Two riveting developments exploded a dull month of January for the Astros. Left-handed starter Wandy Rodriguez agreed to a three-year contract extension, according to ESPN Deportes and MLBTR, and Hunter Pence could not come to an agreement with Houston on a contract and will head to arbitration.
I will have a piece over at SB Nation Houston analyzing the Hunter Pence angle in the morning, which is equally as interesting as Wandy for entirely different reasons. Here, I want to look at what Wandy's contract means on a couple of different levels.
First, it's a big contract, but it's not long-term. I mean, it is for three years, but the Astros are buying out one of his arbitration-controlled seasons, so they're really only committing to him for two seasons past that (with a vesting option on the fourth). It's a big commitment without a big commitment. This contract, reportedly worth 34 million over those three years, will not be burdensome on the front office, either. Wandy was already set to make 8 or 9 million in 2011.
Actual details of the contract haven't been released, but I wouldn't be surprised if his 2011 salary is slightly reduced from the AAV of 11.33 million, to hit a number around 7 or 8 million. It's also right in line with the contract Ted Lilly received from the Dodgers this winter. Lilly is a similar pitcher to Rodriguez, both in age and performance, so it's not surprising that the two contracts match up so well. For reference, Lilly's contract pays him 7 million in 2011, but he received a 3.5 million dollar signing bonus that brings the value of the deal up to 33 million.
If anything, this contract makes Wandy more attractive if the Astros choose to deal him in a year or two. The stability of this deal could make some teams more willing to deal prospects for him, rather than if he was heading to free agency after this season. Granted, it's unlikely they choose to do that after making him the team's highest-paid pitcher (he makes 10 million more than Brett Myers).
The other thing to look at is what Wandy's marginal value will be to the Astros over the course of this deal. According to FanGraphs, Wandy has been worth 60.1 million over the past six seasons and has been paid 8.78 million. That's 51.32 million in surplus value to the team, assuming a Win Above Replacement is worth about 4.5 million on the open market.
If the Astros assume Wandy will produce an average of 3.0 WAR over the life of this deal, he'd be worth anywhere from 40 to 45 million over the next three years and over 50 million over the next four. Now, projecting anyone out for more than a year down the road is fraught with peril, but it looks like Wandy will be paid something close to what he'll be worth to the Astros. What's better, the team could gain around 5 to 7 million in surplus value from Wandy over that time. So, he has the potential to both be paid handsomely and still be a bargain for the team.
Okay, so let's look at what this might mean for his legacy as an Astro. Wandy has a record of 62-64 in his career. Assuming he wins 10 games a year over the course of this contract (counting the vesting year), he'd move up into ninth place in franchise history. He'd need to win 48 games to tie Mike Scott for fourth place on the all-time list and 75 wins to tie Larry Dierker for third (which likely won't happen). With 838 strikeouts, he'd need to average just 175 strikeouts per year for the next three to pass Mike Scott for fifth place. Add in another season of 150 or more strikeouts and only Roy Oswalt and Nolan Ryan would have more as an Astro.
As for how he'll age, Wandy has never been about velocity. According to FanGraphs, his average fastball velocity since 2005 is 89.4 and he averaged 89.6 in 2010. He threw the same percentage of curves last season, but was much less effective with the pitch. Instead, he picked up his change and had a positve run value with the pitch for the first time in his career. Wandy has all the trappings of a pitcher who could age well.
Now, for the important part...let's look at what we here at TCB predicted Wandy might get. Not to brag or anything, but back when Zachary Levine wrote that the Astros were working on a contract extension, I surmised that Wandy could fetch a three year deal worth 33 million. The most propetic, though? AstroB's comment at the end of that article, when he predicted 3 years/34 million with a fourth year option that kicks in when a certain number of innings are hit. Which is almost exactly the contract Wandy got. Joshua, are you one of Wandy's agents? Are you a witch? Let's clear this up right now...
I'm probably going to be in the minority here in that I don't think this is that bad a contract. Yes, there is some risk and yes, the Astros are paying Wandy to be a top-flight starter when he struggled to open 2010. But, if you look at his season on the balance, Wandy was just as good as in 2009 and he's sure to be better than anything the Astros might dig up on the free agent market. What do you think? Is this a good contract? What are the potential downfalls? Does this necessarily preclude a Wandy trade next winter?