Thursday, July 12, 2007

Optimus Pronk

Travis Hafner and the Cleveland Indians have agreed to a four year contract extension, according to the team’s website. According to the press release, exact financial details were not immediately available, though reported the value of the extension at $57 million. The deal reportedly includes a club option for 2013.

The last year (2008) of Hafner’s old contract was reportedly reworked to give him a raise for that year. The new deal kicks in at the beginning of the 2009 season and ends in 2012 but, the club option for 2013 would actually add a fifth and final year onto the contract.

Given the previous contract talks already in place and Hafner’s struggles to meet expectations in the first half this season, I had a strong feeling a deal would be announced during the All Star break. It’s not yet clear who was calling the shots on getting a contract done so early: Shapiro, Scott Parker (the agent), or Hafner.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Hafner decided to take more of an active role in finishing the deal. There has been speculation that the pressure to perform leading up to his walk year has been a key factor in Hafner’s slump this season. It’ll be interesting to hear what’s on Pronk’s mind, assuming he gets interviewed at the press conference.

Like Shapiro’s previous contract negotiations, details were kept in-house until the deal was finalized and announced by Shap himself. I’m sure the players and their agents appreciate the privacy they are afforded during negotiations. The added pressure and speculation from the media in the bigger markets can often result in chaos and tends to complicate or even slow a transaction.

The best comparison for Hafner’s new contract was the extension David Ortiz signed in 2006 with Boston (contract terms taken from Cot’s Baseball Contracts)

Ortiz has a 4 year, $52 million contract (2007-2010), plus a $12.5 million club option for 2011.

Hafner has a 4 year, $57 million contract (2009-2012), plus an unknown salary for the club option in 2013.

Given the recent insanity on the free agent market, Hafner’s contract has the potential to be a blockbuster deal for the Tribe. Hafner will be 34 at the end of his core contract, offering the team crucial flexibility (payroll restrictions or otherwise; /knocks on wood) when the time comes for the fifth year team option. So essentially, Shapiro prevented the current market from bullying negotiations, locked up yet another core player and fan favorite, and possibly relieved one of his best offensive players of a significant mental burden. Excellent job, no matter what angle you look at it.

It seems Cleveland fans are somewhat divided over whether Hafner or Sabathia should be signed first. Outside of a major payroll hike, there will not be enough money to sign both to long-term contracts without crippling the general manager’s flexibility. I won’t go into detail on the debate for this post, but I’ve always been in the party that losing Hafner would make the biggest long-term impact. At the moment, the Indians do not have a way of replacing Hafner’s production in the lineup and there aren’t any AAA prospects that project to have that kind of presence either. Sabathia on the other hand, has über-prospect Adam Miller joining the rotation next season. Miller has a much better chance of developing into an ace than Cleveland does in finding another Hafner in the next two years.

Even if Sabathia walks, Shapiro has already locked up the rest of the team’s core player through 2010. Again, all contract information is taken from Cot’s Baseball Contracts:

Sizemore: 6 years/$23.45M (2006-11), plus $8.5M 2012 club option

Peralta: 5 years/$13M (2006-2010), plus $7M 2011 club option

Westbrook: 3 years/$33M (2008-10)

Martinez: 5 years/$15.5M (2005-09), plus $7M 2010 club option

Lee: 4 years/$15M (2006-09), plus 2010 club option

I wouldn’t consider Lee to be a “core” player, but given the outrageous contracts pitchers have been getting lately, the fact that we have him on the cheap is reassuring. That doesn’t even include Barfield, Carmona, Raffy Perez, Shoppach or Garko, who are under team control for multiple years as well.

If Cleveland played in a weaker division, they would have a chance to follow in Atlanta’s footsteps: maintaining a core, signing veteran role-players, and reloading every few years with the next crop of blue chip prospects. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple this time around, but Shapiro has positioned the Tribe to contend for quite a while.

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