my options,” Victorino told CSNPhilly.com. “I obviously love playing in Philly. They made me who I am. That sits in the back of my mind. But I also understand there’s a window in this game. Age and time comes into play. When I say I don’t want to go anywhere — yeah, I call this home and I want to finish my career here — but we’ll see how it goes.
“I won’t say I won’t take a hometown discount, but I also will say I want to maximize my opportunity with not only what I’ve accomplished as an individual, but as part of a team.”
Victorino then made his first public request for five years, the same contractual length Jimmy Rollins sought at the outset of his own free agency.
“I’ll be 32 on the market,” said Victorino. “I can go another five years. I would think even more. I want to go until I’m 40. My agents say I can get a five-year deal on the market. Why not trust them?”
Here’s the part where we examine whether or not five years is a realistic length for Victorino.
The short answer is absolutely.
In sitting down to write this, I thought comparing Victorino to Torii Hunter was a novel idea, but as often happens, it’s just an idea that independently hit me two days after it hit David Murphy and 10 hours after it hit Zolecki.
Anywho, Hunter signed a five-year, $90 million deal with the Angels prior to the 2008 season, when he was 32, the same age Victorino turns in November.
And Victorino hasn’t just out-produced Hunter in the years leading up to his free agency, he’s blown him out of the water.
In the four seasons before Hunter went on the market, he compiled 11.3 WAR, or an average of 2.8 wins above replacement per season. In his last four seasons, Victorino has totaled 18.0 WAR, or 4.5 per season.
Whether you believe in WAR as an all-encompassing stat or not, the market value for one win above replacement is around $4-4.5 million. That is, a league-average player who is worth 2.0 WAR per season could realistically command a two-year, $9 million deal.
In a perfectly fair world, Victorino would have made $81 million for his high level of production the last four seasons — 4.5 WAR x $4.5MM = $20.25 million per season. Moving forward, we could realistically peg Victorino as a 4.0-WAR player the next four seasons. His blend of power, elite baserunning and solid defense at one of the sport’s toughest positions will prevent him from falling off a cliff from a value standpoint.
So, assuming he’ll produce 4.0 WAR each season for the next four or five years, a five-year deal for Victorino belongs precisely at $90 million, the same as Hunter’s terms.
But not all free agent cases are created equal. Hunter was probably overpaid by the Angels, but Los Angeles needed an outfielder and middle-of-the-order bat to complement Vladimir Guerrero, and needed to make a splash. Hunter felt loyalty to the Twins, but not enough to disregard an offer that would set his family up for generations.
Victorino is a different story. He clearly wants to stay in Philly, and the circumstances surrounding the Phils’ extremely high payroll dictate that if staying means as much to Victorino as he says it does, he’ll need to take that hometown discount.
In a quick poll on Twitter, I found that Phillies fans are seeing this situation in an unrealistically optimistic light. One fan said he’d go no further than $10 million per year for Victorino. Another said $11 million. Another said $12 million.
Average annual salaries ranging from $10-12 million are too low. When Victorino said “if it’s a significant difference, I have to weigh my options,” this is likely what he meant. There is a huge difference between $12 million and the $18 million per season that he deserves. Over a four- or five-year deal, that is a total of $24-30 million, which was the inheritance distributed to Michael Jackson’s children.
In situations like this, compromising by bridging the gap is often the best course of action in getting a deal done. And Victorino wants to get that deal done quickly.
The middle-ground between $12MM and $18MM is $15 million. So that’s our annual average value.
But five years, at $15MM a pop? That’s where that “hometown discount” comes back to play a role. The Phillies should give Victorino four years with a team or mutual option, but not five. To make him feel a little better about the non-guaranteed fifth year, they can boost the value of the deal slightly by throwing in an extra $2.5 million.
The end result? A four-year, $62.5 million contract extension for Victorino.
Is $15.625 million per season affordable for the Phillies?
Signing Victorino to that annual average value and signing Cole Hamels for roughly $21 million per season would put the Phils’ 2013 payroll at $149 million, for 10 players. That leaves 15-20 open roster spots and about $30 million before the luxury tax kicks in.
Between 8-10 of those open spots will be filled by cheap, young guys like John Mayberry, Domonic Brown, Michael Martinez and the plethora of impressive home-grown relievers. Add in those salaries at an average of $500,000 and the Phillies would be at $154 million for 20 players. Hunter Pence‘s final year of arbitration would brings that number to about $168 million. Picking up Carlos Ruiz‘s option would bring it to $173 million.
The end result is that, yes, the Phillies can afford to extend both Hamels and Victorino (and eventually Pence, just not until next year). The casualty is that they won’t be able to sign a top-tier third baseman.
So I guess the question you must ask yourself is, “Do I want Victorino in center, or do I want a top-tier third baseman?”
The only player who will be both worth it and available next winter — if his option isn’t picked up or he is traded before-hand — is some guy named David Wright.