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Fish Stripes Offseason Success Plan: Mike Stanton's Extension

Yesterday, I introduced everyone to my Fish Stripes Plan for Offseason Success, including the points that needed to be addressed in order for the Marlins to have a successful offseason leading to a hopefully contending 2012. Now, most fans probably want the Marlins to aggressively pursue the big free agent names on the market, and it is not as if the team should not do that to an extent. But I feel as though the biggest move the team could make to secure their long-term success is a move that involves no new acquisitions. It would be a move not to secure a player from another organization, but one that has quickly risen within the ranks of this organization.

Of course, I'm talking about Giancarlo Cruz-Michael Stanton.

1. Sign Mike Stanton to a multi-year extension which purchases two or three free agent seasons.

This is the most important part of this year's offseason, and it involves only locking up a player who should become a major part of the team's future for the long haul. It is a move that benefits both sides greatly. It is a move that will make a future star very happy. It is a move that will make the team's future secure at a beneficial cost. And perhaps most importantly of all, it is a move that would receive widespread approval from the team's fan base. This move would be a sign that the Marlins ownership is ready to invest in the team after years of frugal spending, and the bitter Marlins fan base may finally accept begin to trust again after seeing one of their best locked up so early in his career. In short, this move is a necessity on all fronts.

The Cabrera Comparison

I have made this argument numerous times, but it is worth elaborating and updating. The comparisons between Mike Stanton and former Marlins young star Miguel Cabrera are quite astonishing.

Mike Stanton 998 .261 .344 .525 .369 7.3
Miguel Cabrera 1031 .285 .352 .497 .361 4.1

What is even scarier is that Stanton has actually been better than Cabrera through his age-21 season. At the time, it was already appearing as if Cabrera was misplaced as anything other than a first baseman, but it took years (and a lot of pounds gained) before his team figured out his bad defense. Stanton, on the other hand, is far from being an immobile outfielder. In fact, various defensive statistics have Stanton contributing between three and 20 (!) runs above average this season on defense, with an average estimate of 11 runs saved over the average right fielder this year. In addition, Marlins have voted on Tom Tango's Fans Scouting Report, and they have placed Stanton as the fourth-best right fielder in baseball. Similarly, the Fielding Bible just completed their voting and claimed that Stanton was the third-best right fielder.

And that does not mention the fact that Stanton actually outhit Cabrera in those years as well, despite both players coming up at the same age. Not only does Stanton's power and above average OBP outstrip Cabrera's 2003-2004 performance, it actually is even more impressive given the fact that the run environment in baseball right now is significantly lower than it was in early 2000's. In 2003-2004, the average National League team scored 4.62 runs per game, and the average hitter batted .263/.333/.420. In 2010-2011, those numbers have dropped to 4.23 runs per game and .254/.321/.394. In other words, not only did Stanton hit better than Cabrera, but he also did it in a much tougher environment to hit, making his accomplishments stand out even further.

Thus, it is fair to say that Stanton has actually thoroughly outperformed Miguel Cabrera -- one of the best hitters in Marlins history -- in his first two seasons. As we all know, Cabrera went on to become much better and is now a perennial powerhouse in the league. Is it safe to say that Stanton too will develop into a world-class hitter?

The Strikeout Concerns

Well, Stanton still maintains one flaw that may hold him back: his strikeouts. FanGraphs' Eno Sarris tackled this topic today:

The third year is the one that’s most interesting to us, since that would be Stanton’s 2012 season. The [group of players with 25 percent or greater strikeout rates and .200 or better ISO in their rookie year) improved once again — to 24.39%, or another 7% relative to their rookie year...
... If Stanton were to fall back to the group and improve 7%, he would show a strikeout rate of 25.4% next year. If he continued to outpace the group, he might get the number down to 24.2%. Both of those numbers are better, but not great: the first would have been tenth-worst among qualified batters last year, the second 14th-worst.

Sarris brings up a good point; Stanton's strikeouts have improved, but not significantly enough that they should bail him out in the future. But here is the money comp that should make Marlins fans feel good.

Ryan Howard might be our best comp for the young Marlin. Howard has a 14.9% swinging strike rate for his career and debuted with a 28.7% strikeout rate, with 10.5% improvement from his rookie to second years. All those numbers look remarkably like Stanton’s — and the two share elite power.

He later goes on to mention Johnny Gomes as a potential downside for Stanton, but Gomes only once sustained the sort of success Stanton has shown in two seasons at the plate, and Gomes never had the additional talent in the outfield to be a regular. Marlins fans will still have to wait and see with regards to Stanton's strikeouts, but with two seasons and almost 1000 PA under his belt, it seems at least likely that Stanton improves slightly going forward. It should be additionally noted that this is Stanton's only flaw on offense, which is why his total player package is so intriguing.

The Precedent

The proof for why Stanton should receive an extension is there. But the question is what precedent does the team have for such an extension? The Marlins never signed Cabrera long-term; what makes you think they will sign Stanton?

The answer is the player whom they did sign long-term: Hanley Ramirez.

Year Status Salary (millions)
2009 Arb 1 $5
2010 Arb 2 $7
2011 Arb 3 $11
2012 Free Agent $15
2013 Free Agent $15.5
2014 Free Agent $16

This is the contract that to which the Marlins signed Ramirez midway through the 2008 season -- Ramirez's final pre-arbitration season. Given that the team at that point already knew that Ramirez was a superstar player, his "arbitration" salaries were very low; in contrast, Cabrera earned $7.4 million in his first arbitration-eligible season. If the Marlins could entice Stanton to accept a similar offer to the one Ramirez received, both sides could benefit.

The Contract

Why would both sides benefit from a deal? Stanton gets long-term security; regardless of how well he plays, the Marlins will be paying him through the end of the deal. The Marlins receive a discount, not only of the arbitration seasons, but also in any free agent years that the team buys out.

The key to this move is to accomplish it as early as possible. The earlier the Marlins pull the trigger on an extension, the easier it is to secure Stanton's agreement and the easier it is to get lower prices on those higher-paid years. If the Marlins wait a season or two longer, Stanton might have already established himself too much to get a deal akin to Ramirez's. If the Marlins extend him this offseason, those prices are attainable given Stanton's status as a guy who has yet to achieve strong success.

What is a good comparison for a possible Stanton contract? Look no further than Milwaukee's Ryan Braun.

Year Status Salary (millions)
2008 Pre-Arb $.45
2009 Pre-Arb $1
2010 Pre-Arb $1.2
2011 Arb 1 $4
2012 Arb 2 $6
2013 Arb 3 $8.5
2014 Free Agent $10
2015 Free Agent $12

Following his very successful second rookie season with Milwaukee, Braun signed an eight-year extension that covered two free agent seasons. The third pre-arbitration season was to increase in value in case he qualified for Super 2 status, which he eventually did not. This contract mirrors a cheaper version of Ramirez's deal during arbitration, and the free agent years were bought out so early that Braun was willing to go cheap.

This is exactly the sort of contract the Marlins could sign to Stanton. Let us assume Stanton will make Super 2 status, even though this is no guarantee. Here is how an extension could look like.

Year Status Salary (millions)
2012 Pre-Arb $1
2013 Arb 1 $5
2014 Arb 2 $8
2015 Arb 3 $10
2016 Arb 4 $12
2017 Free Agent $14
2018 Free Agent $14

This extension very closely mirrors the changes that would have occurred in Braun's contract had he qualified for Super 2 status. This deal signs Stanton for seven years and $64 million, locking him up through two free agent seasons and making him a Marlin through age 29. It is a perfect fit for both sides; if Stanton somehow falters, he still gets that money. If he performs as the Marlins expect him to perform, they will be getting his services at a ridiculously low price. If the "Ryan Howard with Gold-Glove outfield defense" description holds true, Stanton could easily be a 7-WAR player during his peak years, while the team would be paying him around $10 million.

The Fans Win

The final additional benefit to a contract like this is the morale boost that this would give the fan base. The Marlins ownership has never earned the trust of the fans, and a move like this would be a step in the right direction. The team can finally afford to make this sort of extension that other small-market teams often use to their advantage. The club's purse is now large enough that they can risk the loss in case Stanton doesn't develop as well. Extending a young star like him buys the team renewed credibility with a disenfranchised fan base that is jaded about everything the team does. It establishes a player who will bring continuity to the Marlins at a time when they will need it most.

While that may have been a long ride through the reasoning behind a Stanton extension, it will certainly be enjoyable if the Fish end up achieving this primary goal. What say you, fellow Fish Stripers? Is this deal reasonable, and can it happen? I, for one, certainly hope so.