Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins’ front office need to save face as much as anyone since Harvey Dent (dated pop culture reference: check). One suggestion has been that they should re-sign their one remaining superstar, Giancarlo Stanton. That is easier said than done, given that Stanton publicly expressed displeasure in the immediate wake of the team’s massive trade with Toronto. Even if he had not, why would any player want to make a long-term commitment to the Marlins at this point (note to Giancarlo: make sure and get that no-trade clause in writing. Also, stick with rentals.)?
As Buster Olney points out, even if one thinks Stanton is unlikely to sign an extension, if the Marlins do at least make a good faith offer, they can at least say they tried, which in itself would be progress and might help them a bit in the court of public opinion. If he turns it down, at least they could feel free to trade him when is value is highest. Naturally, Loria is saying exactly the wrong thing: “Giancarlo needs to play this year.” Aside from the particulars of the whole Marlins mess, when considering how much it would cost to extend Stanton, not many recent comparisons come to mind. Olney cites an agent to compares Stanton to the Rockies’ Carlos Gonzalez after his 2010 season, when he signed for seven-years and $80 million dollars. That comparison makes sense in that Gonzalez was then and Stanton is now young, talented, and still a year away from arbitration eligibility. A comparison with Gonzalez is a helpful starting point, but beyond the increased money in baseball now, there are good reasons to think a Stanton extension would be significantly bigger. As good as Gonzalez was and is, Stanton projects to be even more valuable.
It is important to understand how the cost of marginal wins has increased since 2011 and how that might effect a hypothetical Stanton extension. Moreover, one cannot ignore how unattractiveness of playing for the Marlins might drive up a player’s asking price. I will not be focusing on those issues with respect to Stanton and the Marlins, however. Instead, I want to focus on something else that would likely drive up the cost of a Giancalo Stanton extension relative to that given to Gonzalez prior to the 2011 season: Stanton’s greater projected value compared to Gonzalez prior to 2011.
This is not to take anything away from Gonzalez. It is wild to think about Dan O’Dowd taking Billy Beane to the cleaners, but that is what happened when Gonzalez was just once piece of a trade for one year of Matt Holliday before the 2009 season. I simply think that when comparing how Stanton projects now to Gonzalez projected in 2011, there are good reasons Stanton has greater projected value.
Not everything tilts towards Stanton’s side of the ledger. Stanton is a fine defensive right fielder, but back in 2010, Gonzalez was still playing a chunk of the season in center Whatever one makes of defensive metrics, I could understand if someone would prefer Gonzalez’ defensive skills. Gonzalez’ superior speed also manifests itself on the bases. Questions of value aside, one might have more confidence in Gonzalez’ likelihood of aging gracefully given his speed. Moreover, while Gonzalez is not a master of contact, Stanton’s strikeout rate — 28.8 for his career so far — is a bit scary. It is not that so much that strikeouts are worse than other outs, but that a lack of contact puts pressure on his other skills and also might indicate “old player skills,” i.e., that Stanton might decline earlier than the average hitters. Stanton’s knee surgery last season might also be a bit of a concern.
These are legitimate points, but I still think that the Stanton’s projected offensive superiority relative to opre-2011 Gonzalez tips the scales significantly. It might be simple enough to point out that from 2008-2010, Gonzalez hit for a 118 wRC+, while from 2010-2012, Stanton has a 140 wRC+. That does a nice job of summarizing just how big the gap is. But is is worth specifying the differences because that will highlight the particular reasons why Stanton’s projected future value now is greater than Gonzalez’s was prior to 2011.
Stanton has had a somewhat high BABIP (.328) so far in the majors, so one might be concerned that it would regress. However, he has not been reliant on that BABIP for a more significant part of his offensive production. More germane to the point, Gonzalez’ BABIP through 2010 was .369. That is not to dismiss BABIP as a skill for hitters. Given that it does fluctuate more year-to-year than many other peripherals, though, having a higher BABIP may indicate a greater degree of luck than having one closer to average.
When we look at certain skills that stabilize more quickly we also see that (aside from strikeouts) they favor Stanton over pre-2011 Gonzalez. Stanton’s walk rate is about 10 percent so far in the majors, whereas Gonzalez (prior to signing his contract) was below seven percent. Perhaps most significantly, and definitely most obvious in this case, is the power differential. While CarGo’s power was impressive even in the context of Coors field (.220 from 2008-2010, .262 in 2010), Stanton’s, as is well known from dozens of .gifs, is simply monstrous: .282 over the last three seasons, culminating in a stunning .318 in 2012. Given how quickly power (especially home run power) stabilizes relative to other stats, the advantage for Stanton here is quite significant for purposes of projection.
Two more factors are worth mentioning for contextualizing these statistics: park and age. Although the effect of Coors relative to other parks is often overemphasized when discussing Rockies hitters (and is accounted for, at least in terms of value, by using stats wRC+), it has to be taken into account when comparing stuff like raw BABIP and isolated power. Although it will be a while before we have a good idea of how the Marlins’ new park plays, it is safe to say that Gonzalez’ home park has been friendler than Stanton’s. This matters because a player’s value for an extension or in a trade is based on more than just how he would play in his home park, but how he would play elsewhere if he were traded or a free agent.
As for age, Gonzalez was hardly an old man when he signed his extension in 2011, he was 25. Stanton is 23. That may not seem like a huge difference, and people calculate aging curves differently. As hinted at earlier in the discussion of speed and strikeouts, Stanton and Gonzalez might not really be similar in how they age. For the sake of brevity, though, if we look at basic component aging curves, while 25 is very close to a hitter’s peak, at 23 a player is still developing in just about every respect. So, for example, Stanton’s somewhat problematic contact rate is still likely to improve, as is his good walk rate, and, frighteningly, his power. While at 25 one might still have expected some improvement in true talent (as opposed to his observed numbers) from Gonzalez, the improvements at that age are less dramatic, and there would be less time for them, as well.
Carlos Gonzalez was (and is) a good player and projected to earn his seven-year, $80 million extension from the Rockies back in 2011. As good as Gonzalez projected to be, Giancarlo Stanton has an even better projection now than Gonzalez did then. Stanton is not perfect, but his big advantages as a hitter and his age (implying not only a longer time until his likely decline, but more room for improvement) help Stanton project to have more value going forward than Gonzalez did at the time he signed his extension. Coupled with the money in the game now (not to mention the “excitement” players feel over the prospect of signing with the Marlins), and you have a recipe for a big, big contract. Gonzalez’ contract might be a good starting point for a comparison, but an extension for Stanton would be likely to far outstrip it based on Stanton’s abilities alone.