The Indians have given Jhonny Peralta a guaranteed contract through 2010, which would have been his last season before free agency. The contract includes a team option for 2011. UPDATE: Peralta will get a $1.25 million signing bonus, and annual salaries of $500,000, $750,000, $2.25 million, $3.4 million and $4.6 million. The 2011 team option pays $7 million and carries a $250,000 buyout, which brings the total guaranteed value of the contract to $13 million.
The move was widely expected, based on both recent reports and the Indians' standard practices. Peralta established himself as one of the best shortstops in the major leagues last season yet is still two seasons from eligibility for arbitration. His status is nearly identical to Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner's one year ago, when they agreed to similar contracts. Peralta's new contract is strikingly similar to Martinez's:
Jhonny: 1.25, 0.50, 0.75, 2.25, 3.40, 4.60, 7.00/0.25
Victor: 1.00, 0.50, 0.80, 3.00, 4.25, 5.70, 7.00/0.25
Peralta's rapid emergence as a major league regular, along with the extra two seasons before arbitration, put the Indians in a position where they could lock up a quality player for five years. While his contract may seem small by big-league standards, the key factor in the negotiation is that Peralta is $12.7 million richer today than he was yesterday -- regardless of his future performance or injuries. Lacking a long-term deal, Peralta would have been paid less than $1 million over 2006-2007, with nothing guaranteed. His salaries over 2008-2010, however, would have been negotiated in the context of arbitration. That likely would have doubled his salaries in those years.
John Hart popularized this type of contract in the early 1990's, locking up budding young talents such as Albert Belle, Charles Nagy, Paul Sorrento, Sandy Alomar, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez. The practice later spread to nearly every major league team. Shapiro has said that he will be less eager to award long-term contracts than Hart was, a sentiment that obviously does not apply to the Indians' best performers.
Grady Sizemore's career status is nearly identical to Peralta's, but there is at least one signficant difference in negotiating leverage: Sizemore is already a millionnaire, having received a $2 million signing bonus to join the Expos farm system out of high school. The Indians may be observed to negotiate first with the players who have the least leverage, which allows them to establish lower baselines for comparison in subsequent negotiations. Cliff Lee and Rafael Betancourt also have established themselves as quality players and are just one season removed from arbitration at this point.
If there is a difference between Peralta and Martinez and Hafner, it's age. Peralta will turn 24 in May, about 2.5 years younger than Martinez was at the same point in his career, and four years younger than Hafner. Peralta's breakout season was extreme enough to invite skepticism as to whether it can be repeated. That observation, while valid, is counterbalanced by Peralta's youth. Most quality players do improve after age 23. Even if Peralta's future offensive production doesn't quite match his 2005 numbers, he is still likely to be one of the best shortstops in the majors for the next ten years.
Just this week, Nate Silver reported that In projecting performance over the next five seasons, the life of this contract, the PECOTA projection system ranks Peralta as the 7th most valauble player or prospect under age 24, and the 19th most valuable player overall.