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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mickey Mantle: free agent.

Hello, partner.  In his later years Mickey Mantle enjoyed repeating that story about what Joe DiMaggio would do if he were a free agent playing "today": go up to Yankee owner George Steinbrenner and say "Hello, partner".  It implied that The Mick would have the same approach, that they were so good that each would get top dollar, which is what they actually did get in their times.

Mickey Mantle about 1953
by Bowman Gum via Wikimedia Commons 
I've been wondering how Mantle would have fared if current free agency rules existed during his career: 1951-1968, all with the Yankees.  This post is not intended to be an exhaustive economic analysis, which would require a complex program to try many scenarios per year and compare Mantle's money to that of other players.  It may help to look at the three young current very talented players: Mike TroutGiancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper.

Mantle would have been under club control from 1951 through 1956, his triple crown season.  If he became a free agent after 1956 his value would have been sky high.  Few, if any, other players would have had his value after their first seasons.

1951: returned to minors for a month; modest
1952: star at 20; using today's criteria in which Bases on Balls (BB) are highly valued, Mantle would have been an MVP candidate; would the Yankees have tried to sign Mantle for multiple years right away?  See Bryce Harper, who just signed for two years with his Washington Nationals for his age 22-23 seasons.
1953: regression, which leading to his first arbitration eligible season might have given the Yankees pause about offering multiple years
1954: rebound; Mantle obviously is a star
1955: led American League in homers and triples; Yanks likely to try to sign Mantle
1956: triple crown, including 52 home runs, MVP; Mantle rules the earth.

The others signed their extensions at these ages:
Trout 23
Stanton 25
Harper 22.

A wild card in all this is that a team knows its own players better than outsiders.  Mantle already had physical problems by 1956 and his immature behavior, including abuse of alcohol, were a major concern to the team.

Suppose that the Yankees decided during Mantle's first six seasons to sign him for multiple years.  Sooner and longer would obviously have been best for the team.  Mantle was the best player in the AL pretty much every season through 1964.

Mike Trout signed for his ages 23-28, meaning that he will become a free agent again in 2021 while still in his prime.  Trout has the highest annual salary of the three.

Giancarlo Stanton signed for his ages 25-38 with an opt out at age 30 in 2021, the same year as Trout.  Stanton's highest annual is for ages 33-35.

Bryce Harper can become a free agent in 2019 at age 26, two years younger than Trout and four years younger than Stanton.

So Harper will hit the market two years before both Trout and Stanton and be two and four years younger than both.  Of course, Harper will be receiving much less than either before then.

The matrix below contains the data mentioned for all four players.  It can also be viewed by clicking this link.  Salaries for their new contracts are in BOLD.  For Stanton, his option years are in RED.  For Trout and Mantle, their MVP years are BOLD.  Salaries for Trout, Stanton and Harper are in millions and for Mantle they are the actual numbers that have become familiar over the years eventually reaching the magic $100,000.  That's one hundred thousand dollars, which Joe DiMaggio made in Mantle's 1951 rookie season.  So from the start of Mantle's career to the end the maximum salary didn't change that much, at least not for him.

Sandy Koufax got $110,000 in 1965 and $125,000 in 1966 his final season.

Willie Mays may have received $160,000 at age 28 in 1959 or more likely he received $80,000.
1966 35 $105,000
1967 36 $105,000
1968 37 $105,000
1969 38 $125,000
1970 39 $125,000
1971 40 $160,000
1972 41 $165,000
1973 42 $165,000

Hank Aaron:
1970 36 $125,000
1971 37 $125,000
1972 38 $200,000
1973 39 $200,000
1974 40 $200,000
1975 41 $240,000 Milwaukee Brewers
1974 42 $240,000 Milwaukee Brewers


TroutTroutTroutStantonStantonStantonHarperHarperHarperMantleMantleMantle
AgeYearPASalAgeYearPASalAgeYearPASalAgeYearPASalAge
192011135???192010192012596$0.5191951386$7,50019
202012639???202011396???202013497$2.0201952626$10,00020
212013716$0.5212012601$0.4212014395$2.2211953540$17,50021
222014705$1.0222013501$0.5222015$2.5221954649$21,00022
232015$6.1232014504$0.5232016$5.0231955638$25,00023
242016$16.1242015638$6.524241956652$32,00024
252017$20.1252016$6.525251957623$60,00025
262018$34.1262017$9.026261958654$65,00026
272019$34.1272018$14.527271959640$70,00027
282020$34.1282019$25.028281960643$60,00028
29292020$26.029291961646$70,00029
30302021$26.030301962502$90,00030
31312022$29.031311963213$100,00031
32322023$29.032321964567$100,00032
33332024$32.033331965435$100,00033
34342025$32.034341966393$100,00034
35352026$32.035351967553$100,00035
36362027$29.036361968547$100,00036
37372028$25.0373737
38382029$25.0383838
AgeYearPASalAgeYearPASalAgeYearPASalAgeYearPASal
TroutTroutStantonStantonHarperHarperMantleMantle

Mantle's salaries are from the main column on his webpage at baseball-reference.com and do not reflect information in the notes.  It's obvious that Mantle did not have the leverage to increase his salary as quickly.  Mantle's biggest percent increase in salary is from his age 24 1956 triple crown season: 46.67%.  This is reflected in the matrix below, also viewable at this link.


TroutStantonHarperMantle
AgePct +Pct +Pct +Pct +Age
1919
20300.00%25.00%20
2110.00%42.86%21
2296.08%25.00%13.64%16.67%22
23510.00%0.00%100.00%16.00%23
24163.93%1200.00%21.88%24
2524.84%0.00%46.67%25
2669.65%38.46%7.69%26
270.00%61.11%7.14%27
280.00%72.41%-16.67%28
294.00%14.29%29
300.00%22.22%30
3111.54%10.00%31
320.00%0.00%32
3310.34%0.00%33
340.00%0.00%34
350.00%0.00%35
36-9.38%0.00%36
37-13.79%37
380.00%38
AgeTroutStantonHarperMantleAge
Pct +Pct +Pct +Pct +

Following his disappointing 1959 season Mantle may have been cut from $70,000 to $60,000.  There are no cuts for Trout or Harper and Stanton's salary only decreases at age 36 and even then it's from $32 to $29, then $25 million.

Many people today are blowing off Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki as players who get injured and are bad risks.  Many of those same people would quickly conclude that Mickey Mantle would have made lots of money in free agency.  But would any of them have thought that Mantle was worth the risk at the time?  Mantle was better than the three players mentioned above but he was also a big risk.

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