Twins Officially Sign Josh Willingham: Contract Breakdown and Analysis

Twitter is blowing up with the news that the Twins have made the Josh Willingham signing official. He'll get three years, earning $7 million in both 2012 and 2013, with the possibility of adding another million on top of all that in 2014 should he reach 525 plate appearances in '13. It's a good deal, and here's why.

Over the next three years, each win above replacement should cost somewhere just north of $5 million dollars, depending on the baseball and more wide-ranging fiscal markets. With the understanding that we want to be conservative we'll estimate that from 2012 to 2014, when Willingham's contract expires, cost for each win above replacement will average at $5.25 million.

Exactly just how friendly is this contract for the Twins? Very.

Contract Values
Year Salary Cost/WAR Even (Sal = WAR) 1 WAR 2 WAR 2.5 WAR * 3 WAR 4 WAR
2012 $7 M $5.25 M 1.3 WAR - $1.25 M + $3.5 M + $6.75 WAR + $8.75 M + $14 M
2013 $7 M $5.25 M 1.3 WAR - $1.25 M + $3.5 M + $6.75 WAR + $8.75 M + $14 M
2014 $7 M $5.25 M 1.3 WAR - $1.25 M + $3.5 M + $6.75 WAR + $8.75 M + $14 M

Basically, for Willingham to be worth $21 million over three years, and to make the contract equal to on-field performance, he'd have to accumulate 5 wins above replacement. Barring injury or a sudden loss of skill, that shouldn't be a problem.

More analysis after the break.

(*) Over the last six seasons, since Willingham has become a full-time player, he has averaged 2.5 WAR per season. If he averages that production over three years his market value performance would be $13.75 million per season. Multiply that by three, and you get $41.25 million dollars. Let me make this blatantly obvious:

If Josh Willingham maintains his averages, he will have been worth almost twice what the Twins will pay him. And if he exceeds those numbers, the value of this contract obviously becomes even greater.

To be honest, I'd be surprised if he maintained his 2.5 WAR-per-season average at this point in his career. We're paying a guy for his age-33, 34 and 35 seasons, so it's unrealistic to expect him to perform like he has through his prime. But that doesn't make this a bad deal. It's still a very good one.

Let's play out a scenario. Willingham comes in and blows everyone away in 2012, and racks up three wins above replacement. In 2013 there's some dropoff, but he's still a very solid player while coming in just under his career averages and sports two wins. Finally, in 2014 at age 35, we see he's near the end and he accumulates just 1 WAR as he loses time to guys like Aaron Hicks, Joe Benson and Oswaldo Arcia. In this scenario he still averaged two wins above replacement, meaning he would be worth $10.5 million dollars over market value.

Michael Cuddyer might be on his way out. And if that happens, we'll lament his departure appropriately. But this is a time to welcome Willingham into the fold. He fits Minnesota's needs, the contract is very team friendly, and by all accounts I've read he sounds like he's a pretty good guy. As Twins fans, we like good guys. It's not fair to punish him just because so many of us will miss Cuddyer.

I'll tell you this much: it's nice to be fully behind this decision. Willingham is, a good move, a responsible move, and it turns the off-season in favor of Terry Ryan and crew.
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