In yesterday’s post about the overheated Cuban free agent market, I made reference to Chicago Cub RF Jorge Soler. His deal with the Cubs was a 9 yr/$30M deal. Of all the “big ticket” deals made to Cuban defectors, this is the one that made the most sense to me.
Soler signed in June 2012 when he was 20. If the Cubs assumed it would take him two years in the minors during the remainder of 2012 and 2013, they would then have him under contract for his six standard years of service time with the Cubs (2014-2019) and they bought out one free agent year (2020).
Using the indispensable Cot’s Contracts, here’s the breakdown of Soler’s deal:
- $6M signing bonus
- 2012 — $1M
- 2013 — $1M
- 2014 — $2M
- 2015 — $2M
- 2016 — $3M
- 2017 — $3M
- 2018 — $4M
- 2019 — $4M
- 2020 — $4M
That’s an insanely good deal for the Cubs, right? Well, two things. As I hammered home (hopefully) yesterday, none of these Cuban defectors are proven commodities when they get to the United States. Soler could have never figured out how to hit a curve, seen upper 90’s heat with movement, or adjusted to life here. There’s risk.
The second thing is that once Soler is arbitration-eligible, he can opt out of the remaining salaries and go the standard route. So those dirt-cheap $3M and $4M salaries for a potential above-average starting RF will go out the door. But for the purpose of the article, let’s see how Soler’s team controlled salaries project against Gregory Polanco’s potential salaries. Soler and Polanco both debuted last year as 22-year olds (in real-time Polanco is 5 months older, but in baseball terms they are the same age), so they are on the same career timeline.
Soler projects to be a prototypical right fielder — power, good throwing arm, not a ton of speed. Polanco is a right fielder mostly because of pecking order. Good luck dislodging Andrew McCutchen from center AND the equally defensively-talented Starling Marte. Polanco projects to be a different type of right fielder — high teens of homers and lots of steals, especially if he is the leadoff hitter in 2015 and beyond. Here’s my rough projection on what each player is likely to achieve:
Soler: .280 AVG/.350 OBP/.480 SLG, 25 HR, 5 SB
Polanco: .280 AVG/.365 OBP/.460 SLG, 18 HR, 35 SB
Both will have a small bushel of outfield assists, as well. So what could Polanco expect to get in his arbitration years? If you go by those numbers I projected above, a good comparison (statistically, hopefully not personality wise) would be B.J. Upton. Upton went year-to-year with the Rays. In the three minimum salary years leading up to his first arbitration year, Upton put up the following triple slash line and averages for homers/steals:
Upton: .270 AVG/.358 OBP/.423 SLG, 18 HR, 36 SB
Heading into the 2010 season, Upton received $3M from the Rays. Considering that was five seasons ago, coupled with the fact that Polanco won’t even be eligible for arbitration until after the 2017 season, Polanco could expect to get at least $4M in his first arbitration season. Jon Jay from the Cardinals was arbitration-1 prior to 2014’s season and received $3.25M; his stats pale in comparison to what Polanco should produce.
Upton’s subsequent arbitration year salaries were $4.875M and $7M. Polanco could go $4M /$6.5M/$9M in his three years. Here’s how Polanco and Soler’s salaries would look graphically at the same time points of their careers:
|Polanco||$150,000||$0||$0||$0.25M *||$0.5M||$0.5M||$0.5M||$4M **||$6.5M **||$9M **|
* – pro-rated portion of $500,000 major league minimum ** – estimated salaries via arbitration
Again, Soler will most likely opt out prior to his arbitration years if he’s producing at all, but his contract shows that the Cubs were willing to front load the deal with a large signing bonus and greater-than-minimum salaries during his early years (especially when Soler was toiling in the minors). The Pirates signed Polanco as a 17-year old, so their smaller signing bonus correlated to the greater degree of risk than the Cubs buying a more-developed Soler as a 20-year old with experience in Cuba’s highest league.
Before Soler ever set foot on Wrigley Field’s grass, the Cubs invested $10M in him, compared to the $400,000 the Pirates essentially paid Polanco before he stood in front of the Clemente Wall. The Pirates’ tab will come due in the later years, of course, via arbitration — unless Polanco signs a team-friendly extension like Marte and McCutchen.
The total value of each player’s contract if played out? Soler’s is $30M, while Polanco’s will be $21.4M. Soler’s contract is no risk at all to the player. If he never made the majors, or got a career-ending injury, he would have $30M. If Soler performs as expected, he’ll make a lot more than that by opting out of arbitration. Polanco is in a different situation, which is why I think he’ll eventually sign a long-term extension with the team.