The St. Louis Cardinals completed an agreement to keep first baseman Allen Craig in tow last week, but very well may have done much more than just that. The deal is a study in the obscure: both completely team and player friendly contract that helps both parties roughly equally. But to understand this, a grasp on the first base market, the financial position of the Cardinals and the club’s future forecast must be fully considered.
Understanding the first base market is essential to knowing how much of an exception the deal truly is. Craig, who will turn 29 in July, signed a 5-year extension that will carry through his 33rd birthday. First base is regularly one of the most lucrative in baseball, and upper tier contracts at the position are second to only top notch starting pitchers. To sample this, here is a breakdown of what each National League first baseman will take home this year (age – 2013 salary):
Pre arbitration group (Based on 2012 figures):
8. Ike Davis: 26 ($3.6M-Super Two)*
10. Yonder Alonso: 26 ($1M)*
11. Freddie Freeman: 23 ($535,000)*
12. Anthony Rizzo: 23 ($498,000)*
13. Paul Goldschmidt: 25 ($482,000)*
14. Brandon Belt: 25 ($481,000)
15. Logan Morrison: 25 ($434,000)
9. Allen Craig: 28 ($1.75M)
The unique property of Craig’s deal is it still behaves like an arbitration deal through what would have been his those seasons (2014-16). He is the lowest paid non-arbitration eligible first baseman in the National League. However, it has securities that are manageable for the club, and secure for the player. Craig’s deal is for a guaranteed total of $31 million through the first five guaranteed years, with a sixth as a team option at $13 million for 2018. By that time Craig would be 34 years old, and entering his decline regardless of what he has accomplished in between. His peak should be at the average MLB point, which is generally 28-33, which is the heart of what the deal covers. The average per season value of this deal would be $6.2 million person, which falls in the heart of the middle-class of current market first base deals.
With the majority of the current holders of the biggest deals seeing them expire during the life of Craig’s deal, while other up and comers (Rizzo, Goldschmidt, Belt, Freeman) due for major raises over the next five years, Craig’s deal will continue to be a bargain for years to come, even as it escalates on annual per year value each season. In 2014, the payout is $2.75M, in ’15 $2.74M, then $5.5 and $9M in 2015 and 2016, respectively. The final two years are potentially worth $24 million, if the option for the final season is activated. If the roof of the current middle class of National League first base deals is considered Hart and LaRoche’s $10 million mark, then Craig will remain a reasonable signing at a high pay position for 66% of the life of his contract. Not too bad.
It is the perfect deal for the place that the Cardinals find themselves in annually in the market. A small market team, which competes at a slightly above middle-class payroll, and is in the midst of controlled turnover. The 2013 Cardinals will be the most expensive collection the team has ever fielded, coming in at just over $115 million. In the next two years, contracts for Adam Wainwright, Carlos Beltran, Rafael Furcal and Jake Westbrook will all expire, while arbitration numbers for David Freese, Jon Jay, Lance Lynn, Mitchell Boggs and Matt Carpenter will all increase. While a potential extension for Wainwright, along with a rising rate for Jaime Garcia will eat up more of the team’s available dollars, the team is in a very envious position, with very manageable talent-to-dollar control returns.
And for the club to continue to compete at its current level, that’s what the Cardinals must always have; a certain amount of “bang for the buck” deals. Craig’s contract sets precedence for that. He is one of the most productive hitters on the team and at a similar age as the rest of the team’s late-blooming core. With Craig’s mark setting somewhere of the competitive medium for deals on the maturing team, there is an increased chance of keeping the current core together and reasonably priced, while the promise the Cardinals farm is showing grows and inhabits the low price, controlled years they are moving out of right now.