The Houston Astros have finally embraced a rebuilding effort following years of stubbornly trying to compete with an aging, expensive roster and a deteriorating farm system. When the ‘Stros finally did bid adieu to Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, the returns weren’t phenomenal. With both making significant cash, there was little surplus value to be had and the team had to send a combined $15 million in salary relief as part of the trades.
Another name bandied about in trade talks was Brett Myers. Houston picked Myers off the scrap heap this past winter with a one-year, $3.1 million contract that included an $8 million mutual option for the 2011 season ($2 million buyout). Myers was coming off a 2009 season in which he was sidelined from late May to early September following right hip surgery and was then shut down with a strained right shoulder in mid-September. In 70.2 innings split between the starting rotation and the bullpen, Myers had 6.37 K/9 and 2.93 BB/9. His FIP was a macabre 6.14, due to a 23.4% home run per fly ball rate. While Myers had long posted HR/FB rates above the league average (14.7% for his career), that mark was incredibly high.
This year, the 6-4 righty has more than justified the Astros’ investment. Tossing 151 innings, Myers has 6.97 K/9, 2.74 BB/9 and a 3.62 FIP. He has been a little lucky in the homer department (8.7 HR/FB%), so his xFIP is 3.85. According to Fangraphs, Myers has racked up 2.7 WAR already. It seems puzzling that he’s still in Houston, though. Given the Astros’ focus on the future, Myers looked primed to be wearing new duds after the trade deadline.
Instead, the club just signed the soon-to-be-30-year-old to a brand spankin’ new contract extension. Myers will make $7 million in 2011 and $11 million in 2012, with a $10 million club option for the 2013 season ($3 million buyout). The 2013 option could become vested based on his 2012 performance. The deal includes possible incentives that could push the total value of the contract to $29.5 million.
Let’s just focus on the first two years. With those terms, Myers is guaranteed at least $21 million over the 2011-2012 seasons (his 2011 and 2012 salaries, plus the buyout). What does Oliver project for Myers over that time frame? In 2011, the long-time Phillie is projected to throw 185 innings with 7.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9 and a 4.19 ERA. That work would be worth 2.5 WAR. For 2012, Myers is forecast for 7 K/9, 3 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9 and a 4.55 ERA in 182 IP. That’s 1.8 WAR. Using those projections, the Astros are paying $21 million for 4.3 WAR, or about $4.9 million per win. It’s not an outrageous sum, but it’s probably somewhat above the market value of a win.
Of course, that’s evaluating the contract in a vacuum. Does it make sense for Houston, a lock to vie for last-place finishes over the next few years, to pay a pitcher in his early 30’s nearly five million per win? The marginal value of those wins would seemingly be lower in a situation in which Myers is the difference between claiming victory, say, 64 times or 66 times. I suppose the counter-argument would be that for the sake of maintaining franchise interest and not watching attendance figures plummet, it makes sense not to field a Bad News Bears-type team that totally alienates fans. I’m not sold, though. Count me among those who think the Astros would have been better off converting Myers into young talent.