Wednesday, June 4, 2014

$10 million before a debut

Jon Singleton beams as he meets with
the media before his debut Tuesday.
Jon Singleton made news twice with his major league debut Tuesday.

The second, and lesser, splash came with his play; the 22-year-old first baseman homered and walked in four trips to the plate as his Asros beat the Angels. (He also struck out twice and committed two errors, so it wasn't all good.)

The bigger news was the deal he agreed to with the Astros before he stepped on the major league roster: Five years, $10 million guaranteed, with three club options.

If Houston picks up all the options, it's an eight-year, $30 million deal, and Singleton won't get to test free agency until age 30.

This contract is the first such for a player who hadn't debuted in the majors, although Evan Longoria signed a comparable deal about a week into his rookie season.  It's also, albeit on a much lower level of commitment by both sides, along the lines of something I suggested this spring for the Twins regarding Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton.

Ten mil (the amount Singleton gets even if he crashes) is a life-changing figure, but some players and former players quickly rapped Singleton for signing. Their contention: He low-balled himself. There's more money to be had if he's great.

I'm not so sure he made the wrong choice. While Singleton has been a fixture on Top 100 prospects lists — ranking as high as No. 25 a couple years ago on the Baseball Prospectus list — he's no sure bet for stardom. His Triple A numbers (slash line .241/.366/.434 in 533 plate appearances in 2013-14) aren't particularly strong for the Pacific Coast League. Perhaps more troubling: Last season he served a 50-game suspension for a second drug-of-abuse violation, admitted an "addiction" to marijuana and spent a month in rehab.

James Loney, the Tampa Bay first baseman, is a not particularly good comp to Singleton as a talent — Singleton is more of a power hitter, Loney a line-drive hitter — but Loney offers a reasonable example of a "normal" salary trajectory for a regular first baseman who falls short of star status. He got the minimum or just above until he became arbitration eligible, when he moved into a range of $3 million to $7 million. He hit free agency after his age 28 season having earned $14 million to $15 million. His contracts since then, reaching through the 2016 season (his age 32 season) will total an additional $18 million, for roughly $32 million for his career to that point.

We don't know if Singleton is going to be a better or worse player than Loney. We do know what he'll be paid the next five years. If he turns into a star, yes, he left a lot on money on the table. If he matches Loney, it's a pretty fair deal. And if he tokes his talent away, he still gets $10 million.

1 comment:

  1. Like Steve Cannon (WCCO Radio) used to say at the end of his day, "I got the money!" Good for Singleton.