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Thursday Rockpile: More on Carlos Gonzalez, a lot more.

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If a robot from the future were to tell me that the Colorado Rockies would be the MLB team to commit the most future money in new contracts this winter in October 2010, I probably would have screamed, because that would really be kind of freaky. I guess the robot thing would be kind of freaky, too. At any rate, I probably would have guessed that this meant the Rockies got Victor Martinez for an outrageous sum and also re-signed Jorge De La Rosa to a too long, too much type of deal. Instead, we got JDLR at a reasonable rate, but the shocker has been extensions to what can only be considered franchise cornerstones at this point. Remember when the Rockies were like the Nationals are now? When we had little hope of convincing players like Matt Holliday to stay and we'd get implied digs at the organization's commitment to winning when they left?

Those days are certainly gone and I couldn't be happier, but that said, I'm confounded that everybody on the Internet doesn't share this joy with me. Not that Jeff Aberle didn't do a good job of this yesterday, but I'm going to take some time to list some of my own rebuttals (it's why this post is so late) to some of the criticisms of the deal. I'll put more links up in a little bit, as this post has waited long enough. 

1. It's too early/the Rockies didn't have to extend these players right now. Why not wait?

Dave Cameron at FanGraphs is particularly fond of this argument against both the Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez extensions. The basic premise here is that since both Tulowitzki and Gonzalez are coming off of excellent seasons, and since both Tulo and CarGo still had several more seasons of team control before free agency, the Rockies would have been better served financially by waiting for a season of regression from either player with the added bonus that there would be some increased protection for the club from catastrophic risk (i.e. if either player breaks down completely in the next two years, the team would be able to breathe a sigh of relief that it didn't go that route).

On the first point, there's likely some truth, as Gonzalez, for instance, really isn't likely to repeat his 2010 season in 2011. That said, this assumption of regression is already priced into what the Rockies did sign him for, just about any reasonable projection system agrees that the contract isn't going too far out on a limb in projected WAR/$ spent. The same thing applies to the Tulowitzki contract, the regression is already factored in. By signing both of these star players early, the Rockies are taking uncertainty out of their offensive blueprint for the next decade, and can focus now on other areas.

2. Carlos Gonzalez' 2010 production is unsustainable

BABIP by month since Gonzalez was recalled from Colorado Springs on June 5, 2009 

  • June 2009 .300
  • July 2009 .324
  • August 2009 .377
  • Sep/Oct 2009: .418 (includes 2009 NLDS)
  • April 2010: .397
  • May 2010: .329
  • June 2010: .333
  • July 2010: .441
  • August 2010: .353
  • Sep/Oct 2010: .440

The longer a player repeats a behavior, the more likely that it is a learned skill and not a random variance. Gonzalez' batting average on balls in play is pretty certain to go down in 2011, but by how far remains to be seen. Most projections call for his BABIP to regress to right around .350, which would be pretty close to his overall career rate, but well under what he's done as a Rockie, and even further under what he's done since becoming a regular in the Colorado lineup in July of 2009. One of the things that we know about Gonzalez is that there have not been very many players to take advantage of Coors Field in the manner that he has.

Which brings me to the next point many will bring up: Gonzalez can only hit at Coors Field - guess which Gonzalez had a higher OPS at PETCO stadium last season, Carlos, or Adrian? For the last two months of the 2010 season, CarGo's road split was .348/.408/.598. In April it was .394/.394/.552. It's those three months in between that you probably don't want to look up. For the CarGo optimist, however, try this story and see how it fits: Young player finds his hitting stroke at the end of 2009, early 2010. Mid-2010, thanks to some advance scouting, the pitchers adjust, find out that he has a weakness with FB's and pitches outside the strikezone on the road that they can't exploit so easily at Coors Field. Late 2010, Gonzalez adjusts back. Pitchers' heads asplode.

It fits a bit, doesn't it? After having zero walks on the road in April, Gonzalez had ten in the last two months, with only one intentional pass. FanGraphs looked a bit into his improving plate discipline in this article, while amateur scouts cite Alfonso Soriano comparisons in the comments. If Gonzalez does have a Soriano type of career, that itself would be fine for me, but I think the comp's laughable given how much of an advantage Gonzalez has with how he handles those pitches that do find their way into the strike zone.

Off Topic

3. It's not as good as the deal ____ got (Ryan Braun, Jay Bruce, Dustin Pedroia, etc..,)

Just because some teams choose to employ idiots that don't know their own worth doesn't make this a bad deal for the Rockies. There's often an assertion that these contracts are all win-win for both the player and the team, the Rockies deals with Tulowitzki and Gonzalez show that this really isn't entirely true. One side has been winning far more than the other. Everybody knows it, why not come out and say it. Comparing contracts is all well and good, but it's not particularly useful without context. Pedroia's self devaluation likely in part helped the Red Sox sign Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez this winter because the Red Sox actually do profit from player mistakes like that. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, has done.., what exactly, with all the extra money they've supposedly banked from Evan Longoria's blunder? They haven't locked any other player to an extension and let Crawford walk. The most I can tell is last year's splurge on an elite closer, Rafael Soriano, who they're also letting walk. The market a player signs in should be taken in context with the deals they make with their team. 

4. It's for too long.

No, what's too long is this Rockpile.

What carries more risk for a young player? A one year contract, or a seven year contract?
Let's assume you have a one in seven chance of a player having a lost season due to injury, bad luck or whatever. You sign a young player to a one year deal, and that catastrophe risk looms largest as 14% of the time, you get nothing for your investment. If you sign the same player to a seven year contract, you're almost certain to have a lost season, and might even have two if you're unlucky, but you're also virtually guaranteeing yourself at least some return. Todd Helton's major extension with the Rockies is a very good example of this. The end's been a pain in the back, literally, with a couple of these lost seasons, but the Rockies received a lot of the value from the contract in the front and enough otherwise to return their investment.

This argument's based solely on anecdotal evidence, i.e. players like Carlos Baerga who did happen to flop after nice beginnings, rather than actuarial evidence which suggests that contracts like this will usually be pretty safe for position players.

5. Too much money is being tied up with two players

Forbes estimated the Rockies revenue prior to the 2010 season to be $183 million. The Monforts themselves have said that they keep the payroll at 50% of revenue, which would imply $170M-$176M revenue for last season, and if Aberle's $87.9  million estimate for the 2011 Opening Day Payroll is correct, we can assume they're expecting at least another $176 million in revenue this year. They've also said that they expect revenues to increase over the next ten years (at some unknown figure less than 2%/year) and are projecting a pretty substantial increase in attendance for the coming season.

All of these facts put together with the Tulowitzki and Gonzalez extensions, as well as a proposed Ubaldo Jimenez extension to be negotiated next winter, suggest a few things. First, this will come as a big shock, I know, but don't expect the Rockies to pursue major free agents in coming years. The team's continuing to rely on its own system to sustain itself. This model has worked for the team to get it where it's at, the only difference from 2006 to 2010 and beyond is that instead of one veteran star to build around (Helton), the Rockies will presumably have three.

Second, the two and maybe three huge commitments to the payroll in the 2015 season plus the aggressive forecast for 3 million fans at Coors Field in 2011 suggests that the Rockies might be expecting the bulk of that revenue growth to come over the next three or four seasons. Like I was suggesting with the Tulowitzki extension, Rockies fans can also certainly expect a rise in ticket prices over the coming years, but the commitment these contracts show to a better on-field product should make that more palatable. 

Basically the sum of this counter-argument would be that the Rockies are not necessarily showing fiscal imprudence in signing players to these extensions. As long as the revenue stream supports a supporting cast, there shouldn't be a concern.