Free Agent vs Home Grown Contracts

Alfonso Soriano vs Grady Sizemore


By now everyone’s heard of Alfonso Soriano’s deal with the Cubs. And if you’ve been a regular reader of my Mop Up Duty columns, then you know—but may not agree—with my philosophy of growing a team from the farm, controlling their contract, and operating a major league roster under a sound payroll. With the strong rookie contributions this past season, combined with the reckless abandon spending of the 2006 free agent market, I feel that this mindset is more important than ever.


Today we’re going to compare and contrast a home grown talent (via prospect trade), Grady Sizemore, vs a high price free agent, Alfonso Soriano.

Statistical Comparison


Here’s a quick comparison of both Soriano’s (1st row) and Sizemore’s (2nd row) 2006 seasons. I’ve bolded the superior stat in each column.






Extra BaseHits



Steal %






































While Soriano has a clear advantage in the home run department, other statistical categories, such as extra base hits lean towards Sizemore. The two are only .003 points apart in OPS and they split the main two sabermetrical equations, VORP and Win Shares.


Contract Comparison


In the middle of the 2006 season, the Indians by passed two future $350,000 seasons to ink Sizemore to a six year, $24 million dollar contract (with an option for a seventh year at an additional $7 million.) At the time, this deal represented the most money ever given to a player with under three years of major league experience. Before three season of MLB experience, players are paid from $300,000 up to $350,000, with some players qualifiying for a maximum of $500,000 in their third year. By signing this contract, the Indians relienquished two minimum salary seasons, but they gained security, a low salary structure, and goodwill with Sizemore & his agent.


Here’s a comparison of Soriano & Sizemore’s recent contracts.


Player – Age

Contract Length (Years)

Dollar Amount (Millions)

Per Season Average (Millions)

Soriano (30)


    $136.00               $17.00
Sizemore (24)


       $31.45                 $4.49


Soriano’s contract will last until he is 38. Sizemore’s contract will last until he is 31, still within the excepted prime of a playing career.

In today’s current market, middle tier free agents are in line for $5 million minimum, and aging stars are cashing in to the tune of $9+ million. Using the leverage of a “Grady” type contract, teams should make a conscience effort to lock up players that are under three years of major league experience. Off the top of my head, here are a few of many possible examples: Toronto (Alex Rios), Philadelphia (Ryan Howard), Washington (Ryan Zimmerman), Arizona (Stephen Drew), etc.



What do you think? Is it worth bye-passing low cost seasons to lock up players to a long term deal?



Alfonso SorianoGrady Sizemore


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13 replies on “Free Agent vs Home Grown Contracts”
  1. says: Early

    And a second thought, Cleveland has been underpaying their stars but locking them up for long term deals and then they run since they turned around in the mid-1990s. It leaves them a small window to be able to win, like they almost did in 1995 and 1997. Maybe Sizemore, Hafner, Barfield etc will be able to pull it together in the next 5 years, it is going to be tough looking at the AL Central.

  2. says: Kiddo

    Excellent, excellent piece. I’ve barely even thought about that contract since it first happened (at which time, I thought, “Huh, interesting. Smart!”), but your point is excellent. It’s, in a simplistic sense, the “pay me now or pay me later with interest” principle, for which option usually proves wiser long-term in most any practical application. Though I would imagine it much easier said than done convincing agents to forego the bringing a 28 year-old star to the open market. Someone with Howard’s huge-money potential, for instance, would probably never go for it.

  3. says: Callum

    That it true, they do only have a small window to win. But what other choice do you have? It pays to be a savvy GM like Shapiro to lock up a Sizemore. Ricciardi was doing the same thing with the Jays until the increases in payroll. There is risk in both Soriano type situations and Sizemore situations. You could pay the player market value for a long term deal and end up with a Mike Hampton/Jeff Bagwell type situation or lock the player up long term when they are young and get an Eric Hinske type sitch. I think in the end locking them up early or paying them long term is a wash. Earl get on the excel spreadsheet and figure it out.

  4. says: Kman

    Re: comment #5

    It is true that some players may not preform from a free agent or a pre-arbitiration contract, but the monetary risk is far less with a pre-arb deal, along with getting a players prime years, as opposed to some decline years from a FA. For example, the questionable Alex Gonalez just signed for 3 years and $15 million. Johnny Peralata–had an awful year with the bat–signed a five year, $13 million contract.

    So while you may get stuck with a bust–which i don’t think Peralta will end up being– you are doing so at a smaller $$$ risk than you would on the free agent market. You also would have an easier chance trading a Peralta/Hinske type that has skills and success at a young age, that teams feel they can turn around, as opposed to an aging, skill declining veteran with a heavy contract.
    Another example, the Tigers could probably talk Curtis Granderson into a 5 year, $20 million dollar deal, forgoing a season or two of minimum salary for longer term security. We’ve all seen the money getting thrown about, so a $20 million for a player on the rise (hopefully) is a small risk compard to an aging guy like Juan Pierre, who will be pulling down $44 million over five years.

  5. says: Kman

    One more rant:

    It can be difficult to adopt this mind frame with a win now scenario, but if a team’s committed to the philosophy it can create a long term winner.

    The Indians of the early 90’s adopted this scenario. They locked in key players, the Thome’s, Lofton’s, Viquels, etc and then in the future years they added a piece here or there. They had to rebuild later on (mostly due to new ownership wanting to cut payroll costs.) But you can see them heading in that direction now.

    The Mets look like they are starting to adopt this philosophy as well, signing these contracts this past season;

    Reyes: 4 year, $23 million extension (+$11 mill option for a 5th year)

    Wright: 6 years, $55 million (+$13 million extension option)

    So, with options, the Mets are going to get a combined 12 prime seasons from Wright and Reyes for $102 million. Much better than future declining seasons from current FA’s. With this solid core in place, now they can add in some pieces to round out the squad (not that the Mets would have money problems anyways.)

    I would assume that almost every MLB team has at least 2 pre-arb players that could be locked up now at future savings.

  6. says: Early

    The ten-year contract doesn’t seem to exist anymore, players used to sign when they were at their peak a long term deal, that would take care of them. You see it in capped sports where a team will give a 33yr old QB a 10 year contract with no intention of him playing until he is in his 40s, and the ever famous Rick Dipietro contract. Roy Halladay has a contract like that now.
    Mike Mussina is getting top notch money now when he is way past his prime, Yankees have a whole team of guys getting “Lifetime Achievement Contracts” I wanna see them add Bonds that would be so good. Give Bonds a 2 year deal worth $40mil. AWESOME.
    Players are making their best money after their most productive years, but GMs only have such a little window to use them at their best, as Kman would say, “Win Share per $mil”.
    Good Article.

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