The ink was barely dry on the back of that copy of the Declaration of Independence they probably used for Joey Votto's contract that we learned Brandon Phillips will be earning $72.5M over 6 seasons (2012-2017).
A lot of stuff has already been said about both of these big, fat, surprising contracts. The best encapsulation of the value the Reds are gambling on with Joey comes from FanGraphs:
At some point in the next 12 years, Joey Votto will stop being worth $20 million per year. If he's worth $30 million per year for a number of seasons up to that point, though, the Reds won't care.
In average annual value, Votto will be paid $20.83M per year over the next 12 years - putting him 19th on the all time list for average annual value (behind Braun, A-Gon, Fielder, Mauer et al.) While it might be hard to convince a future '20s Reds' fan, the team didn't overpay on a strict yearly basis.
Phillips gets a little over $12M over the next six years, less than Kinsler's $15M AAV and just south of the AAV on extensions for Uggla and Utley. Utley's extension covered a different age range, while Kinsler is a more valuable player than BP. But it's hard to argue, especially if you think BP's defense is elite, that either BP or Votto is being overpaid for their early 30s.
Which is why I wanted to take a stab at when either - or both - of these contracts might become a burden to the Reds.
While it was probably impossible not to lock up Votto or BP for an uncomfortable amount of time, neither of these contracts look bad in the near term. Votto does not make over $19M until 2016, while BP keeps his current salary through the life of his contract (to be exact, it's a $500K pay-cut each season, compared to his 2012 salary).
Next season, Joey Votto makes $19M (with his bonus payout included). Assuming a somewhat modest increase to a $90M payroll, Phillips and Votto combined would take up 34% of payroll. That sounds pretty ugly, especially if the Reds can't find savings with cost-controlled younger players to fill out the rest of the roster.
Oddly enough, things look better in 2014, when BP and Votto will be making the same salary ($12M). With payroll at $90M, they're down to a 27% combined share. And it's not out of the question that payroll could be closer to $100M.
From 2014-2015, Phillips and Votto will range around 24%-32% of payroll. I think Phillips and Votto are capable of contributing at least 20% of overall team WAR for the next few seasons. That means somewhere in the range of 10-15 WAR combined on a 90 win team. Essentially, if the Reds are winning and Phillips and Votto are playing over the next three seasons similar to how they have over roughly the last three, the plan will have worked out nicely.
It's optimistic to think they'll both be at least 5 WAR-caliber for more than a few more seasons, but Inflation in players' salaries could make these contracts look better, though that inflation will have to be reflected with an increased payroll. It's anyone's guess what the payroll will be from 2013 onward, but we'll have to hope the ownership knows they probably can't pay the rest of the roster at league minimum and be competitive.
2016 and beyond
Around 2016 is where the ground gets shaky. BP will be 35 in 2016, while Votto will be 32.
FanGraphs has a largely encouraging post on Votto's comparables. With a healthy inflation rate and a healthy Votto, the Reds figure to net out to roughly the right value - saving now and overpaying later. If he's still MVP-caliber over the next five seasons to go along with playoff baseball, it will break up the tie in any final, dollars-for-WAR accounting.
Phillips' ability to live up to his contract turns more heavily on his defense. With disagreement between TotalZone and other defensive metrics and questions about their reliability in general, it's hard to get a handle on how good his glove is now.
So it's even harder to speculate what it will be five years from now. He needs to be around a 3.0 win player or above every season to be worth his salary. Granting him around one win (1 FanGraphs WAR) for his fielding would go a long way. If you think he's as good as UZR and most fans seem to, you could spot him an average of one win her season over his contract.
Being more conservative, we can ask: will be able to take a baseline of being at least league-average defensive 2B through the life of his contract and turn it into consistent seasons of 2.5-3.0 WAR hitting?
His most similar BBRef hitters through his current season are:
Phillips gets docked a little here for being a slow-starter. If you sift out some of the chaff, half of this list - Bobby Grich, Joe Gordon (HOF), Bret Boone, Jeff Kent and Toby Harrah - are all encouraging examples.
What's interesting about this group is that they all pretty much fall below the 3.0 WAR threshold once they reach age 35. The one exception is Kent, who reached base and hit for much better power than Phillips. Phillips will be 35 and 36 in the final two years of his contract
What about players who had the kind of season BP id in 2011 at or around age 30?
Below are 18 second basemen in the last 30 years who:
- Were age 29-31
- Got on base between a .335 - .375 clip
- Slugged between .430 - .470
Of those players who have had the chance to play until age 37, the average age of decline to below 3.0 WAR (or retired) was 33. This is pretty subjective, given comeback years and close calls, but I think between age 33-35 is the drop-off point for a player like Brandon Phillips. Let's call it 34, which would be 2015 for BP.
Can we play baseball now?
It can be paraphrased for BP what was said for Votto: if he plays over the next three or four seasons like he did in 2011, the Reds won't be too concerned if he drops off the map in the last few seasons of his deal.
Basically, for a presidential term (2012-2015 seasons), these two contracts are going to make a lot of sense. If payroll moves toward $100M soon, they also won't be obstacles to maintaining a competitive team during that time frame. After about '15 or '16, we're in uncharted waters.