When the name Jason Kendall pops up, a large amount of Pirates fans first reaction is "albatross contract". A large amount of those left would probably think "gruesome injury". While that probably gets rid of the majority of fans, some of those who remain might have a thought similar to, "good player who got injured and unfortunately couldn't live up to his amazing early career after getting hurt". After the jump, I'm going to look into the player Kendall was, and show how his reputation in Pittsburgh relative to his performance shows why signing a player to a "fair market" deal in Pittsburgh, and especially "overpaying" for said player, is a dangerous thought.First things first, let's discuss Kendall's performance before the fateful contract was signed. Most people here realize Kendall was good, but I'm not sure most here appreciate exactly how good. In his age 23-27 seasons, B-R has as his most similar player by season Mickey Cochrane in every one of those years (a hall of famer for those here who haven't heard of him). In his age 23-26 seasons, his OBP over 2211 PA was .408. His lowest ISO in any of those seasons was .140. In his age 23-26 seasons, he was worth 20 fWAR and 19.1 bWAR. To put that in perspective, fWAR had Yogi Berra at 18.5 WAR in his age 23-26 seasons and bWAR had it at 15.9. He was on a hall of fame pace and even the red flag he had for health, (he only played 78 games in 1999, while putting up 4.1 WAR in them, a better pace than MVP winner Chipper Jones) could be viewed as minor compared to his amazing skill level, as he had proved that he could put together all-star caliber seasons even without a full compliment of games. Outside of the fact that he played the position of catcher, he's the exact kind of player that any team that wants to compete would love to have.
Now, some people here are possibly going, "I knew that he was amazing, but the thing is that we complain about the contract being an albatross because it crippled us and he didn't provide nearly enough value to justify the contract he was given DURING it". The whole point of this post is to point out that what Jason Kendall did provide during the length of his contract was around what fangraphs calls FAIR value.
Now, many of you might be like "wait, did this nobody just say that the Kendall contract was FAIR??!!" Some might even be questioning my sanity now. I'm here to tell you that by fWAR, he provided 52.4 million dollars in value. By bWAR he provided fairly similar value, albeit slightly lower, and according to bWARs numbers he was paid approximately 58.635 million dollars over that time period. He provided 1 fWAR per 2.93 million he was paid. By bWAR it was 1 WAR per 3.07 million, even it out and you got a 1 WAR per 3 million dollar guy, hardly even in the market back then what would be called a horrible deal. I also should probably mention that he provided well over half the WAR of the 6 year contract in the 3 years he spent with the Pirates.
The thing was, he provided very good on base skills, (in the first 5 years of the "albatross" contract he had an OBP of .371, though his slugging I think was very close) and what was considered average catching skills. Those skills were enough to make him a commodity that was paid fair value, even if the amount he was paid seemed absurd to many of the fans at the time and maybe even more now, it was in retrospect a deal that looks much better than most big money contracts that you see nowadays.
So, if you've read through all of this, you might be wondering what this has to do with the free agent market, and the answer is simple, if we pay market price for an elite free agent and get merely "market level performance", history shows us that a lot of fans will consider it a bad deal. If the Pirates are going to spend money on a player, that player darn well better perform above and beyond the level of his contract, in short, we must underpay for him to be truly appreciated. Those people who want to spend a boatload of cash on a free agent superstar should realize this, and maybe rethink their positions. As Jason Kendall has shown, you can live up to your contract by market terms, and still be unappreciated and thought of badly despite being possibly the best catcher the Pirates have ever had.