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Kolakowski: Albies extension exemplifies broken system

| Friday, April 12, 2019

On Thursday afternoon, the Atlanta Braves announced they signed all-star second baseman Ozzie Albies to a contract extension worth $35 million.

That is life-changing money for anyone, especially for a 22-year-old middle infielder from Curacao. That money became much less significant however, when the full details of the contract were revealed.

Albies and the Braves agreed to a seven-year deal with two club options, offering a maximum guarantee of $45 million to the young baseball player over the next nine years. Albies could be tied to Atlanta through his age-30 season, allowing the Braves to secure him for the duration of his prime years.

This contract is an extremely poor evaluation of Albies, and it fails to give him what he is worth to the Atlanta Braves franchise.

Other young players have signed team-friendly contracts in the past. Last month, outfielder Eloy Jimenez agreed to a six-year, $43 million extension with the Chicago White Sox before even appearing in a Major League Baseball game. Similarly, Scott Kingery and the Phillies agreed to a six-year, $24 million contract before Kingery sniffed a major-league diamond. Both of those contracts include club options that can increase the value of the deals.

Each of those players were well-regarded prospects, but Albies is a different class of athlete. While Jimenez has yet to prove himself at the major-league level and Kingery has struggled in limited major-league experience, Albies is already a game-changing middle infielder for Atlanta.

Albies made his major-league debut Aug. 1, 2017, and immediately impressed with the Braves. In only 57 games in 2017, Albies was worth 1.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs. That value, a measure of how a player compares to a replacement-level player, is based on Albies’ strong glove at second base and electric start at the plate.

In his 2018 season, Albies proved his first taste of the big leagues was not a mirage. In 158 games, Albies collected another 3.8 WAR, sixth-best among MLB second basemen. According to Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection system, Albies is expected to be worth 14.3 WAR from 2019 until 2021.

WAR is an imperfect measure of performance, but it is the best way account for offense and defense and to look at the overall value of a player’s performance.

Albies projects to be one of the league’s top performers at second base, but he will not be paid like it. Robinson Cano is taking home $24 million in 2019. Starlin Castro is earning just south of $12 million. Jose Altuve is commanding $9.5 million. Albies, at $5 million per year for the first seven years of his deal, does not even come close to those values.

This is not a criticism of Albies. His $35 million guaranteed contract can set him up for life. This money allows Albies to live comfortably and stay with a city and franchise he likely loves.

This is a criticism of Major League Baseball and the current state of the labor market within the sport. A grueling offseason saw star free agents like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper left without contracts until spring training. Other stars like Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel remain free agents two weeks into the regular season. There is a labor crisis in Major League Baseball, and young players are choosing to sign contract extensions rather than test the free agency waters.

Ozzie Albies is the latest victim of the system. He is being underpaid by a franchise that Forbes values at $1.7 billion. In offering Albies the security of a meager salary by Major League Baseball standards, the Braves are limiting their young star’s earning potential. Ozzie Albies is rich, but that does not change the fact that Major League Baseball is leveraging a broken system to pay athletes far less than the value that they bring to the game.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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