Grading the Calhoun Extension

Updated: January 23, 2017

Yesterday, the Angels and Gold Glove right fielder Kole Calhoun agreed to a three-year contract extension worth $26 million, buying out his three arbitration years and ensuring Kole remains next to Mike Trout for at least the next three seasons. Calhoun will now make $6 million in 2017, $8.5 million in 2018, and $10.5 million 2019, with a 2020 option for $14 million, or a $1 million buyout.

Signing this extension allows the Angels to set his salary over the next three to four years as opposed to going year to year in arbitration, and Calhoun is a good bet to continue to hold his value as he’s continued to develop over the last three years after coming up as an unheralded, little-known prospect. After hitting twenty-six home runs in 2015, that number dropped to 17 last season. Calhoun did continue to improve, however, as he boosted his slash line from .256/.308/.422 to .271/.348/.438, and raised his OPS from .731 to .786.

On top of his Gold Glove-caliber defense, Calhoun is an extremely valuable and important part of the Angels’ roster, arguably its most valuable outside of Trout. Setting Calhoun’s salary now allows the Angels to avoid rising arbitration costs in the event Calhoun continues to develop and improve, with little downside for the Halos; even if Calhoun holds at his current level of play over the next three years he’ll have earned his contract.

Over the last three years Calhoun has posted WARs of 4.1, 3.0, and 3.4, respectively. WAR is Wins Above Replacement, replacement being a replacement-level player who neither adds nor takes anything away from your team. A replacement-level players’ WAR would then be 0.0. WAR is calculated by taking a player’s contributions on offense, defense, and baserunning, and comparing them to what a replacement-level player would have done at that position, and how many wins that player added, or took away, from his team over the course of a 162 game season.

Therefore, Calhoun added 3.4 more wins for the Halos over the course of last season than they would have had a replacement-level player been starting in right field. We can use those numbers to measure how valuable a player is or has been to his team, and then use that to determine his worth on the field.  According to Fangraphs (and there are different models and estimations that can come up with varying numbers,) teams paid about $7.7 million dollars for each additional win last season, give or take. By those estimations, Calhoun would have been worth $26 million dollars last year alone, making him a tremendous bargain for the Halos.

Granted, these numbers are generated based on contracts given out by teams, so bad contracts with little return on investment will skew these numbers. For example, the Angels paid almost $18 million per WAR for Albert Pujols. For the sake of comparison, the Halos paid Trout $1.5 million per WAR, and paid Calhoun exactly $1 million per WAR. Calhoun would only have to generate 1.2 WAR to come in at that $7.7 million cost, which seems a given considering he’s produced at least 3.0 WAR each of the past three seasons.

The other thing about that $7.7 million number is that it will change each year as contracts get bigger and bigger, and every time a big-money free agent doesn’t produce, that number will grow. For a team with big money tied up in players like Pujols and Josh Hamilton, (yes, still,) having players that deliver value like Calhoun does is extremely important. This extension ensures that a core part of the team stays put for at least the next three seasons at a relative bargain, especially compared to other contracts around the league. Jason Hayward, Matt Kemp, Shin-Soo Choo, Jose Bautista, and Hunter Pence will all make more than twice as much as Calhoun next season, and you could easily make the argument that Calhoun is more valuable than all of those players when you consider his all-around game and the leadership he brings. Consider this contract a big win for the Halos. Overall Grade: A+.

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