There is much rejoicing among Miami Marlins after yesterday brought official news that the Fish signed Giancarlo Stanton to the rumored 13-year, $325 million contract. The biggest contract in baseball history is going to a young player who could be one of the best players of his generation based on his production at such a young age, making the contract a likely deserved one. Despite the enormous sum of money that the Fish just potentially threw down, this is a huge moral victory for the Marlins.
But now comes the difficult part: the franchise has set a new competitive clock with this deal.
Stanton is almost certainly going to opt out of after the 2020 season barring some unforeseen consequence that would be devastating to the Marlins. The only way Stanton stays in the 13-year deal after 2020 is if he is underperforming his salary, which is unlikely to happen given his trajectory among the league's best hitters. If and when Stanton does opt out, you can expect him to be looking for a Robinson Cano- or Albert Pujols-type contract coming out of his prime years. That means he would be interested in 10 years and a large sum of money that would take him to retirement in his early 40's to replace the remaining seven-year, $187.6 million pact.
This is not necessarily a bad thing for Miami. The opt-out could help the Marlins avoid overpaying the tail end of Stanton's career while still getting a discount on his prime years. But the end result is that Stanton may very well leave the Marlins in six years even if their relationship remains in great shape. And that means Miami's window for contention has suddenly been accelerated.
Before, the Marlins had no strong compulsion to push for contention soon. The Fish were facing an impending Stanton departure, which likely would have led to a rebuild and a franchise led by Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez, one that may be ready to compete in 2016 or 2017 after a trade for prospect talent. Even with Stanton, there was definitely still a question as to whether Miami would be ready to compete in the next two years with its meager position player crew.
Now the Fish no longer have the luxury of uncertainty to wait around on a Stanton decision. The Marlins have a set timeline to become and remain competitive, as the team's newest $137 million investment only lasts for six prime years. Once Stanton turns 31, he will certainly beg out of the contract and it may not be beneficial for Miami to stick with him. By that time, the Marlins have to have competed and made the playoffs for this contract to feel like a success.
A lot is riding on Stanton to continue his trajectory as one of the best players in baseball. But an equally large amount is riding on the Marlins to assist Stanton, as owner Jeffrey Loria claimed he would.
The process starts with more contract extensions. But Miami cannot do what it did to Stanton and allow time for value to build up. Not every player will agree to an early long-term extension that buys out free agent years, but Miami now faces a chance to lock up young talent like Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna early. The team has expressed interest in early extensions for Yelich, Jose Fernandez, and Adeiny Hechavarria. While the signings have different odds of happening, the idea points Miami in the right direction. If they truly believe some of these players are part of the next great Marlins core, they should sign as many of them as they can early before these players build up star value like Stanton did. These types of early deals are of minimal risk to the Fish but of maximal gain if they can earn cheap free agent years.
The timing of these moves is also important. Yelich is scheduled to hit free agency after the 2019 season. The same goes for Ozuna. Fernandez hits the market a year earlier. This trio of talent behind Stanton is the group that will primarily help Miami contend, but they are all scheduled to become free agents before Stanton's post-2020 opt-out. At this point, Miami is likely to hold onto all three through to the end just to retain the competitive window they help provide, but extending any of these guys into their first two or three free agent years provides help throughout Stanton's likely stay in Miami, and perhaps at below-market prices.
The next thing for Miami to do is to find the right added pieces of the puzzle. The Fish have a lot of depth in pitching, and they need to recognize who, if any among them, are worthy of time beyond arbitration. They also need to see if any of their own players are ready to take over in the infield, where the Marlins are at their worst. Filling in these gaps and determining which players have futures (Yelich, Fernandez) and which are more expendable (the majority of the rotation) will be key to spending resources wisely. The notoriously tight-pursed Marlins have to spend intelligently, but now with the Stanton extension, they have to spend at the right times to add to this team.
The challenge is in front of Miami to build a contender around Stanton. The first pieces are here, and securing the right ones in a cost-effective fashion is the next step. When Miami finds an opportunity in the trade or free agent market, they need to take advantage as well. But for the first time since the late 2000's, it seems like Miami has a certain clock on their future. Stanton's extension has opened the contention window. The Marlins have six years to try and keep it as open as possible.