Giants, Tigers Sign a Pair of Infielders to Extensions

The Giants have been one of the year’s biggest surprises, leading the National League West for a large portion of the season and holding the best record in baseball since the beginning of June. Their success is due in large part to some unexpectedly resurgent seasons from their veteran core. On Friday, San Francisco rewarded one of those veterans, signing Brandon Crawford to a two-year, $32 million contract extension.

The Tigers haven’t been nearly as good as the Giants in 2021, but they’ve played some really competitive baseball after an ugly 8-19 April. A big reason for their change in fortunes has been some excellent production from Jonathan Schoop. After signing back-to-back one-year deals with Detroit the last two seasons, the team inked him to a two-year, $15 million contract extension on August 7.

Crawford, a Bay Area native, has spent his entire career with the Giants. He was selected in the fourth round of the 2008 draft and has been a fixture at shortstop since his major league debut in 2011. He’s the franchise leader in games played at at the position and was a key contributor to two World Series championships in 2012 and ’14. After the 2015 season, he signed a six-year, $75 million contract extension that would have expired at the end of this season. This new extension guarantees that Crawford remains a single-franchise player at least through his age-36 season, a feat that’s become increasingly rare in today’s game.

Just a few seasons ago, it would have been hard to believe that the Giants were willing to commit any additional money to their veteran shortstop. Through 2018, Crawford had compiled 20.7 WAR with a career 95 wRC+ and some elite defense at short. In 2019, his offensive production suddenly slipped to a career-low and his once fantastic range looked merely average. He struggled to produce just 0.3 WAR that season and it looked like he would be on the outside looking in with a recently hired GM and a new manager in charge.

Instead of continuing to spiral downward, Crawford connected with the new coaching staff Gabe Kapler and the Giants front office brought in and reinvented himself at the plate. After posting a .140 ISO over the first nine years of his career, he produced a career-high .209 ISO last year and has pushed his power production even higher this season. Back in June, Luke Hooper broke down the significant swing changes Crawford made to unlock this new offensive prowess:

This time last year, Crawford was losing his grasp on an everyday role at an age when you don’t usually get it back. It’s only been about 400 plate appearances since then, but his turnaround has been quick and meaningful. This season, he’s walking at a career-high rate and on pace for 35 homers when he’s never hit more than 21 before. Armed with a new setup, a refined bat path, and a philosophy of punishing the pitches he’s looking for, he is having a career year, and with the Giants fighting for a playoff spot in the toughest division in baseball, it couldn’t come at a better time.

Since that article on June 7, Crawford has posted a 142 wRC+, though his home run output has fallen off his early season pace. He did miss 10 days in mid-July to an oblique strain, though that injury hasn’t slowed him down — he’s been held hitless just once in 15 games since returning from the injured list.

This coming offseason, a bunch of San Francisco’s veteran players are scheduled to hit free agency. Based on our RosterResource payroll tool, the Giants will free up around $80 million in payroll with both Kevin Gausman and Brandon Belt reaching free agency and expensive club options for Johnny Cueto and Buster Posey up in the air. In all, seven members of the roster will be free agents at the end of the season and four more have club options that may or may not be exercised. It’s a pretty significant exodus of talent from the club, though you’d like to assume the freed-up payroll will be reinvested into the roster to help offset all that lost production. Crawford was one of those pending free agents, but this new extension will keep him in San Francisco for at least another couple of seasons.

Crawford has now accumulated 3.9 WAR this year, his best mark since putting up 5.2 WAR in the first year of his new contract extension back in 2016. He’s also pushed his career total up to 25.8 WAR, which is the fifth most for a shortstop in Giants franchise history. Based on his production, it’s reasonable to assume he’ll surpass Dick Bartell (currently in fourth place) later this year:

Giants, All-Time Shortstop WAR Leaders
Name Years G wRC+ Def WAR
Travis Jackson 1922–36 1656 101 226.8 46.0
George Davis 1893–1901, ’03 1096 127 108.8 45.3
Art Fletcher 1909–20 1321 101 212.7 41.1
Dick Bartell 1935–38, ’41–46 835 111 111.4 27.1
Brandon Crawford 2011–Present 1402 96 106.9 25.8

Even if Crawford continues to pound the ball over the next two years, it’s pretty unlikely he’ll reach the lofty heights to match the career production of the likes of Art Fletcher, George Davis, or Travis Jackson. Even so, he’s clearly one of the best to ever wear the Giants uniform at shortstop and now has two more years to continue to build on that legacy.

As for Detroit and Schoop, many expected the infieler to be dealt at the trade deadline since his one-year deal was set to expire at the end of the season and the Tigers weren’t in line for a playoff spot despite their recent good play. Instead, they’ve elected to hold onto him and commit to him as a building block as they look to move out of their current rebuild. Schoop’s extension does have an opt-out clause following the 2022 season, giving him some flexibility if the situation in Detroit doesn’t pan out to his liking. But given his production and his status as a clubhouse leader, it’s likely he’ll be a key member of the Tigers roster as they start to challenge for the AL Central over the next few years.

Like the rest of his team, Schoop’s 2021 got off to a really slow start. Through May 14, he was hitting just .197/.230/.268, good for a measly 33 wRC+. But on May 15, he collected three hits and hasn’t looked back. Since that point, he’s hit .317/.365/.526 with a 142 wRC+, the 25th best mark among all qualified batters during that period.

Under the hood, there are a few small changes that indicate this new level of production isn’t a mirage. Schoop has shown good power ever since he was a young middle infielder in Baltimore. This year, his ISO has slipped to the second lowest mark of his career, though it looks pretty normal if you ignore the first month and a half of the season. All of his underlying batted ball metrics look like they’re stable, which leads me to believe that his slump to start the season was just a blip in an otherwise consistent offensive profile.

The biggest change has been a contact rate that’s increased by more than three points, up from 73.7% in 2020 to 77% this season. That’s a career high for him and it has come with a significant drop in his overall swing rate on pitches both in and out of the zone. Being more selective at the plate while also increasing his rate of balls in play has helped Schoop post a career-low strikeout rate.

Schoop has spent most of his time this season at first base, though he’s covered second base capably when the need has arisen. He had been an average to above-average fielder at the keystone earlier in his career, but Detroit had a bunch of younger options to play there this year. That positional flexibility gives the Tigers some options as they start to think about how they’re going to construct their 2022 roster. His extension isn’t a huge investment of payroll, but it does indicate that the Tigers might be ready to start spending to improve the roster sooner rather than later. Based on their 50-43 record since April, there are signs of hope in Detroit for the first time in a while.





Jake Mailhot is a contributor to FanGraphs. A long-suffering Mariners fan, he also writes about them for Lookout Landing. Follow him on Twitter @jakemailhot.

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diamonddoresmember
1 year ago

Happy for both of these guys. Coming into the year I definitely didn’t expect the Giants or Tigers to be anywhere near as fun as they are to watch right now. These two are a big part of why that is.