The Miami Marlins got themselves a steal of a deal.
Christian Yelich is rumored to have signed a seven-year extension with the Marlins for nearly $50 million, with a $15 million club option for the 2022 campaign. The Marlins have now locked their second outfielder in five months, having previously signed the 13-year, $325 million deal with Giancarlo Stanton. Two-thirds of the Marlins' outfield is now locked up to long-term deals, but this one is significant in another fashion. The Marlins just signed a very intelligent and unprecedented move for the organization.
Signing Stars Early
For a budget-strapped team like the Marlins have claimed to be, the club has largely avoided commitments to pre-arbitration players. Other teams with budget issues, most notably the Tampa Bay Rays and more recently the Pittsburgh Pirates, have opted to go for this strategy to control future costs. For those teams, it has largely proven to be an intelligent move, as most clubs are assuming such little risk in signing players who have played well in pre-arbitration years to long-term deals. The thinking on committing long-term is that the club is assuming risk, but the truth is that only a devastating injury or a severe drop in play would prevent the team from picking up the majority of those years.
Consider the case for Yelich. The Fish are signing up for seven years, but only two of those seasons are free agent campaigns. The three years before that were arbitration seasons. Yelich would have to have been a Jeremy Hermida-level collapse or have serious injury problems for Miami to find his arbitration salaries unpalatable. There is certainly a chance for that to happen, but the odds are not high.
The upside, on the other hand, is enormous. The Fish now locked in their prices for Yelich for those three arbitration years and bough possibly three free agent years at a deep discount. If Yelich continues a strong trajectory and continues to be an All-Star quality player, the Marlins might be a getting a four- or better win player for likely something like $15 million per season.
This secures Miami's financial future as well, because it allows them budget room in each of those arbitration and free agent years. Yelich might have earned at least $20 million a year by the time 2021 rolled around and he became a free agent. By signing him now, Miami earned itself a discount of at least $15 million over three years if it keeps the eighth-year club option. Those savings can go into securing another valuable player or finding the budget room to fit the right free agent or trade piece around the club's competitive core.
For the Marlins, this is a rare, unprecedented move, and it also holds distinction around the league. The Fish have rarely discussed pre-arbitration extensions, and they have never signed any player to a deal of this caliber. The earliest the Marlins ever signed a player to an extension was Hanley Ramirez, who earned a six-year, $72 million deal after he played out a Rookie of the Year 2006 season and an MVP-level 2007 season. The Fish had more than enough of an idea of what Ramirez was and were more than comfortable committing to three cheap free agent seasons, but his deal only covered arbitration and free agency; that made the overall contract more expensive.
Yelich's deal comes a year earlier and at a significantly cheaper price. The Marlins have officially stepped into the world of intelligent pre-arbitration gambles on talented young stars. The Marlins did make mention that they wanted to sign Yelich among with a few other names this offseason, and this is something that has not been in the news before. Perhaps once the commitment to Stanton was made, the Fish decided they needed to lock up the core around him with more certainty. They might have also thought the eventual windfall of Stanton's contract with regards to renegotiated TV rights allowed the team some luxury in signing early deals like these.
The Fish have never committed to a player for as long as they just did with Yelich. Aside from Stanton, the Marlins have never signed a seven-year contract, even though this deal technically only covers two free agent years. The Fish have signed two six-year deals, with Jose Reyes and Ramirez, in the past. Beyond the Ramirez extension, however, the club has not ventured beyond four years for its internal moves. Now the team has two of its youngest stars locked up at least through 2020.
But this move does not come without a significant investment. First- or second-year pre-arbitration players have rarely signed this kind of large contract. The nearly $50 million commitment is the second-largest for a pre-arbitration deal for a player only one or two years into his service time. This beats out Ryan Braun's eight-year, $45 million pact signed after his Rookie of the Year season. It falls just short of Andrelton Simmons's seven-year, $58 million extension, which was signed at a similar service time. Yelich will make $8 million less than Simmons over the life of the deal, and Miami earned a club option in return that could extend the contract to eight years.
Christian Yelich is projected to be a three-win player in 2015, but repeating his four-win year from last season is more than reasonable, especially if he continues his Gold Glove-level defense. The trajectory for a near-star like him could be impressive, especially if he begins to develop power. The Marlins signed themselves an excellent player, got great value, and paid an unprecedented but worthy price for him. For Yelich, the long-term security of a deal in Miami, a place in which he likes to play, was a worthwhile return.
The Fish just set themselves up for a bright future once again. Miami is making smart moves with their money. Watch out, baseball.