The fight didn’t quite go 12 rounds, but it was hard-fought. The business of baseball is like a boxing match. Only, instead of a ring, the rounds of the fight are fought via phone, video conference, and in meeting rooms over the course of baseball’s five-month off-season. While the face of many deals is designed to look mutually beneficial, both sides of a contract negotiation are competitors. Sometimes, the competitors fight to a draw. Sometimes, there’s a clear cut winner and loser.
In the match between Nick Hundley and the Padres, the two combatants aren’t actually Hundley and the Padres, but Hundley’s agent and Josh Byrnes rather. Sure, on some level Hundley’s agent would like the Padres to be successful, and Josh Byrnes would like to see Hundley be financial secure for the rest of his life. But in reality, Hundley’s agent, Cameron Hahn, has one goal; to get Hundley the best contract possible. Josh Byrnes also has one goal; to get the Padres the most cost-effective contract possible. So, in the boxing match that was Hundley’s contract extension talks, the rounds were back and forth throughout the off-season. There were flurries of punches as the deal got close, and awkward hugs that the referee had to break up as the two sides tabled negotiations. But yesterday, a punch was dodged, a counter was thrown, and one side clearly won this match. Let me score it for you.
Cameron Hahn (and Nick Hundley) Card:
- Round One – Hundley has never played in more than 82 games in a single season, but he got a guaranteed deal – jab (one point)
- Round Two – Hundley had elbow surgery last season, but he got a guaranteed deal – cross (one point)
- Round Three – Hunldey is a 28-year old catcher, but he got a guaranteed deal – cross, jab combo (two points)
- Round Four – In only 50% of Hundley’s seasons has he broke the 1 WAR barrier – jab (one point
Josh Byrnes (and the Padres) Card:
- Round One – For an average of $3.5 million per year*, Byrnes locked up a 28-year old catcher who put up 2.7 WAR last season – right hook (two points)
- Round Two – Byrnes bought out one year of Hundley’s free agency years for $5 million.* – jab (one point)
- Round Three – Byrnes locked up a Petco Park veteran who hits better at home than away (.271 BA vs. .240 BA) for a grand total of $14 million – cross (one point)
- Round Four – Byrnes paid $14 million for four years of service from Hundley, and saved the Padres upwards of $3.5 million (breakdown below) – dodge and upper-cut (knock-out blow)
*The four years and the $14 million assume the Padres pick up the club option for 2015.
Let’s recap the knock-out punch thrown by Josh Byrnes in the fourth round of this match. Nick Hundley had three years of arbitration eligibility ahead of him, and one year of free agency included in this contract. Free agent value is a little easier to calculate than arbitration value, but we can get a good idea of arbitration value based on past contracts. It’s been well-documented that arbitrators are behind the statistical times. They value power and runs batted in over just about anything else. At first glance, it looks as if Hundley has limited power (30 home runs in four seasons) and doesn’t play enough to drive in much (126 RBI in four seasons). However, extrapolating Hundley’s numbers over the course of a 162 game season gives us numbers close to 20 home runs and anywhere from 60-85 RBI. Those are the types of power numbers that make an arbitrator think long and hard.
MLB Trade Rumors predicted Hundley’s 2012 arbitration salary to be $1.6 million. The Padres gave him $2 million to avoid arbitration, so we’ll use that as our actual arb value. Assuming, Hundley continues to improve as a hitter, he would have easily been worth $4 million through arbitration in 2013, and he could have possibly been worth $5 million in 2014. Right there, the team saved themselves $2 million ($3 million owed in 2013 and $4 million in 2014 with the new contract).
As for Hundley’s free agent year, if the Padres pick up the club option, we must look at his average WAR. Over his past four seasons, Hundley has averaged 1.3 WAR. He is likely a 2 WAR player, but for the sake of this argument we will use the average. One WAR is thought to be worth $5 million in free agency money. If that’s the case, Hundley’s 2015 free agency year should be worth at least $6.5 million. With the contract the Padres and Hundley agreed to, the team saves another $1.6 million there.
There’s a saying that goes something like, “a good negotiation leaves both sides feeling as if they lost something.” Well, in the case of the Padres and Nick Hundley, the Padres probably don’t have that feeling. Hundley may not have that feeling. But Hundley’s agent should. This was a contract negotiation with a clear winner and a clear loser. At the end of three rounds, as fictionally scored above, the two sides were dead even. While Hahn scored one point for Hundley in the fourth round, Byrnes made it a moot point with his knock out blow.
Josh Byrnes has done nothing but impress since taking over as the Padres GM. This contract extension is just another shining example of his ability to build a small-market team. Nick Hundley will get the financial security he deserves, but Byrnes did not over pay. In fact, he may have saved the Padres quite a bit of money.