Ichiro and Hafner: A Tale of Two Organizations

In The Baseball Economist, one of the things I do is examine how baseball franchises are managed. I examine how much value players bring versus how much the club pays out in salary. I then rate the organizations according to their performance on the field and the efficiency with which they purchased players. Cleveland (which will reportedly ink Travis Hafner to a four-year extension today) and Seattle (reportedly about to sign Ichiro Suzuki to a five-year deal) finished at the top and bottom of the American League in my rankings.

I believe the signings of these two players illustrates the differences in managerial skill between the two organizations. Using my method for valuing players in a given season, along with some rough adjustments for increases in player salaries, aging, and defensive value—this is not necessary for Hafner, who is primarily a DH—I’ve projected the dollar values that these players are worth over the course of their new contracts.

Hafner gets a $9 million raise for this season and next along with $48 million over the following four years. Analyzing the deal is a bit complicated since the Indians could have had Hafner for about $9 million over the next two years, but the deal is so good for the Tribe, it looks good no matter which way I slice it. Let’s just say the Indians get Hafner for four years at $57 million. From 2009–2012 I have Hafner worth about $87 million ($21.75 million per year); that’s an expected $30 million in value the Indians get that they don’t have to pay for.

Buying out free agent years in advance is a strategy the Indians are known for, and it usually pays off. Hafner gets security, while the organization can diversify its risk that the contract goes bad in many other ways (e.g., signing other players to similar deals). Yes, some long-term deals go bad, but if you sign several deals like this, the good and bad ought to cancel out. The team benefits from players taking less than their expected value in order to minimize risk.

Ichiro reportedly has agreed to sign a five-year, $90–100 million deal. Ichiro is particularly difficult to value because he is a good defensive player (I include only a rough value of defense), excels at stealing bases (something I don’t include in my model), and may generate revenue through his ties to Japan. I’ll go with what I have and acknowledge its weaknesses. Over the next five years I have Ichiro valued at about $80 million—$10–20 million less than his reported contract. But, acknowledging the potential problems with the estimate, let’s assume that the Mariners valued him properly and that he is a $20 million per year player. (I think kicking in $20 million is pretty generous.) At best the Mariners are getting what they pay for, at worst they are losing money.

Compared to what the Indians did with Hafner, this is an example of why the Indians excel and where the Mariners fail. Why wait until he is nearly a free agent and having a good first half (he’ll slip in the second)? If management considered Ichiro to be part of the future plan, why didn’t the organization lock him up a few years earlier and take advantage of risk averseness? That extra cash could be used to improve the team in other ways. This is part of the reason why I expect more success from the Indians than the Mariners in the next few years.

5 Responses “Ichiro and Hafner: A Tale of Two Organizations”

  1. realbbbb says:

    Could not agree more about the assessments of the Seattle/Cleveland organizations. Its a classic example of smart GM work vs poor GM work. Look at some of Seattle’s recent signings: Richie Sexson, Jarrod Washburn, Jose Vidro to play DH (Has any team ever had their full-time DH finish a season with an OPS under .700 which Video is currently on pace for?)

  2. tangotiger says:

    I give Ichiro a 1 win value for his fielding and 0.5 win value for his position, 2 wins for his offense, all above average. Add in replacement level, and Ichiro is easily a 5 wins above replacement player. I’ve got Ichiro as 5/100 as a fair free agent market value.

    As for Hafner, if your forecast is based on pre-2007, you’ll need to redo your forecast. And, I give a severe penalty that he is a DH-only player (drop him at least 1 win, if not 2 wins).

  3. ex-Expo says:

    You may be doing the Mariners a disservice here by assuming it was even possible to lock up Ichiro prior to this. The timing of Hargrove’s resignation and the extension look suspiciously like a player that would rather walk than to play for a particular manager. If that’s the case the M’s signed Ichiro for a realistic contract at the earliest possible opportunity.

    Defending Bavasi leaves a bad taste in my mouth but I don’t think you can evaluate this deal without considering more than the dollars and length.

  4. Mark Wagner says:

    Obviously the writer has not been to Seattle either because Ichiro is the face of the franchise is probably responsible for an additional 2,000 people per game win or lose. Ichiro is as big as Griffey was when he was in Seattle.

    Despite the value per win, Ichiro is probably worth close to $16,200,000 (2000 per game at $100 expenditures per 81 games) in additional revenue even if he does not add one single win to the team.

  5. jimmy1000 says:

    I do agree that Cleveland’s front office is far superior to Seattle’s I think that the extensions given to Ichiro and to Hafner by their respective organizations is a terrible example of this.

    The only way in which these two players are similar is that they are both good. That is where the similarities end. And if you’re not going to fully consider defense and base running when evaluating a player’s value then what is the point?

    However, if you insist on using these two players as measuring sticks for their team’s FO then why not just look at their respective VORP or value over replacement level player. Ichiro is currently running a 41.6, good for 8th in baseball while Hafter is currently sitting at 22.3 (not even in the top 50). Yes Hafner is having a down year and will more than likely rebound in the second half. And yes Ichiro will more than likely regress slightly as he had arguably the best first half of his career.

    That said, arguing that these two players are in any way equal is quite a stretch. And I don’t buy the argument that Ichiro is old as he isn’t that much older than Hafner and players with Hafner’s skill set see a decrease in their ability much more quickly than players with skill sets comparable to Ichiro’s (the freak of nature that is Barry Bonds and his chemist not withstanding).