Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how much Ian Desmond might actually be worth on the market, based on what the Washington Nationals suggested he might be worth in their contract offer to him. I am going to use some of the information discussed there, combined with Beyond the Box Score's recent post on estimating free-agent contracts, to see just what kind of price the Marlins might need to pay. Stanton, who won a Silver Slugger award for his performance in 2014, is going to be an expensive proposition, but signing him would do a lot to challenge the 'fire-sale cheapskate ownership' reputation of the Marlins franchise that began after 1997.
Projecting careers is a fool's errand, especially after the kind of traumatic injury experienced by Stanton. Some comparisons have been made to Tony Conigliaro, making projecting just next season somewhat problematic. How much will that experience affect Stanton's ability to stand in the box and attack the ball? Worse still, I don't have a super-sophisticated projection model like ZiPS or Steamer. I do, however, have a Brock2 spreadsheet, based on a system that Bill James devised about thirty years ago. This lets me work out a basic Runs Created value for each of Stanton's seasons, which we can compare to his FanGraphs WAR for the same season:
Season WAR RC 2010 2.3 59 2011 3.2 97 2012 5.6 97 2013 2.3 74 2014 6.1 118
There is a big difference in relating WAR to RC in 2010 and 2013 and in relating 2011 to 2012. Examining FanGraphs' breakdown of WAR values between batting, fielding and base-running in more detail, what one sees is that 2011 is suppressed by poor base-running and a lower fielding score. In 2013, Stanton fielded a lot worse than he did in 2010. So we have to be a little bit careful here. Stanton's 6.1 in 2014 for a 118 RunsCreated is probably the benchmark to use, as his base-running and fielding numbers fall around the medians for his career.
Stanton has two arbitration years remaining. What we need is to estimate the value of his next two seasons by WAR, and then guess what they might lead an arbitrator to award. Using that 118 RC = 6.1 WAR value for 2014, for 2015 Brock2 projects Stanton at 121 RC and for 2016 a projection of 126 RC. These work out to 6.3 WAR and 6.5 WAR respectively. MLB Trade Rumors has already projected a $13 million salary for 2015, a doubling of his 2014 salary. Despite the injury, Stanton played quite a bit, making 639 Plate Appearances, and playing time is an important component of arbitration raises. One probably ought to anticipate a similar doubling of salary based on his 2015 projected Runs Created, so let's say Stanton can expect something like $35 million over the next two seasons, allowing him to underperform his projection a little, a possibility after such a horrific injury.
When one gets to Stanton's free-agency years, the problems begin because at this moment we have almost no idea how many years the Marlins might offer, nor how many Stanton might be looking for. There are effectively three broad-based options here. The obvious first two are a long contract that basically ties up Stanton's most productive years, or a short contract that allows Stanton to return to free agency with a prime year or two left giving him a chance at a second monster contract. Based on his Brock2 projection, Stanton would probably want a short contract to end after his age 29 season (2019), the Marlins might want to keep him through age 31 (2021). A longer-term contract would probably see the Marlins wanting him through age 38 (2028), although they might want to curtail it at age 35 (2025) in order to reduce the risk of carrying a high-salaried underperforming player. Stanton probably wants to go right to age 40 (2030), which would still give him a chance to sign a one-year deal with a contender needing veteran leadership from a proven winner.
A third option could be a longish deal with an opt-out. This has the advantage from Stanton's point of view of putting pressure to contend on the Marlins or whatever team they may trade him to after agreeing to an opt-out. Stanton has made it plain he wants to get to the post-season, and he wants to see Marlins' ownership show a similar commitment.
The Beyond the Box Score free agency calculator suggests that, after three 6+ WAR seasons, a free agent right-fielder can expect an annual average value salary of $39.2 million. Since this is based on a 2014 season, we can only expect this sum to go up. I suspect the actual figure might be between $42-45 million, given that MLB player wages rise somewhere between 5 and 8 per cent per annum. That kind of annual salary equals the Marlins' entire estimated payroll for 2014, according to Baseball-Reference. It is also double what the Marlins were estimated to have offered Albert Pujols in 2011.
The only way this deal is going to work for the Marlins, I believe, is with a substantial chunk of deferred money, the technique Jerry Colangelo and Joe Garagiola, Jr used to build the 2001 World Champion Diamondbacks. I suspect Stanton's willingness to sign with the Marlins is going to depend on his willingness to accept a substantial number of deferred payments.
What kind of proposal might open the negotiations? I think I would copy Alex Rodriguez' contract with the Texas Rangers, signed during the 2000/01 off-season. That was a ten-year deal with an opt-out after the seventh year, with an average annual value of $25.2 million and about 20 per cent of the pre-opt-out salaries deferred. I would add together two arbitration years at a value of $35 million, and eight years at $40 million to give a total of $355 million. That gives an annual average value of $35.5 million, and an estimated actual in-season value during the first seven years of about $30 million after the deferrals. (I actually would prefer to defer a lot more, ideally as much as 50 per cent.) I'm honestly not sure I'd go much above $355 million simply because I'm not convinced the South Florida market can sustain a large payroll for an extended period. The evidence is that Floridians are not even particularly good about supporting even winners over the long haul. Sometimes it is better to work around one's shortcomings, than to pretend they don't exist.
The immediate problem, though, is that such an offer means finding an additional $17 million for 2015, before adding any other payroll. At the moment Cot's says that the Marlins have about $18 million in commitments for 2015. Adding $30 million for Stanton will take that up to $48 million, before anyone else's arbitration raise or salaries for pre-arbitration players. For 2015, the Marlins might be looking at a payroll in the $70-80 million range to be as competitive as Stanton would like. That's almost a doubling of payroll in one season. Is that really affordable right now? It's hard to say given Mr Loria's history of tight control on the team's spending.