Michael Brantley will not blow you away with his statistics. He is slightly above league average for his bat, a good base runner with just barely acceptable stolen base success and a league average fielder. And yet, in these days where the cost of a win keeps going up, the Cleveland Indians spent $25 million spread over four years and a fifth could cost them another $11 million to extend Brantley. And it still ends up being a good deal for the Indians. Say what!?
This is not to belittle Michael Brantley. He is a nice player. He is useful. He is better than replacement. But with Michael Bourn in center field, Brantley is a left fielder without power and decent on-base skills. He will give you about a .320 wOBA and a range of 1.5 to 2.0 of WAR. And that is worth $25 million? These days, it is actually worth more.
A win (the “w” in the WAR equation) is currently worth $5 million. That figure has risen from about $3.7 million in the not too distant past. Brantley had his typical season in 2013 and was worth 1.7 WAR. If you do the math, 1.7 times $5 million is $8.5 million in value. $25 million spread over four seasons is $6.22 million a season. So you see that despite Brantley not being a “star,” he is now a bargain.
Even if you accept the team option of $11 million at the end of the deal for the fifth year, you still stay ahead. That would make the total deal worth $36 million over five years or $7.2 million per season and you are still ahead.
According to one projection, Brantley should be worth a total of 7.5 WAR over the next four years. He is entering his Age 27 season. Regression models show two peak years and then a gradual decline. 7.5 WAR is currently worth $37.5 million, or $12.5 million over what the Indians will be paying him.
If you add in the fifth year, then Brantley should compile 9.2 WAR or $46.2 million of value for $36 million the team will have to spend. That is a good deal no matter how you look at it. And even better, the deal will end before Brantley starts to really slide down over the regression cycle of his career.
One other point is overlooked here. The price of a win keeps going up. The four year contract that is already a bargain for the Indians becomes even more so if the cost of a win keeps rising the way it has.
It is understandable if the first reaction to the total cost of the contract for a player just north of average like Michael Brantley seems like a whole lot of money. But it is really a good deal for the Indians in today’s market. We are just going to have to get used to meh players being this expensive.