The Miami Marlins want to show that the franchise is ready to step up and be a playoff contender in 2015. There a lot of things going against that notion, but among them is the team's ever-present payroll question and the looming figure of Giancarlo Stanton's new contract extension. The Marlins find themselves at a crossroads they have only once faced before. After the 2007 season, the Fish had Miguel Cabrera coming off of another strong season at the plate and demanding a significant raise from the $7.4 million he made in his first arbitration season. The Marlins and Cabrera could not negotiate a middle ground for the upcoming arbitration hearing, and Miami had seemingly no chance of signing him to a longer deal. The shopping began, and eventually the Detroit Tigers won the bidding and sent an infamous return that yielded Miami nothing.
This year, the situation arises again. The Marlins want to sign their next homegrown star to a lucrative contract extension, but the franchise is wary of the prices it will take. Stanton has a desire to stay in Miami and might put ink to paper, but only if the team is committed to winning. Once again, payroll and the future of the franchise hangs in the balance.
The Marlins only truly have two options, and in the first part of the 2015 Marlins Offseason Plan, we explore the more popular first one: the Marlins sign Stanton.
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The reasons why the Marlins would sign Stanton are multiple. Signing Stanton would secure the franchise five to six wins a year over the next five to six years easily, and if the Fish opt for more years beyond that, they can expect a decent but slow decline phase that buys the club even more wins. Stanton just had an MVP-level season at age 24, meaning that he likely has more of this type of production to come. In the last three years, Stanton had the 18th-most Wins Above Replacement (WAR) according to FanGraphs and the fourth-most home runs. This lands him firmly in at least the top 20 players in the game.
Baseball is not as singularly-driven by stars like other sports such as basketball, but owning one of the top 20 or so players in the game would leave Miami with a head start each and every year. If you consider that teams need about 40 to 45 Wins Above Replacement to get to the 90-win mark that most division winners reach, banking on five wins puts you one eighth or one ninth of the way there. The Marlins could give themselves a solid yearly chance at one-eighth of a playoff spot every season, with the rest of the 12 starters and backups and relievers to provide the remaining wins. It relieves a heavy burden right at the onset.
Of course, there are not just baseball reasons for such a move. Stanton is a highly marketable and popular player. He specializes in the thing that chicks dig the most, which makes him the easy face of the team. Fans love watching homers, especially in a stadium where the deepest long balls can look so majestic due to the park's difficult dimensions, so Stanton should remain a hit with the franchise's fan base for some time. And with that comes the possibility of drawing more fans to the stadium and to the Marlins, which is something that would benefit the club greatly.
Those fans want to attach themselves to a player, and the hope is that Miami fans want to re-establish enjoyment of this franchise after they have been burned so many times. Signing Stanton to a long-term deal may be the salve that heals the wounds of things like the 2005 and 2012 fire sales. It may help to regain the trust of the fans and get them back in the seats.
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The problem, of course, is that the contract is going to be big. The Marlins are looking at paying out a huge sum of money for Stanton. While he has been excellent, he has only had two great years in his first four-plus seasons. Are the Marlins ready to commit to Stanton for a full career, like the Cincinnati Reds did with Joey Votto, just off of one season combining health and effectiveness?
The Marlins have to answer the question of just how long the Marlins want to commit to Stanton. And Stanton has to ask the same question. The two sides likely have two choices to make mutually. On one hand, Stanton signs a six- or seven-year deal that grants him free agency right at the tail end of his prime, which might give him a chance at a Robinson Cano-style 10-year contract into his 40's. On the other hand, Stanton commits to the Marlins head first and signs a 12-year contract like Votto that spans the better part of his career and sets him up for life.
You can argue that the more beneficial move for Stanton in 2015 is to sign the shorter deal and return to free agency the same time Cano and Albert Pujols did. Pujols signed his first seven-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004, in his arbitration year and at age 24. By the time he got out to free agency, four years later than he could have without an extension, he was so transcendent and so good that he earned a 10-year contract at age 32. Stanton could do similarly by signing a seven-year deal now and taking him into his age 32 season. This is especially beneficial for him because he will essentially get close to free agent pricing on his free agent years because he and the Marlins waited so long to get to the negotiating table.
The other option is the safer one for Stanton and the riskier proposition for Miami. The Fish could sign a mammoth Votto-like 12-year deal worth upwards of $300 million or more, assuring Stanton will be signed into his old age. What Stanton loses in potential for insane salaries in the second half decline of his career, he makes up for with certainty, regardless of injury or decline.
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Ultimately, in my plan for the Fish, we strike a middle ground that allows Stanton and the cash-conscious Fish more leeway. If the presumption is that Stanton is almost a six-win player next season, then it fits that he stands to make a large sum of money going forward. If you buy that the going rate of a win right now is at $7 million per win, then Stanton's free agent prices should approach the type of money Mike Trout is being paid. Trout's salary for his three free agent seasons are a whopping $33.25 million per year. Trout signed early, so Stanton should actually earn more per season, even though Trout is a better player.
Let's give Stanton a flat $35 million a year for free agency for five seasons. Combined with about $30 million in two arbitration years and that turns out to be a seven-year, $205 million contract.
But if you want to go the midway route for Miami and Stanton, the Fish could go after a lifetime deal with a player opt-out clause at around the fifth or sixth year of the deal. This gives both parties an out. Stanton can opt out like most players do and re-enter the free agent market, thus maximizing his earnings. The Marlins can get cheaper per-year salaries by giving Stanton the security of a 12-year contract if he ever gets hurt, but they too can allow Stanton to divulge himself from their payroll if they regret the move in a few years.
What kind of contract would that look like? Votto signed a deal that paid him $22.5 million a year annually in a time when he was a similarly-skilled five-plus win MVP candidate and when the win rate was closer to $4.5 million per win. Now that we're talking at least a 33 percent raise from that rate, you might have to pay Stanton at least $28 million per year for that kind of deal. That means that the Marlins would sign a 12-year, $310 million contract. But the opt-out clause for Stanton could come in the sixth year of that contract, meaning Miami might only commit six years and $142 million before Stanton looks for greener pastures.
What do you Fish Stripers think? Are either of those deals worthwhile? Should the Marlins include the opt-out clause to entice Stanton if they don't like the no-trade clause? What do you think Stanton worth? Let us know!