The Miami Marlins have a lot of things that they need to do in 2014 to do well next year and in coming years. Some of the moves in our official 2014 Fish Stripes Marlins Offseason Plan are short-term gains aimed to make for a more pleasing product in the next one to two years. Some of the moves are aimed to secure positions of need with long-term solutions. But the first move the Marlins should make this offseason should secure a position of strength for a long, long time.
The Marlins need to re-sign Giancarlo Stanton to a long-term extension.
Despite his struggles from last year, Stanton still represents the first truly homegrown star the Marlins have had since Miguel Cabrera. The team was incapable or unwilling to sign Cabrera for the long haul. Their first young star extension, Hanley Ramirez, did not work out to their benefit. The Marlins have not had great success with these type of situations, but that does not mean they need to give up. Very few players have Stanton's potential as a star, and certainly fewer players on the market have that kind of chance at stardom. Free agent contracts are getting increasingly more expensive in terms of years, so if the penny-pinching Marlins stumble on a player so close to stardom, they need to take the chance to keep him around long-term for below market value.
But while the last two years, the Marlins felt that they had time to negotiate a deal or wait for Stanton to prove his stardom, they have hit that time limit this offseason. The likely change in prices between an extension before this season, especially if Stanton bounces back in 2014, will be enormous. Consider the case of a player like Andrew McCutchen, who signed his first extension before his last pre-arbitraton season. The Pirates got him early enough to pay just $22 million for his three arbitration seasons and potentially just $41.5 million for three arbitration years. If McCutchen had gone to arbitration after his potential MVP season last year and likely MVP campaign this year, the results would have been significantly worse.
Contrast that to the situation with Joey Votto, The Reds were only able to lock him up for his three arbitration years for $38 million total. Because they could not lock up a long-term extension that bought out free agent years, the Reds had to wait to extend him after his 2011 year, his first arbitration season. Votto eventually received a mammoth 10-year commitment worth $225 million total. The first three free agent seasons are not outrageous at $46 million, but the remaining commitment had to be enormous in value and years to get him to sign.
Now, the situations are not exactly the same, as Votto was coming off of an MVP season in his last pre-arbitration year. But the premise remains: the Marlins would have to commit a lot more in years and contract value if they wanted to sign Stanton after this year, as he would be too close to free agency to entice on a five-year contract. Votto, Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Cain, Matt Kemp, and Cole Hamels are among the many players who are examples of commitments a team has made to a star past his first year of arbitration. All of those contracts (many of which replaced older extensions) added at least six years beyond the final arbitration but also committed massive long-term salaries to the player.
The Marlins would like to avoid that with Stanton the first time around. Not doing so may lead to a situation like Cain or Hamels, in which the player earned essentially a free agent contract with the final arbitration season tacked on. The premise of an extension was to obtain future savings in return for commitment, and such a late deal would not accomplish the former while still handing out the latter.
What would a contract look like then? We can still turn to the examples of players like McCutchen and Justin Upton as guides. McCutchen is scheduled made $22 million during his arbitration years under the terms of his contract, while Upton made $21 million. We can expect Stanton to get an increase just due to inflation and the fact that he is expected to make $4.8 million just on arbitration this year. If he earns a pay scale for the three arbitration years of $5 million / $8 million / $11 million, that would make Stanton $24 million during arbitration. From there, he can make the standard for the free agent years of about $15 million per season, adding up to $45 million total.
Such a contract would be worth six years and $69 million, essentially the same contract Hanley Ramirez got from the Marlins in 2008. It is a reasonable contract, but it is most certainly the Marlins' last chance to offer the deal. Next year, you can expect Stanton to want five or six free agent years at closer to a market value of $17 million a season or more. After a projected five-win campaign at age 24 in 2014, Stanton could expect to command $20 million a year on the open market easily given the contracts players like Matt Holliday have signed in the past. A signing after his first arbitration year may require an eight-year contract worth $130 million, with perhaps no discount on the free agent years.
The difference in those two contracts is drastic. This offseason's negotiations process is critical to the long-term salary flexibility of the franchise. The team will likely also have to commit to Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich, and the team's future salary cannot be tied up too far into the future unless they have confirmed Stanton's star status. In order to maximize their wins, they need to either sign him to a favorable contract or trade him sometime in the next year.
What do you Fish Stripers think? Is this the right move for the Fish? Would Giancarlo Stanton sign this deal? What contract would you offer him? Let us know in the comments!