On Friday, the Angels extended Chris Iannetta, giving him a three-year deal worth $15.5 million. Iannetta and the Angels had a mutual option for 2013, and his return was somewhat a mystery. This might spell the end of Hank Conger’s days as the club’s future catcher, and we might see him used in a trade at some point this winter.
Iannetta will make an average of about $5.2 million over the next three seasons. For this article we’re going to look at the entire crop of catchers, and try to find a fair number for Iannetta. If that number is less than $5.2, yay Iannetta. If it’s more, yay Angels.
So let’s look at the top catchers from this season. Baseball Prospectus has the best breakdown of salaries, and since I can’t make a compelling argument for or against any one type of win-value metric over another, let’s use BP’s WARP.
25 catchers recorded at least 0.5 WARP in 2012. Teams paid just north of $96 million for just over 58 WARP, on average $1.66 million per win. The catchers averaged about 2.4 WARP per 120 games played (a fair number of games to expect for a catcher to play), but it was a pretty volatile group (standard deviation of 1.2 wins). Iannetta played in 79 games this season and accumulated 1.2 WARP–which comes out to about 1.8 WARP per 120 games played. That’s not bad, but was it worth $5 million?
Well, if we look at the players who made over $5 million, we get a list of only seven players: Yadier Molina, Miguel Montero, Joe Mauer, AJ Pierzynski, Mike Napoli, Russell Martin, and Brian McCann. Those players average 2.5 WARP per 120, but made significantly more than the baseline of $5 million. In fact, those players averaged over $10 million in salary!
So, if Iannetta were to be paid at a rate relative to the production of the top seven, and continued to average 1.8 WARP per 120, he’d make about $7.25 million.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the Angels got a bargain in this deal. Joe Mauer is one of the outliers among the top seven paid catchers, cashing in at $23 million this season. If we remove Mauer from the sample, we could exect Iannetta to make about $5.7 million.
Iannetta has never played in 120 games in a given season. His career high is 112 games in 2011. Part of this can be attributed to how he’s been used, but there’s also a significant part that can be attributed to injuries.
Ultimately, this deal doesn’t allow us to conclude a whole lot. It isn’t a huge deal, and it isn’t a long-term deal. The Angels’ options outside of Iannetta aren’t plentiful, and the club is clearly comfortable with Iannetta’s ability to handle the pitching staff, a part of the game that we can’t quantify. There isn’t a clear winner here; both teams got what could be a very fair deal when we look back in three years.
In the next piece, we’ll look at Iannetta’s upside and look to project his career’s path over the next several seasons.