In an early December 8th tweet, Jon Heyman broke the news that former Boston Red Sox star and now-free agent Xander Bogaerts was taking his talents to San Diego. Signing a deal worth $280 million over 11 years despite currently being 30 years old, it looks as if Xander will glide into the California sunset as a very rich man. And while one may be able to enjoy seeing a premium player get his payday, there are lots of factors at play that can be easily overlooked. For starters – was Xander worth that amount of money? What precedent does this set for the rest of the market? In wanting to examine this transaction to the fullest extent, all of these angles and more will be considered.
Breaking Down the Deal
To truly understand the effects of this contract, its entirety needs to be laid out. The $280M/11-year contract makes out an average annual value of $25,454,545 per season. According to Spotrac, Xander will be paid the average annual value each year, with no raises or declines as the contract goes on.
This payment will continue until the 2033 season’s conclusion when Bogaerts will become an unrestricted Free Agent at the ripe age of 41. As of now, no signing bonus or options are apparent, making this deal somewhat straightforward. As is the case in most Free Agent signings, he is set to earn more than any prior year in his professional career.
He had previously signed a $120 million, six-year extension during the arbitration period in 2019, where he was set to average 20 million dollars per season. The contract allowed a player to opt out after 2022, which was exercised – the bet on himself yielded a nice return.
Measuring Comparable Deals
In general, a player’s evaluation can only be generated when there are other contracts to compare against. The market value for WAR is fairly variable at every position, making such comparisons necessary. Hence, that is what will be done. A priority will be given to the most recent contracts at the shortstop position, with a bit less weight for those that were signed in 2022. Each of the contracts will at least somewhat resemble the structure and age-timing as to astutely consider such an evaluation. Ergo, these are the contracts that will be utilized:
- Trea Turner: Signed in 2023 with Philadelphia Phillies for $300 million / 11 Years ($27.3M AAV) with no apparent signing bonus, Full No-Trade Clause, 50K Incentive for Regular Awards, and 500K Incentive for MVP.
Out of all of these, the deal with Trea Turner has to be the most similar. After all, Turner denied signing with the Padres before they acquired Xander. In Trea’s deal, he yielded about $20 million more than Bogaerts over the life of the contract, as well as several incentives.
Over the past two seasons, Xander produced 2.6 less fWAR than Turner, amounting to a difference of 21.7 million dollars in value via Fangraphs dollar value statistic. Turner provided much more value defensively and on the basepaths, which suggests that his overall game was heavily valued. Xander did manage to outperform Trea in offensive production in 2022, but only barely: the two had a 134 and 128 wRC+ respectively. When looking at the Baseball Savant measures about quality contact, a different story is told.
It appears as if Turner had the better season, beating the former Boston slugger in xwOBA, Barrel%, and Hard Hit% by somewhat decent amounts. Most of these factors conclusively point to the fact that Trea is worth more than Bogaerts, although is a 20 million dollar differential too much or too little?
If based on solely the past few seasons without future regressions, then Bogaerts should’ve been paid a bit less than Turner. Based on the growing price of WAR and the slight age differential between the two, it is likely that Bogaerts is overpaid relative to Trea. Bogaerts experienced a less steady production of value, which should have counted against him more in his contract due to the cost of uncertainty.
- Francisco Lindor: Signed in 2022 with New York Mets for $341 million / 10 years ($34.1M AAV), $21M signing bonus, Full No-Trade Clause after 2026, 50K incentive for regular awards and MVP, 100K for WS MVP, $50 million in deferred money after the end of the contract.
Lindor is making roughly 9 million dollars more per year than Xander Bogaerts is now, although the term of the deal is a tad shorter. Backed by multi-billionaire owner Steve Cohen, the Mets showed they were willing to pay anything for top-quality talent.
In this year’s winter meetings, the Padres exhibited somewhat of a similar attitude based on their prior offers. But, who was willing to pay the biggest premium? Signing for his Age 28 Season (compared to Xander’s 30), Lindor was coming off a 4.2 fWAR season where he was limited to 125 games. In another limited season in 2019 (143 games), he had managed to produce 5.8 fWAR, accounting for a total of 10 fWAR during those prior two seasons.
Xander managed 10.5 fWAR over the prior two seasons before his contract, although he did play in 26 more games than Francisco. In a comparison of the two, both have completely different makeups of where most of their value comes from. Lindor is regarded as a defensive-heavy value machine while producing some above-average offense (a career-high 132 wRC+).
On the other hand, Xander leans on his offensive production to add value, routinely having a wRC+ over 130 during the length of his career. It is worth noting that both skills diminish as a player gets older, although Xander’s would likely diminish sooner just to the age factor alone. And given that Fransisco has shown the ability for a higher ceiling, it is clear that he would be worth more, but to this extent?
With the loads of deferred money and bonuses that Fransisco is receiving versus his prior value and future outlook, it is clear that Lindor was overpaid in comparison to Bogaerts. The deal worked out during the first year for the Mets, with Lindor producing 6.8 fWAR.
But in the years following, this will likely be seen as a large overpay in comparison to other market deals. Bogaerts has showcased an astute ability to produce value, and while he may be slightly older, the performance differential would’ve justified a higher payment for Bogarts given that Lindor was the standard. The two are also similarly projected in WAR production during the following season (0.1 projected differential via Steamers), which suggests even further that Bogaerts was underpaid relatively to Lindor.
- Corey Seager: Signed in 2022 with Texas Rangers for $325 million / 10 years ($32.5M AAV), $5M signing bonus, as well as a limited 8-team no-trade clause.
In the last signing comparison, Corey’s move to the Rangers was a very big surprise, with the Rangers deciding to suddenly become big players and compete in blockbuster deals. Signing for his Age 28 season, Seager is currently set to be a Ranger for life, just like Xander is to the Padres. Uncomplicated in comparison to some of the other deals compared, Seager makes roughly 7 million dollars more per season, although Xander was guaranteed for a longer time.
In his prior two full seasons before signing the deal, Corey had accumulated 7.2 fWAR over 229 games, or 3.3 less fWAR, and 65 fewer games than Bogaerts over his prior two years. Throughout his career, Seager has consistently struggled with staying healthy – such calculations should’ve been factored into his contract evaluation. Other than that, the two are fairly similar makeup-wise. Both lean on their offensive value for most of their production, with Xander being somewhat more consistent in his ability and Seager having higher ebbs and lower flows.
Defensive-wise, they’re comparable, with Xander having a slight edge in baserunning. By most measures, Xander Bogaerts would be considered a better player than Corey Seager, producing value at a far more sustainable pace. So, what would yield such a premium differential?
The shortstop market was hot in 2021, with inflated prices likely being the norm. Such a market proved beneficial to Seager, who was able to lock down a very generous deal when better players would sign for much less in the year following. Each major category reveals that even despite the two-year age difference, Seager does not deserve to make, on average, $7 million more dollars per season. The projections again have similar production numbers for both players, making a drastic differential a bit surprising. Relative to the Seager standard, Bogaerts was very much underpaid on a value basis.
Projecting Future Performance and Value
No one can know for certain how Xander will do over the life of the contract. But, given assumptions can be made that will assume the most likely outcome of such a deal. As Xander is entering the latter half of his career, one can expect him to face a higher rate of regression in value produced.
On the other hand, the value of a single Shortstop WAR is likely going to go up during the life of a contract, adding a degree of insurance to this regression. With these two variables in mind, projecting what Xander needs to do for his team to break even on the transaction as well as the most likely outcomes will yield whether this deal will likely be successful.
The most important first step is finding the break-even point. To do that, the value of WAR needs to be considered. Over the last 8 years, the value of a shortstop WAR on the Free Agent market has stayed somewhat constant at 8 million dollars.
This constancy is not expected to continue, and therefore an estimated average of 9 million dollars per fWAR over the life of the contract will be considered. Using his average annual value of $25.5 million and dividing it by the estimated 9 million dollar cost of the fWAR, Xander needs to average approximately 2.8 fWAR over the life of the contract (31.1 fWAR total) for his team to break even.
The next step is projecting out the likelihood of his projection. The majority of projection systems use Monte Carlo simulators, which run millions of possible outcomes at random and average the result. The majority of this simulation comes back with a somewhat constant rate of regression for WAR, with the majority of players expected to lose between 0.2 and 0.3 in WAR per season.
For simplicity, we will not be using one of the said projection systems but assuming the constant loss of 0.3 fWAR due to his age. Keeping his 2023 projection of 4.5 fWAR in mind, he would be set to produce 33 fWAR over the life of his contract given the constant rate of regression.
This would yield his team about 17.1 million dollars in surplus value, meaning that the most likely event makes this deal slightly team-friendly. Of course, an array of possibilities can happen. Xander could just as easily far exceed that number, or regress at a much faster rate depending on how he holds up with age. As the life of the contract goes on, the rate of regression is less and less certain. Ergo, these long-time commitments are filled with risk.
It is worth noting that this simplified projection should be taken as a very rough guesstimate. All of these values seem somewhat likely in the future, although the slight change in a variable would cascade the effects onto the others. Such a methodology, at least in a similar form, should be utilized to consider whether signing a contract will likely yield excess value for a team.
With any major deal in the marketplace, a new precedent is set for spending. After all, there was an entire section dedicated to comparing a new contract to prior contracts. The two main names that remain in the marketplace that are somewhat comparable to Bogaerts are Carlos Correa and Dansby Swanson. Correa will likely serve as the premium target out of those two, as he has a much larger track record than Swanson.
The first suitor that comes to mind for Correa is the Chicago Cubs. All-the-sudden willing to compete in the Free Agency Market, Chicago has shown a willingness to make high-priced offers so that it can get back to its winning spirit. Saving millions of dollars in payroll over the past few years, setting up around a solid base such as Correa makes a degree of sense.
While I admittedly do not completely understand their strategy behind deciding to spend now, Correa would serve as a good starting point. The San Francisco Giants also make a lot of sense. Missing out on the Judge sweepstakes besides reportedly offering more money than the Yankees, the Giants have been looking to make a splash in this year’s free agency. And what better way to do that than by signing a great shortstop in Correa?
In any deal that he signs, Correa will likely yield a similar amount or more in comparison to Bogaerts. Carlos admittedly had an off-year in 2022 producing only 4.4 fWAR in 136 games, which could mainly be owed to his lack of defensive production. Last season, he produced 12.9 fewer Def Runs than this year.
His offense was slightly better when considering the run environment, although his baserunning marks proved to be the worst of his entire career. But given that he is slightly younger than Bogaerts and is projected to produce at a much higher rate, the recent down season should not ultimately hold him down.
For Dansby, the same teams are in the running, but some others are also in play. Specifically, the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers have shown that they will ultimately avoid Correa due to the strife with their fanbase, so Dansby seems to make sense for them to ultimately replace Trea Turner. Plus, they would likely have the most amount of dollars to spend on him. Dansby produced a career-high 6.4 fWAR in 2022, which exceeded his previous high of 3.4 fWAR.
Most of his value lies in defense, with his hitting serving as slightly above average with a 116 wRC+. His batted-ball profile backs up these numbers, as nothing is especially noteworthy. Producing at a career-high rate is somewhat unusual for a 28-year-old, although Steamers projections reveal that the season was likely an outlier, predicting that he will produce 3.2 fWAR during the 2023 season.
Xander had a much better, and longer track record than Dansby, suggesting that Swanson will likely yield less in a free-agent signing. It is possible that he could get a shortened contract due to his lack of extended production, although given the market, he would likely not agree to those terms.
Hence, seeing him get about $3-5 million less in average annual value as well as fewer years is likely all the difference there will be between Bogaerts and Dansby, even though the difference in value is much larger. While these future signings will likely not be as extreme as in 2021, the loss of Bogaerts in the available player pool will likely have a positive effect on the remaining free agents.
The Padres and Xander are officially set to be lifelong career partners, with the Padres sacrificing a good deal of their future spending power to secure some of the best available talents for now. Given that this has been their exact goal over the past few seasons, kudos to them.
Maybe it will finally pay off in the following years. But to that end, figuring out whether it was truly worth it to them, as well as the consequential effects, was the ultimate goal of this piece. To do so, Xander’s contract was compared to some comparable recent signings, with the more recent one showing the contract as an overpay and the 2021 contracts making it look like an underpay.
A very basic projection was laid out, which established the breakeven point of 31.1 fWAR over the life of the contract and the fact that a constant 0.3 fWAR regression each season would still likely yield the Padres a slight profit in excess value. And in examining the effects of the market, both Carlos Correa and Dansby Swanson look to cash in on a bit of extra change as the supply of shortstops available goes down.
Overall, the Padres took a big risk, by signing such an aged player to such a long contract. And while the deal may not be as good as the earlier-mentioned Trea Turner deal, there is still an average situation where the Padres don’t at least lose money. They are not getting the deal of the century, as evidenced in any major free agent signing, but they are getting a new franchise player for about what he should cost. And if that’s what they ultimately value, then to an extent, it was worth it. But truthfully, only time will tell.
Photo from Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Chris Corr (@Chris_Studios on Twitter)