Are decade-long contracts going the way of the dinosaur in Major League Baseball? Houston Astros owner Jim Crane seems to think so.
Speaking with reporters at the Astros' Diamond Dreams Gala on Friday, Crane said teams are reluctant to issue out massive deals to free agents because they're more informed about the risks those contracts pose.
"I think that teams are very focused on value and some of the deals that have been thrown out for (Bryce) Harper and (Manny) Machado, I think, are long-term deals. I don't know that you'll see many more 10-year deals in this business anymore because the analytics are so good and a lot of those deals never work," Crane told Alyson Footer of MLB.com.
Both Harper and Machado have been reported as seeking contracts in the 10-year range throughout the offseason.
Those types of contracts are historically rare. Alex Rodriguez broke the mold when he signed a 10-year, $252-million contract with the Texas Rangers before the 2001 season. That same year, Derek Jeter re-upped with the New York Yankees for 10 years and $189 million.
Since then, there have been only a handful of deals that touched 10 seasons. Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera are the poster children for exercising caution. Pujols signed for 10 years and $240 million in 2012 with the Los Angeles Angels while Cabrera inked an eight-year extension worth $248 million with the Detroit Tigers, with a pair of $30-million club options to round it out.
Since joining the Angels, Pujols has slashed .260/.315/.453 with 188 home runs and has been worth 6.7 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs. After Cabrera's extension kicked in for the 2016 season, he's slashed .288/.368/.486 with 57 home runs but has been hampered by injuries.
A-Rod eventually re-worked his deal after being traded to the Yankees, but if the 10-year term of the original contract is isolated, it paints a picture of success. Over that decade, he slashed .299/.394/.577 with 424 home runs, 280 doubles, and 168 stolen bases. He averaged 151 games per season and played a full 162 on three occasions.
The biggest difference is that Rodriguez was 25 in the first year of his deal while Pujols was 32 and Cabrera was 33. Harper and Machado are both 26 and are presumably entering their primes.
Houston has taken a different approach in recent years and has built primarily from within or on the trade market. The Astros did ensure star second baseman Jose Altuve wasn't going to hit the open market any time soon by signing him to a seven-year, $163.5-million extension in 2018. Their biggest free-agent addition this offseason has been veteran outfielder Michael Brantley on a two-year contract.
With the contracts of George Springer (2021), Carlos Correa (2022), and Alex Bregman (2023) expiring over the next few seasons, Crane and the Astros will need to consider if the remainder of their young core is worth investing in long term.
Crane's point that teams and evaluators are becoming more risk-averse appears to be valid amid a second consecutive stagnant free-agency period. Even if Harper and Machado get the long-term contracts they're lobbying for, outfielder A.J. Pollock is the only other position player to get a deal for longer than three years, and Patrick Corbin's six-year pact with the Washington Nationals is far and away the longest signed by anyone this offseason.