Nearly a full twenty-four hours since Ed Wade announced on MLB Network that the Astros were pretty much just dotting the i's and crossing the t's on a Brett Myers extension, Alyson Footer let us know that the deal was finally done (there must have been a lot of i's and t's). The deal reportedly will carry Myers through 2012 for $21 million, with club option that could vest through performance in 2013, then raising the value of the contract to $28 over three years. Finally, there are some built in performance bonuses that could add an additional $1.5 million to Myers' payout.
In a week that has seen tumultuous changes to the shape and trajectory of the Astros franchise, capping it off with the extension of Brett Myers feels like an odd move. Why? Because many, myself included, viewed Myers as the trade chip to end all trade chips to infuse the Astros farm system with blue chip blood. Yesterday, rumors did swirl that many offers were being made by teams to acquire Myers, but none that Ed Wade found impressive enough to send Myers, turning thirty in two weeks, away in what is too simply described as his career year (a decision I cannot find fault in given the meager returns that pitchers were generating on the trade market this year).
It is one thing to not undersell Brett Myers, but it is another thing entirely to sign him to a 2-3 year extension within forty-eight hours of stripping the Astros of Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. And it is because of the timing of Myers' extension that it should not simply be analyzed in terms of dollars and cents; the same way that the trading of Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman were not so much about winning or losing the trades, but rather about the message it sends to us—the fan base—about where the Astros are heading. As such, evaluating Myers' extension is not just about present, future, and surplus value because whatever we think those values may be have to fit with an organization that is like a battleship trying to turn around on rough seas.
There is not doubt about the fact that Myers, at $3.1 million this year, has made Ed Wade look like a genius. His 3.10 ERA and 21 consecutive starts of 6IP+ are thoroughly impressive—generating value not simply through racking up innings, but racking up premium innings. This finds Myers currently among the top-25 pitchers in all of baseball in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and he has created more than $8 million in surplus value to date.
While Myers' innings pitched totals are not surprising, his ERA is. Unfortunately, it is not an accurate representation of his true talent—and therefore value. No matter which true-talent ERA estimator we employ, we see differentiation: 3.71 FIP, 3.61 tERA, 3.87 xFIP, 3.83 SIERA. In fact, what we see beyond differentiation, is a tightly bunched group of measures that suggest Myers' current performance is not indicative of his true capabilities by about 1/2 to 3/4 of a run per nine innings. In other words, Brett Myers has gotten lucky in 2010.
Given that Myers' luck has certainly been driven by good fortune with the long-ball (8.5% HR/FB compared to a career rate of 14.8% and a league average around 12%) xFIP/SIERA are the measures I am putting the most stock in because of the way they regress HR/FB rates. Thankfully, though, outside of a seemingly lucky HR/FB, there is no other area that Myers is having really good fortune. In fact, Myers has seen a drop off in BB and an uptick in GBs—something I am pleased to see as both are components that are pitching skill.
Breaking down Myers' numbers from 2010, along with his career xFIP of 3.89, suggests his future performance will likely be anchored to the same talent he is working with this year, but that we cannot expect the same luck to accompany his performance. The expectation, moving forward than, is that Myers is certainly not an ace in terms of talent, but is still a pitcher who can eat innings with with above average results. Taking what we know about Myers' true talent and durability, it is not a stretch to say that he will be a 2-3 WAR pitcher in his early thirties.
Myers' deal, as reported by Zach Levine, will be paid as follows: $7 million in 2011, $11 million in 2012, $10 million in 2013 should his option vest or be picked up ($3 million buyout if the option doesn't vest) and a $2 million signing bonus. Going off current WAR valuation of $4.5 million per win, and the likelihood that the option is a readily attainable IP total, Myers needs to produce 2.2 wins/per season over the three period to break even (If the Astros decide to buyout his contract, should it not vest, he would need produce 2.6 WAR/season). It seems likely, then, that Myers is a strong bet to provide surplus value to the Astros, especially when consider the numbers I just calculated were not adjusted for time value or inflation.
In isolation, then, Myers' contract looks good. Ed Wade has signed a innings eating pitcher with a no. 2 starter talent for his age 30, 31, and, if things go well for Myers, 32 seasons. Still, though, Wade has committed about $10 million per season to Myers on a team with no plans of contention until 2013—realistically. How then can spending that much money be justified?
The payment of the contract provides the first clue, to me. The Astros will pay Myers only $7 million in 2011, a year when Hunter Pence, Wandy Rodriguez, Matt Lindstrom, and Michael Bourn will likely see a meaningful bump to their salaries through arbitration. Heading into 2011, the Astros still have less than $50 million in committed payroll, and likely around $70 million in total payroll if only in house options are utilized to fill the remaining roster space. With Wandy Rodriguez set to depart the Astros sometime in 2011, most likely, either via trade or free agency at the season's end, the Astros will truly begin to lean on the likes of Paulino, Norris, Happ, Wright, Lyles, Keuchel, and other in house options. Shedding Wandy's contract, makes Myers' salary escalation in 2012 far more palatable—especially in conjunction with the potential infusion of league minimum salaries to fill out the rotation.
But we still have yet to answer why Myers is so valuable to the future of that Astros organization that he could neither be traded nor allowed to leave via free agency? The answer, which has been discussed widely in the last twenty-four hours, is fairly straight forward: All of those names listed carry question marks with them—either injury, consistency, or both—and Myers' penchant for turning out 190-200IP seasons is then incredibly valuable in easing the pressure that both those arms and bullpen arms will face. Thus, Keeping Myers through 2012, at a minimum, provides the Astros with a reliable innings eater as Jordan Lyles and Dallas Keuchel likely get a shot in the rotation, while Felipe Paulino and Bud Norris continue to stabilize. If things to go well for Myers, then the same can then be said of 2013.
Myers, therefore, has a defined role with the Astros as they transition in the next two to three seasons, and it is not as a rotation ace. Myers' deal, to me, is about insurance. The one clear signal this signing sends is that Ed Wade is placing a tremendous amount of emphasis on the young arms in the Astros organization. There are bevy of names we can list as hopeful members of the 2011, 2012, and 2013 starting rotations and having someone with Myers' true-talent and durability only aids in their development—limiting the necessity to extend their innings, promote too aggressively, or push to hard in return from injury.
An average salary of $10 million is certainly a sizable sum of money to pay someone who can be thought of as an insurance policy, but Myers is still more than just insurance. In the final year of his contract he will be 33. While his talent may have eroded by then, the fact that he does not rely on an over-powering fastball, is showing an increase command, and is generating more groundballs suggest that the erosion will likely be slight. It is not absurd to suggest that in 2013 he could play a vital role in a potential push for the postseason as back end of the rotation pitcher performing as no. 3 or 4 starter.
I feel as though Ed Wade could have tailored this contract extension better by having the option year be 2014 to drivedown the dollar amounts in each year of the contract. Perhaps that simply was not an option, though. Alternatively, Ed Wade has been following Brett Myers since he was 16, so there is also the possibility that Wade questions Myers' ability to perform at his current level for much longer. The other possibility I keep rolling over in my mind is that Wade seems to have placed a premium on not having meaningful contract commitments passed 2012.
At the end of the day though, there is nothing to get upset about in Myers' contract. There is also nothing to praise about it either. Myers fits with the presumed trajectory we can envision with the club, but I find it to be a slightly uncomfortable fit—like an ill-fitting suit