The Premature Commitment to Tim Anderson

Tim Anderson just received the largest contract ever for a player with less than one year of service time. Anderson signed a contract that guaranteed him 25 million dollars over 6 years, plus two options that could double his contract. Extending players at least one year beyond into their free agent years usually end up having huge payoffs for the team bold enough to invest in players who have not yet proven at the MLB level. With the exception of Jon Singleton, who signed a 5 year, 10 million contract prior to the 2014 season and is slated to start the 2017 season in Triple-A, teams who sign players before they are eligible for free agency usually get huge return on their investment. Here are a list of players that signed deals during their pre-arbitration years in the past decade.

Date Yrs/$M, Options Service Time Free Agent Years WAR / Year
Evan Longoria 4/18/2008 6/17.5, 3 .024 years 3 5.2
Matt Moore 12/9/2011 5/14, 3 .017 years 2 1.4
Salvador Perez 2/27/2012 5/10, 3 .05 years 2 2.5
Chris Archer 4/2/2014 6/25.5/ 2 .156 years 2 3.8

Perhaps most worrisome is Anderson’s lack of plate discipline, which severely limits his offensive upside. In 431 PAs in 2016, Anderson struck out nearly 9 times as much as he walked, which was the highest mark in the league since his call up. If you add his K% of 27.1 to his high IFFB% of 11.0, Anderson effectively recorded useless outs on nearly 40% of his plate appearances. He also benefitted from a .375 BABIP despite only making hard contact on 32.3% of his batted balls. Even though Anderson is still 23 years old, evidence shows that totally altering such extreme tendencies at the plate are much easier said than done.

On the bright side, Anderson looks like a plus defensive SS according to fielding metrics such as UZR and RngR. He is also a speedster who has the potential to be a force on the basepaths. However, unless he makes significant changes to his approach at the plate, his defense and speed may never compensate for his lack of offensive output. I understand the yearning to lock up potential franchise shortstop who by all accounts has plus makeup and tremendous work ethic, but I don’t see any reason why the White Sox would not have been better off waiting a year or two before committing to Anderson as their franchise shortstop. What is the harm in getting a longer look at Anderson during his pre-arbitration years to see if he is capable of being more patient at the plate before signing him to a long term deal? No matter what, this is not a major investment, but paying Anderson nearly ten times as much as he would otherwise make during his first two years seems like throwing money in the trash. This deal may very well work out for the White Sox, but they took an unnecessary risk before they needed to.


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