The Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton recently missed nine straight games with a sore left intercostal muscle. He returned this past weekend in the series against the Philadelphia Phillies and promptly hit a home run in each of his first two games back. Stanton had six hits, including the two home runs, in 13 plate appearances during the series, and he brought up his season batting line up to .290/.361/.610 (.405 wOBA).
The events surrounding Stanton in the past two weeks are actually a perfect microcosm of his 2012 season. He spent nine days out of action, but came back and was mashing as well as he had been when he left. When he has been on the field, he has been one of the best hitters in baseball. Stanton's .405 wOBA would rank fourth in the league if he had enough playing time to qualify for the batting title. His .610 slugging percentage would be tops in baseball, better than Miguel Cabrera's and Ryan Braun's by almost 10 points. His ISO of .320 (!) would be beating Josh Hamilton's by more than 40 points. But that is if he had qualified, and because Stanton has missed 45 days and 38 games with various injuries, he does not have the playing time to rank among these league leaders in rate stats.
But that is all familiar for Marlins fans. What is interesting is how this 2012 season, with all of its ups and downs, might affect the Marlins' attempts to sign Stanton to a long-term extension, something that has been bandied about in the media and for which Fish Stripes has been clamoring for almost a year now. There are odd positives and negatives for Stanton's 2012 year that can affect his willingness to extend and the price at which it could be done.
Yes, you read that correctly. While Stanton's 2012 injuries were clearly a negative in a lost 2012 season, they are a clear positive when it comes to lining up a future extension. One of the important factors going into a player's decision to sign an extension is that a long-term deal eliminates his risk of injury. By taking a lower price tag, he assures himself that injuries in the future will not drop his next year's value, no matter how catastrophic. Well, Stanton has not had anything close to "catastrophic" in his career, but he has missed almost 40 games this season with injuries and that time includes a surgery on his knee.
Now, Stanton wants to avoid the label of being "injury-prone" after just on year of missed time. But for the Marlins, while Stanton actually being injury-prone would be a problem, the perception of being injury-prone could afford the team a bigger discount than it would have received had he remained healthy. The season of injuries this year may also help to convince Stanton of a current offer that may have been too low for him before the injury bug.
This is especially important when you consider the supposedly comparable players that Stanton has as examples of future extensions. Remember the list shown in this article?
Player Status When Signed Years Total $ (Mil) Ryan Braun Pre-Arb 2 8 45 Jay Bruce Arb 1 6 51 Carlos Gonzalez Arb 1 7 80 Andrew McCutchen Pre-Arb 3 6 51 Justin Upton Pre-Arb 3 6 51
Not one of these five players signed following a season with the amount of games Stanton has played this year with the exception of Braun, who was a midseason call-up in his rookie season in 2007. The next-lowest amount of games played was Justin Upton at 138 games and 588 PA in 2009 prior to his 2010 extension, and that is going to be at least 15 more games than Stanton has played all season.
The fact that Stanton was hurt this season offers the Marlins a unique chance to lock him up for less than he likely initially expected just on the basis of "hedging their bets" against a future injury. Of course, if both sides feel as if the injuries are not all that repeatable, then this angle may not be viable for the Marlins, but if there is enough of a perception of Stanton being a 30 games-per-year missed type of player, the Marlins could get some monetary benefit.
The Meteoric Rise
The problem is that Stanton's injury has not come in a season in which he otherwise performed as expected. Prior to the season, ZiPS projected a .385 wOBA following a year in which Stanton had a .372 mark. Not too many projection systems thought he would do better than that, and yet Stanton demolished expectations by hitting a .405 wOBA thus far this season. His meteoric rise is only coupled with the added bonus of having reached his projected Wins Above Replacement marks without playing his expected games. Prior to the season, the FanGraphs fans expected a 5.7 FanGraphs WAR (fWAR) season from Stanton in 158 games played and 656 PA. Stanton has surpassed that while playing only 120 games and racking up 488 PA!
And this is not just a sabermetrics / advanced stat display, as Stanton has also succeeded in the traditional Triple Crown stats as well. Thanks to a .343 BABIP, Stanton is hitting .290 despite a 28.6 percent strikeout rate. He also has the amazing 36 home runs despite all that missed time and leads the team in RBI with 85. He has at least a decent shot at passing 90 RBI, and at that point Stanton and his agent can make a clear traditional stats-based argument that Stanton had an elite year at the plate despite playing very few games. Such an argument does not even need to include his possibly very positive defensive contributions.
With that under his belt, Stanton may simply choose to forego signing an extension this season. Had he put up a regular, expected year, he may be willing to follow the path laid out in the injury section, but with him having such a spectacular year, he may figure he could get a better price signing an extension next season following a full year of this sort of play. This sort of meteoric rise opens up the idea of an even larger payday that the Marlins may not want to offer in 2013.
So there is a distinct positive and negative out of the 2012 year that may affect the Marlins being able to sign Stanton to a long-term deal. Had the Marlins worked harder towards a deal before 2012, the prices for an elite player like Stanton who has excellent traditional numbers may not have gone up. By waiting a year, the Fish allowed Stanton to have a monster season, and the only things that may have helped keep his price down were the knee and intercostal injuries.
The Marlins took an unnecessary gamble (or Stanton bet more on himself, we cannot be sure which side ultimately decided to table the extension talks) and now the team faces uncertainty with the critical Stanton extension heading into next year. The best case scenario is that these factors even themselves out, The more likely occurrence is that the Marlins and Stanton waited a year and the price went up more than expected, favoring the player. But do not forget: the Marlins waited until the third arbitration season to sign Hanley Ramirez as well, and that deal did get done. It is not close to over.