The Miami Marlins have already begun the process of offering long-term contract extensions to players surrounding Giancarlo Stanton in an effort to keep as many of the core talents of the team around for the long haul. Buying out free agent years for guys like Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez would be an absolute steal and be crucial for the team's future success as a small-market club.
But one player is also slated to receive a contract extension who does not appear on the surface to be worth the trouble. The Marlins have offered a deal to Adeiny Hechavarria, thinking that he is a key piece of this team's next competitive core. Hechavarria is a career .251/.286/.331 (.272 wOBA) hitter, and despite what the Marlins say about his improvements at the plate, there does not appear to be any upside on his offense as of right now. The sole reason to sign a player like Hechavarria is if you believe he is a Gold Glove defender at shortstop, which in and of itself is questionable.
The decision to sign Hechavarria to guaranteed money when he is a season removed from being one of the worst hitters in baseball and a legitimate negative WAR player (2013) is highly questionable. But the franchise has always found a reason to prop up Hechavarria's abilities despite his negatives. More importantly, the Marlins would not be the first team to sign a defense-first shortstop with deficiencies at the plate to a long-term deal that bought out free agent seasons. If the Marlins believe that Hechavarria is an elite shortstop defender, they have two good examples of extensions around which they can model a contract.
On the obvious end of the spectrum is the Atlanta Braves locking up Andrelton Simmons for the long haul. Simmons had played only one full season and change when the Braves decided to lock him up to a seven-year, $58 million extension. Of course, in that season, Simmons posted one of the best defensive years in recent history according to most defensive statistics, and he matched the eye test with his flashy skills. Depending on who you ask, Simmons was worth between 25 and 41 (!) runs better than the average shortstop that season on defense, and he rode that all the way to a Gold Glove. The Braves had seen enough and locked him up.
The Marlins feel that Hechavarria can challenge Simmons as an elite defender, but the truth is that even they cannot make the argument that anyone is as talented as the Braves' shortstop. Thus, there is no way Hechavarria received a similarly-valued contract, which would have earned Simmons $27 million or so in arbitration after some fudging with the structure. Instead, the Marlins can also see the lower end of a contract for this type of player. The defending AL champion Kansas City Royals locked up their defense-first shortstop to a four-year, $10.2 million contract with two extra option years. Escobar signed before his third pre-arbitration season, which means he locked up through his team-controlled years and gave up two free agent seasons as club options.
The above deal fits Hechavarria's situation a bit better. He too would be entering his final pre-arbitration season. Each of the three players are similar at the plate to each other, though Escobar is probably the closer example.
It should be worth noting that Escobar had hit an almost picture-perfect exact replica of Hechavarria's batting line before he signed his deal, having batted .252/.294/.339 (.283 wOBA) through his first 1288 plate appearances.
This makes Escobar's contract an excellent example of what the Marlins could pull off. But you have to figure that the Fish themselves would like to model at least the length of Simmons's deal, especially since the team has been offering six-year contracts to their young talents. If you presume Miami offers a similar six-year deal, we can use the salaries from Simmons and Escobar to create a model deal. (all salaries in $ million)
|Contract||Pre-Arb 3||Arb 1||Arb 2||Arb 3||FA 1||FA 2|
*denotes club options
The structure of these deals is obviously different from other pre-arbitration contracts. The Royals offered no change in Escobar's salary throughout arbitration, while the Braves simply bumped Simmons's salary $2 million every year rather than structure around arbitration. Still you can kind of see the valuation between them; the Braves valued Simmons as 2.5 times as good as Escobar. The Marlins probably feel that Hechavarria is closer to Simmons than Escobar, but we can safely at least cut to the middle point and split the difference. In addition, with Hechavarria still being a worse hitter than the two, we could creep his contract a little closer still to Escobar's, perhaps making his salaries closer to three-quarters Escobar with a tinge of Simmons.
Here is the structure of a six-year deal with two team options, the type of deal Miami offered to Fernandez and Yelich.
|Contract||Pre-Arb 3||Arb 1||Arb 2||Arb 3||FA 1||FA 2||FA 3||FA 4|
This contract models something akin to the yearly bumps in salary that Simmons received, but still pays Hechavarria a lot less than what Simmons would earn on each subsequent year. It also provides Miami reasonable salaries for arbitration seasons, much like Escobar's contract does. The team is likely paying for less than about a win a year in performance in those first two free agent years, then getting two options they are not the least committed to.
The total contract offered year sits at six years and $31 million with two club options at $22 million total. Given the models before this, this is a reasonable deal. Escobar's contract saved significant amounts of money, but Hechavarria would only make about $7 million more than Escobar through arbitration and $7 million more in those free agent years. Miami believes they have a better player, and they might pay him as such.
Is this contract fair? It depends on what you think of Hechavarria. If you buy his Gold Glove-caliber defense, then you are looking at a player who borders on two wins a season going forward. A little worse defense and you're looking at 1.5 wins. If you think the zone-based metrics are right, then he is closer to replacement level and this deal looks like a disaster even at reasonable prices. Where you fall on the spectrum of Hechavarria's defense will shape how you feel about this seemingly appropriately-structured contract.