Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman recently signed a contract extension, which keeps him under team control through his age-31 season. In order to do so, the Braves guaranteed approximately $110 million of new money for five additional years of team control.
Now, Freeman is pretty good. This past season he hit .319/.396/.501 for a 150 wRC+ and 4.8 fWAR. He’s also pretty young, and 2014 will be his age-24 season. For his career, Freeman possesses a .285/.358/.466 line for a 127 wRC+ and 7.1 fWAR.
Given his .371 BABIP, Freeman is a solid regression candidate for 2014, but even if his BABIP drops closer to his career average of .334, he should be a +3-4 win player.
Giancarlo Stanton, must be nothing but smiles after seeing the Freeman deal. In many ways, Freeman and Stanton are similar. Both are entering their age-24 seasons, with Stanton being about two months younger. Also, each of them were eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2013 season. Stanton avoided arbitration by signing a one-year deal worth $6.5 million, Freeman signed a huge extension.
However, Stanton has a much better track record of success. He owns a .265/.354/.535 line for a 138 wRC+. His 14.8 fWAR nearly doubles Freeman’s total in just 94 more plate appearances.
While Stanton is a terrible baserunner, and a below-average fielder, he has power that few, if any hitters can match. Despite playing half his games at spacious Marlins park, he has a .270 ISO which is the third highest mark in baseball since 2010.
Only eight players in baseball history have hit more home runs through their age-23 season, and all of them used far more plate appearances to do so. Overall, he’s left the yard in 5.8 percent of his plate appearances, and has an astonishingly high HR/Contact rate of 9.9 percent. By contrast, Barry Bonds‘ career HR/Contact rate is 9.1 percent.
He’ll strike out frequently, as shown by a 28.6 percent career mark, but he drew walks at a 14.7 percent clip in 2013, the fourth highest rate in baseball.
Looking forward to 2014, Stanton projects to be excellent. Steamer calls for a .272/.371/.564 line which comes out to a 155 wRC+ and 4.8 fWAR. ZiPS is a shade less optimistic, projecting a .257/.358/.533 line and 4.2 fWAR.
Through much of the 2013 season, and a portion of the offseason, baseball fans and front office personnel alike were contemplating the parameters of a trade for Stanton. Obviously, the price in terms of prospects surrendered would have to be huge considering that Stanton is the same age as many prospects, with a very impressive big league track record and three more years of team control.
Dave Cameron’s Trade Value series ranked Stanton No. 8, by far the highest ranking for any player that looked like a trade chip. Due to this, very few teams even possess the prospects necessary to reel in Stanton.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to find out what Stanton would have fetched, at least not until another year of team control passes.
However, we can speculate as to how much a contract extension would cost the Miami Marlins should they carry through on their stated intentions to lock up the young slugger.
Buying out Stanton’s two remaining arbitration years would likely cost in the neighborhood of $25 million, which would be tacked on to the $6.5 million the Marlins are paying him for 2014.
Going forward, Steamer and ZiPS each project Stanton for about +1 win more than Freeman. If he can stay healthy for a full season, +7 fWAR is certainly within reach. He managed 5.7 fWAR in just 501 plate appearances in 2012, and that was with a 9.2 percent walk rate.
If we use $6 million/WAR for each extra win Stanton can provide over a five year term, an extension would likely involve a $28 million AAV to buy five years of free agency. That doesn’t account for inflation. If 5 percent inflation is included, and Stanton’s higher ceiling, $30 million over a five year term looks very realistic. The AAV can be adjusted down for a longer term contract, and an opt-out clause like the one we saw in the Clayton Kershaw deal is a possibility.
Overall, if Stanton gets a contract extension for the same number of years as Freeman, 8 years and $180 million (5 years and approximately $150 million of that being new money) is a good starting point. It might not be as interesting as a Stanton trade, but a Stanton contract extension will provide a similar jolt. Maybe baseball fans will get lucky and get the two together, like the Detroit Tigers did with Miguel Cabrera.