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Don't worry about the Votto and Phillips Contracts until at least 2016

Now that they have a mountain of cash, they can spend their time patting each other on the head and not caring which end of the bat to use.
Now that they have a mountain of cash, they can spend their time patting each other on the head and not caring which end of the bat to use.

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:

Bobby Grich
Gil McDougald
Davey Johnson
Eric McNair
Juan Uribe
Felipe Lopez
Toby Harrah
Jeff Kent
Joe Gordon
Bret Boone

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
Rk Player OPS+ OBP SLG PA Year Age Tm SB CS BA OPS
1 Ben Zobrist 132 .353 .469 674 2011 30 TBR 19 6 .269 .822
2 Robby Thompson 128 .352 .447 573 1991 29 SFG 14 7 .262 .799
3 Tony Bernazard 124 .362 .456 636 1986 29 CLE 17 8 .301 .818
4 Mark Loretta 120 .372 .441 653 2003 31 SDP 5 4 .314 .814
5 Brandon Phillips 119 .353 .457 675 2011 30 CIN 14 9 .300 .810
6 Dan Uggla 111 .354 .459 668 2009 29 FLA 2 1 .243 .813
7 Ray Durham 111 .366 .441 469 2003 31 SFG 7 7 .285 .807
8 Brian Roberts 110 .356 .451 717 2009 31 BAL 30 7 .283 .807
9 Lou Whitaker 110 .338 .437 651 1986 29 DET 13 8 .269 .775
10 Mark Ellis 109 .336 .441 642 2007 30 OAK 9 4 .276 .777
11 Orlando Hudson 107 .367 .450 455 2008 30 ARI 4 1 .305 .817
12 Jose Vidro 107 .367 .454 467 2004 29 MON 3 1 .294 .821
13 Mark Bellhorn 107 .373 .444 620 2004 29 BOS 6 1 .264 .817
14 Ray Durham 106 .337 .466 691 2001 29 CHW 23 10 .267 .804
15 Freddy Sanchez 104 .343 .442 653 2007 29 PIT 0 1 .304 .784
16 Tadahito Iguchi 104 .342 .438 582 2005 30 CHW 15 5 .278 .780
17 Todd Walker 103 .353 .431 675 2002 29 CIN 8 5 .299 .785
18 Damion Easley 99 .346 .434 627 1999 29 DET 11 3 .266 .779
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/10/2012.

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.