clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Revisiting a potential Brian Anderson extension

New, 12 comments

What are the Marlins waiting for?

Division Series - Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins - Game Three Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

We are 16 months into the #PayBA campaign, but haven’t made much progress. Craig Mish on Thursday asked Marlins general manager Kim Ng about the possibility of signing third baseman Brian Anderson to a contract extension. Here was her response (emphasis mine):

“In terms of Brian, I have not spoken to his agent yet. I would say, I personally would like to see how this year goes before we venture down that road so I have a better understanding of who he is as a player and I just get a better sense of the situation.”

Mish previously reported that “initial discussions” between Anderson and the Marlins took place in early 2020. At that time, the club provided the “framework” for a five-year deal with $30 million guaranteed, presumably covering the 2021-2025 seasons. However, that happened before Ng’s arrival and before what was arguably the most impactful season of BA’s career.

Brian Anderson is far from a perfect player—the next thousand words won’t try to convince you otherwise. But he’s been a bright spot throughout this rebuild who can be reasonably expected to sustain his current level of production, perhaps even improve upon it.

Eligible for free agency after the 2023 campaign, Anderson is closer to the end of his Marlins tenure than he is to the beginning...unless Ng and the front office do something about it.

Why extend Anderson?

I think this tweet concisely sums up what BA brings to the Marlins. For three straight seasons, they have been able to count on him to contribute better-than-average hitting and at least average fielding by MLB standards. Combining consistency in those areas with durability is extremely rare.

As a rookie in 2018, Anderson was the second-best player on the Marlins behind only catcher J.T. Realmuto. The next year, he was widely regarded as their MVP deep into the summer, but an inside fastball shattered his pinkie finger, sidelining him for the final 35 games. During 2020, with the elevated stakes of being in the postseason race, he remained indispensable—Anderson ranked third on the Fish in FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (1.2 fWAR) and first according to Baseball-Reference’s formula (1.7 rWAR).

There is nothing particularly “fluky” about Anderson’s MLB performance thus far. He has posted a lifetime .336 weighted on-base average (wOBA) and an identical .336 expected wOBA, according to Baseball Savant. As the Oklahoma native approaches his age-28 season, he’s in a spot on the aging curve where we can conservatively project more of the same production at the plate, perhaps even an uptick.

One of the few potential worries is Anderson’s baserunning. He did not attempt any stolen bases in 2020 and Statcast observed slight dips in his Sprint Speed and home-to-first splits. But he took the extra base in 41% of his opportunities, which was in line with his career average.

When parting ways with any player, the most important consideration is who the team has/would pursue as a replacement. The Marlins do not have a clear-cut alternative at third base, Anderson’s primary position.

Since Anderson reached the big leagues in September 2017, the Marlins player with the second-most games as a third baseman is the now-retired Martín Prado. Next on the list is Starlin Castro, who is still under contract with the Nationals. Then it’s Miguel Rojas, who’s even closer to free agency than Anderson is and more than four years older.

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

On the farm, the only starting-caliber talents with third-base profiles are José Salas and Osiris Johnson. Both are several years away from major league readiness, however, and have yet to play the position in an official professional game.

Free agency is not the route that the Marlins want to take, either. Third basemen get paid handsomely. At this time a year ago, Anthony Rendon commanded a seven-year, $245 million guarantee on the open market. Of the 13 MLB players who enter 2021 with at least a $30 million average annual value on their remaining deals, three of them play the hot corner (Rendon, Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado). Perhaps the Fish don’t feel that Anderson is good enough to be their long-term solution, but the only players who represent a clear upgrade would require an enormous investment.

Although it’s easier for us to think of Anderson as a conventional third basemen, the reality is he’s similarly valuable in right field. His play over there has been worth eight Defensive Runs Saved, including 17 assists since 2018—more than doubled any other Marlins outfielder during that span. Miami is still searching for answers at that position as evidenced by Mish’s report Monday regarding their interest in free agent Mel Rojas Jr.

Fish Stripes original GIF

This franchise’s fanbase has been starved for continuity, and even more than that, Marlins fans want consistent winning. We are entering an era where it should be possible to check both boxes. They lead Major League Baseball in financial flexibility from 2022 onward. Why not use a sliver of it on Anderson while there’s a window to do so efficiently?

What should it cost?

If I am Brian Anderson’s agent at CAA, I’d be negotiating with the Marlins under the premise that my client is the next Kyle Seager.

Six years ago, Seager was in Anderson’s shoes: a former third-round draft pick out of a major college program who quickly settled in as an everyday major leaguer. He was coming off his third full season with the Mariners and arbitration eligible for the first time. Also, their teams were in a similar place, competitively speaking, both finishing as the No. 6 seed in their respective leagues (despite differences in the postseason format).

Here is how Seager’s career counting stats back then compared to Anderson’s current body of work:

Stathead

Soon after the 2014 season ended, Seager and Seattle agreed to a seven-year, $100 million extension with a club option at the end. For what it’s worth, Seager has lived up to his end of it. With one more year to go—plus the 2022 option—he ranks top 10 among all MLB third basemen in fWAR and most counting stats. Unfortunately, the Mariners misused their other resources and haven’t tasted the postseason during his tenure.

Seattle Mariners v Miami Marlins Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The differences between these players can largely be explained by the 2019 broken finger incident and the shortened 2020 schedule. Largely, but not totally. Any way you slice it, Seager had more leverage than Anderson does now.

Seager garnered key accolades during his platform year. He was an American League All-Star selection and a Gold Glove award winner. He even received a down-ballot AL MVP vote. On a per-game basis, Anderson through the same point of his career has produced approximately 80% of Seager’s fWAR.

Age matters, too. Anderson is six-and-a-half months older than pre-extension Seager. More significantly, there has been a dramatic shift in recent years in terms of how veteran major leaguers get compensated. The Mariners valued Seager’s early-30s free agent years at approximately $19 million apiece; since then, we’ve seen comparable players like Lorenzo Cain ($16M average annual value) and Ian Desmond ($14M AAV) fall short of that mark. And those are the “success” stories—many above-average regulars find themselves perpetually stuck on one-year deals because teams are anticipating the beginning of their declines.

A new MLB collective bargaining agreement will take effect by the time Anderson has the freedom to test free agency, but that won’t benefit him. The industry has seemingly formed a consensus that the over-30 demographic is undesirable, and that needs to be taken into account here.

Brian Anderson contract extension estimate: seven years, $68 million (2021-2027)

  • $2 million in 2021—> $4 million in 2022—> $10 million in 2023—> $14 million in 2024—> $14 million in 2025—> $12 million in 2026—> $12 million in 2027
  • Anderson can opt out after 2025 season

Anderson’s consistency and well-roundedness get him seven guaranteed years, just like Seager, while the Marlins add at least two new years of control. Exercising the opt out after his age-32 campaign would imply that Anderson continued to be a staple of their lineup for much of the 2021-2025 period and provided surplus value along the way. If his production takes a steep downturn before then (worst-case scenario), the team should be capable of navigating around a $24 million commitment spread across two years, either hoping for a resurgence or limiting him to a role that best utilizes whatever skills and intangibles he has left.

This financial structure creates some short-term savings for the Marlins versus what Anderson would otherwise earn via arbitration. That figures to be a high priority after COVID-19 slashed their 2020 revenues and acknowledging that the pandemic’s consequences will linger deep into 2021.


Kim Ng believes that the window to #PayBA will stay open for at least another year. That is technically correct, but waiting could prove very costly. Remember how J.T. Realmuto, already entrenched as the Marlins catcher, continued to improve in 2018. Only then did the club make a serious effort to extend him. It was too late: the breakout performance boosted his asking price beyond their comfort zone. Realmuto, through his agent at CAA, requested a trade the next offseason.

In three-plus years under new ownership, the Marlins have operated under a consistent, rigid philosophy: fuck Jeffrey Loria and everything he touched and stood for. Drafted and developed under Loria’s regime, Anderson’s future in Miami is murky for that simple reason.

The Marlins made rare exceptions when reaching extensions with holdovers Miguel Rojas and Don Mattingly. Hopefully, they can also find common ground with Anderson.

Poll

If there was a 7-year, $68M Brian Anderson extension proposal on the table right now...

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    Done deal! Both sides agree
    (40 votes)
  • 21%
    Marlins say no
    (16 votes)
  • 15%
    Anderson say no
    (11 votes)
  • 8%
    Both sides say no/timing isn’t right
    (6 votes)
73 votes total Vote Now