Miami Marlins fans got some interesting and exciting news yesterday, when Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe said something we never expected about Giancarlo Stanton: he's "all-in" on staying.
It seems as if the Red Sox and other teams have finally come to the realization that Stanton isn’t going anywhere. The theme has been repeated constantly by GM Dan Jennings, who really believes that owner Jeffrey Loria will step up and get a deal done even if it’s a Robinson Cano/Albert Pujols type of contract. That could be a reason why the Red Sox obtained Cespedes, who obviously isn’t as good but has the power and athleticism to improve. This offseason will be telling on the Stanton front. He has a home in Miami and feels the organization is going in the right direction, so, for now, he seems to be all in on staying with the Marlins.
This is fantastic news for Marlins fans because the cynical thought here was always that Stanton was itching to eventually leave Miami and join his hometown team of the Los Angeles Dodgers or any other club that could sign him to the right long-term contract and provide him a winning situation. Miami has failed in providing him a winning place since he began here; from 2011 to 2013, the Marlins won only 203 games, which was worth a .418 win percentage.
But this year, the Fish have remained close to competitive, and the additions of young outfielders like Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna were encouraging for Stanton. He likely feels good about having another star teammate on his side in Jose Fernandez, who is under club control until 2019. And the front office put effort in this past offseason to try and improve the club's rough spots, committing money and years to Jarrod Saltalamacchia to replace Jeff Mathis at catcher.
So if Stanton is "all-in," Marlins fans can relax, right? Not really, because as Scott Gelman and I have pointed out in the past, it takes two to tango, and Scott points out yesterday that Jeffrey Loria still has not shown a willingness to enter the dance floor.
Considering what it will take to sign Stanton and the comparatively miniscule payroll Jeffrey Loria likes to work with, it will be interesting to see if he does receive a Cano or Pujols type deal. Miami was close to signing Pujols, however was off in the number of years and salary for each season.
It may be more difficult than even the Robinson Cano situation. Given the Marlins' difficulty in getting an extension in the last few years and the possibility that this team won't truly be competitive until 2016, Miami may have to try and fight other teams for Stanton's services in free agency. If that is the case, they might be looking at one of the richest free agent paydays in recent memory.
Only 24 free agent contracts have ever been signed that went over $100 million. Of those contracts, only a few have ever been offered to a player as young as Stanton. Due to early contract extensions that buy out some free agent seasons and later debuts, many players reach free agency at around age 29 or 30. Stanton is slated to be a free agent entering his age-27 season. Only one of those $100 million-plus contracts was signed by a player heading into a younger age: Alex Rodriguez's record-setting 10-year, $250 million deal was signed heading into his age-25 season. Prince Fielder signed a deal heading into age-28, and Carl Crawford and Jose Reyes signed their contracts heading into age-29. The remaining more recent stars all signed at age 30 or older.
Factor in that the market for free agent wins has increased dramatically in the last three years, up from around $4.5 million in 2010, when Matt Holliday signed his seven-year, $120 million deal to more recent seasons. Before 2012, Fielder signed a nine-year deal worth $215 million, an average annual value of almost $24 million. Last year, Jacoby Ellsbury signed a seven-year deal worth $21.6 million annually with the Yankees. Both of those players are older and projected to be worse than Stanton would be heading into his free agent season. Stanton's contract in free agency might shatter previous average annual values and climb into the $28 million or even $30 million range over a nine- or ten-year period. As a free agent, Stanton may be in line for the most lucrative free agent contract in history if it gets to that point.
The alternative is to sign him to a multi-year extension now, one that likely covers a significant number of free agent seasons. If Stanton is truly "all-in" on staying in Miami, signing a nine-year extension this offseason gives him the benefit of playing here for a very long time while still reaching free agency at age 34, which could be early enough for him to earn a final four-year deal for good money elsewhere. But even that sort of contract may cost a lot of money. Freddie Freeman earned five free agent seasons at $21 million per season, and that was on a deal signed before his first arbitration season. Stanton at this point projects as a better player and would be signing before his second arbitration deal.
The best comparisons to long-term contracts signed right before free agency are with Joey Votto and Matt Kemp. Kemp was coming off an MVP-caliber season, while Votto was coming his third consecutive monster batting year and his second six-plus win campaign. In the three seasons before the extension, Kemp averaged 4.5 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR), while Votto averaged 5.9 wins. Both were heading into their age-27 season and their final arbitration campaigns. Kemp got an eight-year deal that paid out an average of $21.4 million per free agent year. Votto got a 10-year extension on his previous three-year deal that paid him $22.5 million per free agent year. Those deals were done before 2012, at a time when free agent wins were maybe close to $5 million per win.
At around $7 million per win now, you have to wonder just how much Stanton would earn in even an early extension. Assume he signs a deal for seven free agent years, and that his final two arbitration seasons will be worth $27 million total. Kemp is probably the better comparison for Stanton heading into his extension, and he earned seven years and $150 million. Assuming the price goes up to a modest $24.5 million per season in this market, Stanton could be looking at a nine-year, $200 million contract with two arbitration seasons in it! And the price could be even higher, depending on how well Stanton finishes this season. I would not be surprised if Stanton approached Fielder's free agent contract with his new extension.
Are the Marlins prepared to make those kind of offers? That remains to be seen, but this is likely what it will take to retain Stanton. Should Miami do it? What do you Fish Stripers think? Let us know in the comments!