How Giancarlo Stanton Contracts Would Have Gone

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:

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)
2015 25 7.3 6.0 7.0 43.8 51.1
2016 26 5.8 6.3 7.4 36.5 42.6
2017 27 8.3 6.6 7.7 54.9 64.1
2018 28 7.7 6.9 8.1 53.5 62.4
2019 29 7.1 7.3 8.5 51.8 60.4
2020 30 5.7 7.7 8.9 43.6 50.9
2021 31 7.9 8.0 9.4 63.5 74.1
2022 32 4.2 8.4 9.8 35.5 41.4
2023 33 5.2 8.9 10.3 46.1 53.8
2024 34 3.1 9.3 10.9 28.9 33.7
2025 35 1.5 9.8 11.4 14.7 17.1
2026 36 0.3 10.3 12.0 3.1 3.6
2027 37 0.0 10.8 12.6 0.0 0.0

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
Hank Aaron 776 905
Alex Rodriguez 572 667
Frank Robinson 567 662
Miguel Cabrera 532 621
Mickey Mantle 527 615
Albert Pujols 507 591
Eddie Mathews 476 555
Reggie Jackson 410 478
Frank Thomas 385 450
David Wright 349 407
Will Clark 308 359
Ken Griffey Jr. 305 355
Dick Allen 286 334
Jack Clark 280 326
Rocky Colavito 255 298
Boog Powell 216 252
Don Mattingly 197 230
Darryl Strawberry 190 222

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.

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9 years ago

What a preposterous article. Starting at age 21, Eddie Mathews had seasons worth 8.7 fWAR, 7.9 fWAR, and 7.5 fWAR. He was a plus defender at 3B and was routinely hitting 40+ HR with a .400+ OBP.

Meanwhile, Stanton’s career peak is 6.1 fWAR (last season), which was aided by a .353 BABIP pulling up his AVG/OBP from what appears to be his true talent level (mid-.200s AVG, mid-.300s OBP). He is not a great defender, and has never had a fully healthy season.

Need I expand on why it’s equally ridiculous to compare Stanton to players like Hank Aaron or Alex Rodriguez, or most of the other Hall of Famers you listed?

9 years ago
Reply to  Bill

the point of the article is to compare Stanton to people in the class he has put himself in

9 years ago
Reply to  Cicero

By focusing on two arbitrarily chosen stats (wRC+/ISO) and ignoring the ways in which Stanton is a vastly inferior player to the vast majority of these comparators? This article would make more sense if it was based on WAR as a whole.

Stanton is NOT in the same class as Mathews, Aaron, A-Rod, etc. Not even close.

9 years ago
Reply to  Bill

what was Hank Aaron or Daryl Strawberry’s UZR? We can’t realistically compare the three as RF so wRC+ is a pretty good start

9 years ago
Reply to  Bill

wRC+ is arbitrary?

Eddie Bird
9 years ago
Reply to  Bill

The question should be, what is the average RC+ of the group, and how does this compare to Stanton?

If the average is greater than Stanton, you have selected a bad comparison group. Try setting a minimum and maximum RC+.

Then you might want to restrict it based on position or WAR. If some comparable hitters (A-Rod) continued to rack up WAR partly based on fielding at shortstop, well, you know Stanton won’t be picking up any WAR that way.

9 years ago
Reply to  Cicero

Yes but this only compares Stanton with other players based on the things he does best (e.g. power). I could create a list of comparable players based on Stanton’s defensive value or his base running and get a very different set of comps. That set of players would also be misleading because it would only be based on Stanton’s (relative) weaknesses. A truly accurate comparison needs to include players who share Stanton’s strengths AND weaknesses.

9 years ago
Reply to  David

I would love to read that article. When and where will it be posted?

9 years ago
Reply to  Bill

Well a few things. The author provided 18 comps for the set parameters he chose, and he they weren’t chosen at random they met the qualifications, which Stanton did as well. You decided to choose Aaron, and Rodriguez, two outliers in the data. The author addressed outliers, and i see you didn’t choose to mention the careers of Strawberry and Mattingly while labeling this article as preposterous.

9 years ago
Reply to  LGM

I chose Mathews because that’s who Jeff himself focused on, and Aaron/A-Rod because this article is presented as if Stanton is somehow on a similar career trajectory (he’s not). Yes, Strawberry and Mattingly are more in the ballpark of the type of player Stanton could end up being, but the rest of the article is misleading in my opinion.

Not to mention the fact that looking at WAR/Value as a net sum ignores a large part of the reason this is a bad contract for Miami. Maybe Stanton has some MVP-caliber season in his late 20s in which he is substantially underpaid relative to his WAR. But there’s also a risk (like with a Daryl Strawberry) that he falls off a cliff and thus will be crippling the Miami payroll for years to come. The Yankees can afford to take on those type of win-now, lose-latter contracts, but it’s doing to be some dark years in Miami if Stanton does *not* have a Hall of Fame type sustained greatness.

9 years ago
Reply to  Bill

I’m really super interested in your time machine.

9 years ago
Reply to  Bill

Well, duh. Any player who signs a megadeal needs to perform at a hall of fame greatness level or the contract will bring some dark years.

Anyhow, it’s not like awful contracts are unmoveable.

9 years ago
Reply to  Bill

Yes, if you are going to set minimum performance filters like an wRC+ of at least 140 you should also set maximum performance filters like an wRC+ of less than 160. Right now this comparison removes all the players worse than Stanton but leaves the players who were clearly better than him.

9 years ago
Reply to  David

A lot of snark above and below this comment — but I agree with you 100%. Sure, you get less comps … but there are other ways of selecting a peer group other than seeing a lower bound but no upper.

Enemy of the State
9 years ago
Reply to  Bill

Yeah I learned nothing from comparing Stanton to other great players that started their career at a young age. It would have been much more accurate to clone Stanton, simulate his environment, and accelerate his life a few hundred times to establish his average career trajectory. Looking for historical approximations doesn’t give us an exact comparison so its useless.

9 years ago

I cloned him, but the clone kept breaking my basement window with dingers, so he had to be destroyed. Turns out that may have been a $300m mistake, plus the cost of a clone.

9 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

The average WAR of the comparison list over their age 22-24 seasons was 17.5. Stanton from 22-24 had 14 WAR. So the comparison list is solidly better than Stanton, and most of the better players are the ones who prop up the projection (e.g. Matthews, Aaron, Mantle) while the weaker players are the more worrisome comparisons (e.g. Strawberry, Powell, Mattingly). For this sort of comparison what you really want to do is create a comparison list that is, on average, equal to Stanton.

If you had only talked about offense in the post it would be fine to use wRC+ to come up with the list, but you shift from talking purely about offense to talking about overall WAR. So the end result is a list of comparable hitters that were better than Stanton on defense and running the bases.

Hopeless Joe
9 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

Is that a promise or a threat?

9 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

I think the issue is basically that you’ve selected the filters in such a way that the list comprises a players who match or exceed Stanton in his best attributes, without taking into consideration that:

A. He has a pretty frightening injury history; and
B. Most of his other skills aren’t nearly on the same level.

So we’re left with a comparison group that’s comprised of players who, for the most part, are demonstrably superior to Stanton in total value, if not necessarily as hitters.

I think it’s interesting to note that similar hitters have, in general, remained productive throughout their careers, but based on the limitations of the analysis many have notes I don’t think we can say that this contract looks to have any excess value.

Eric R
9 years ago
Reply to  Joshua_C

It is basically the 300/300 club that tells us that Barry Bonds, Willie Mays and A-Rod are in the same group with Andre Dawson, Carlos Beltran, Bobby Bonds, Steve Finley and Reggie Sanders.

And that Ruth, Aaron, Williams, Hornsby, Musial, Gehrig and Mantle aren’t quite good enough to be mentioned along side.

9 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

It is kinda freaky to think that dozens of people currently reading this article will be dead before the (full length) deal expires.

Value arb
9 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

Ok, so redo it with reasonable comps grouped around Stanton, not just comps as good as or better than him.

Then factor in the massive cost of the player option.

Then open your eyes and realize he’s not a free agent, and determine what a reasonable discount to free agent prices a player should give up to the team for taking the risk of the next 2 years.

Finally realize the odds of a career ender aren’t the same as being killed by a falling ladder, as HE ALREADY GOT HIT BY THE DAMN LADDER. No matter how good his eye test turns out, we have zero knowledge on how he will stand in the box against tough pitchers going forward. Doesn’t that deserve a discount or insurance? Wait: this contract is clearly uninsurable for any reasonable cost, so stick to the discount.

Even if Stanton didn’t have a full no trade clause, the option is a poison pill that makes him nearly untradable, so the good news is I won’t make you estimate the cost of the no trade clause.

Basebard hosted by Shakey Bill
9 years ago
Reply to  Bill

Twould fray the ends of language
To condemn this article “preposterous”, yet
Exclude the physics in force in this universe.

In this same plane of mortality whereat
Young Stanton’s valued by scales
Onto which are meted stacks of coinage
Each totalling 6, or 7, MILLIONS per each,
With each so per’d translating into
A mere single “WAR” or ‘relative MLB win’,
None of it holding the least equivalent value
Onany of the other 4, or so, sextillion
Planets in this neighborhood and otherwise,
We are told that each finited moment
Diverts us to a future more distant from
All our other futures than from our Past.

Yet, this article is “preposterous”?
Nay, good sir: tis this pastime is so,
Or life itself.

$335m/$6mperWAR=breakeven of 55.8WAR
$335m/$7mperWAR=breakeven of 47.9WAR
CurrentWAR(thru 25)=21.2
…all with no account to “options”, and
No part of it considering the need to bury
The cement codpiece attached to the franchise
As left by Huizenga.

Mr Punch
9 years ago
Reply to  Bill

Mathews was considered a pretty bad fielder early in his career, improved mid-career.