In case you were wondering, yes, you’re already used to this. The biggest contract in the history of North American sports is being handed out by perhaps the most famously cheap organization in the history of North American sports, and with a press conference scheduled, that means we’ve got something official: the Marlins are giving 13 years and $325 million to Giancarlo Stanton. Potentially. It’s complicated. But the contract’s agreed to, which is amazing, and almost as amazing as the fact that many of us have already moved on from the news given it was almost done late last week. This is the day to discuss Russell Martin or Jason Heyward or Shelby Miller. We already processed the Stanton stuff, but it feels like we should make a conscious effort to process a little more. This is a big deal. It’s also a big deal.
Fresh off of the Twitter, we have Buster Olney making a relevant guess:
Unofficial guess on industry opinion on the Stanton $325m deal:98 pct. think the Marlins are crazy. As you would expect w/ a deal that size.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 17, 2014
Seems like the industry usually reacts with astonishment, early in offseasons, before going on to make similar decisions later in offseasons. It’s always startling to recognize how much money there is in this game. The Stanton deal, though, is obviously exceptional — this is a new level of commitment. You can’t not stare at the potential maximums. What does 13 years even mean? How many dollars is three hundred twenty-five million dollars? This contract would conceivably end in 2027. By then, current eighth-graders could be getting PhDs in microbiology. It’s crazy to think about the commitment because the future is overwhelming. None of us know what’ll happen tomorrow. 13 years is almost 5,000 tomorrows.
Something we can’t do easily with our own lives is compare ourselves to similar people in the recent past. I can’t develop a profile of my neighbor and analyze a bunch of other people to see what might be going on with my neighbor in four or five years. But we can do this with athletes, at least in terms of their athletic performances. So let’s follow through with this pretty basic concept. How crazy a contract is this, that the Marlins are giving out? We don’t know anything about Stanton’s next 13 years, but what about the next 13 years, for previous Giancarlo Stantons? How did those go?
I decided to set some pretty simple filters. For ages, I examined the window between 22 – 24, capturing Stanton’s last three years. I went back to 1950, set a plate-appearance minimum of 1,500, entered a wRC+ minimum of 140, and entered an ISO minimum of .200. The FanGraphs leaderboards spit out 19 names: Stanton’s, and 18 others. We’re going to play with those 18 others.
We’re going to assume that Stanton follows each individual career path. For example, let’s take Eddie Mathews. If Stanton followed the Mathews path, he’d be worth 7.3 WAR next season. He’d be worth 4.2 WAR in 2022, and 0 WAR in 2027. We’re taking what Mathews did between 25 and 37, and then plugging that in for Stanton.
The remaining step is figuring out value, in terms of money. Here, I’m running parallel calculations. One assumes a starting point of $6 million/WAR, today, and the other assumes $7 million/WAR. Reasonable people disagree on these, which is why I’m showing them both. I’m assuming 5% year-to-year inflation. This, also, is something we can’t know, but over the course of the past decade, payroll has increased an average of 5.4% each season. It actually jumped more than double that between 2013 – 2014, but we should assume that won’t continue.
With all the numbers in place, we can easily calculate the player value over the 13 seasons. So, let’s walk through the Eddie Mathews path, again, in all the detail:
|Year||Age||WAR||$/WAR, (A)||$/WAR, (B)||Value, (A)||Value, (B)|
If we start at $6 million/WAR, then the Mathews path would have a value of $476 million. If we start at $7 million/WAR, then the Mathews path would have a value of $555 million. Stanton is being guaranteed $325 million. The opt-out, of course, complicates things some. We don’t know the precise structure of Stanton’s contract, but if Stanton went the way of the Mathews path, he would probably exercise the opt-out after the sixth year. So then we wouldn’t care about the final seven. I don’t know the best way to handle that, so here I’m just going to pretend like the opt-out doesn’t exist, save for occasional mentions, like this one.
So that’s the Eddie Mathews path. How do the numbers come out, for all of the individual paths? That’s what this table is for. For the players who are still active and haven’t yet reached age-37, I filled out the data with Steamer projections and a standard semi-aggressive aging curve.
|Name||Value, $6M/WAR||Value, $7M/WAR|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||305||355|
The literal worst-case scenario is that Stanton never plays again. Something terrible happens and his career is over. Maybe that terrible thing already happened, on account of Mike Fiers. But, no. You can’t let yourself be paralyzed by fear of the extremely unlikely. Next time you eat a sandwich, you could choke to death. You can’t not eat sandwiches. Next time you go jogging around the neighborhood, you could be killed by a falling fire-escape ladder. You can’t not exercise (or you’ll be killed by something else). There are actual worst-case scenarios and there are realistic worst-case scenarios, and I think the table includes some realistic worst-case scenarios. Strawberry’s career plummeted right off a cliff at 30. Mattingly lost his power as a result of a chronic back injury. Both paths would still be worth 60 – 70% of the Stanton terms.
And there’s the other end. Hank Aaron just never slowed down. Miguel Cabrera is particularly encouraging, if you’re not buying that Alex Rodriguez is also encouraging because of what he put in his body. Frank Robinson, Mathews, Albert Pujols…Mickey Mantle might’ve been too good to serve as a Stanton comp, but it’s not like he’s in here skewing all the numbers.
Based on the values in the first column, the average is $397 million, with a $367-million median. Based on the values in the second column, the average is $463 million, with a $429-million median. The point being, based on these comparisons, Stanton should be worth the money, if the assumptions hold somewhat true. It could be payroll goes up more than 5% on average. Balancing out a certain amount of this is that the opt-out has value for Stanton, and not so much for the team. The likelihood is that Stanton only stays around if he’s declined a fair amount. But based on where we are today, Stanton should offer a ton of value over the next six years, and every long-term contract has an iffy second half. I don’t know exactly how to value an opt-out clause, in terms of money, but nothing about this indicates “crazy” to me. I mean, the terms out of context are crazy — wow, $325 million, that’s an unimaginable amount of money! — but given what Stanton is, given how he should be expected to age, and given how much money there is right now in the sport, this looks a lot better than other, shorter contracts to older players from the recent past. Giancarlo Stanton isn’t even a week and a half removed from his 25th birthday.
The caveat is the obvious caveat: above, we used market rates for wins. Different teams have differing abilities to spend market rates, and while Stanton makes sense on a $150-million ballclub, he makes no sense at all on a $50-million ballclub. This all forces us to wonder how capable the Marlins are of change, under the leadership of Jeffrey Loria. For good reason, a lot of people see that name and their minds are made up. Loria has abused every shred of trust he’s ever had in his vicinity. But if the Marlins were to be genuinely turning over a new leaf, what might that look like? It might look like an unprecedented guarantee for the face of the team. It might look like extension negotiations with other young talent. You can even reflect on the trades from a few years ago that made Stanton upset, and see the good sense in them. Perhaps the Marlins didn’t mess up by tearing the team apart. Perhaps the Marlins messed up by spending to build the wrong kind of team. If you’re somehow willing to trust again, and I don’t blame you if you’re not, this is what it would look like if the Marlins were going to join the rest of Major League Baseball.
That’s the crazy thing to think about. It’s definitely crazy to think about making a 13-year commitment to a baseball player, but when they’re really young and really great and really averse to ever throwing pitches, baseball players are actually kind of predictable. A lot of those guys, predictably, go to the Hall of Fame.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.