The 2014 Miami Marlins exceeded expectations and showed what kind of young talent they had developed. I know that’s a boring narrative at this point, but I’m going somewhere with that. The priority for the Marlins this past offseason should have been to lock up their star, cornerstone players they drafted and developed (Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Jose Fernandez). It was imperative the team acquire the cost certainty of long-term deals in addition to locking down these star players at team-friendly prices. They had to plan to build around the young talent that took such a big step forward last year.
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The team signed Stanton, Fernandez’ agent Scott Boras wasn’t interested in talks, and Yelich’s camp couldn’t come to terms. Given how far away both Yelich and Fernandez are from free agency, simply locking up Stanton would have been plenty. However, that all changed today when a report came out saying the Marlins were closing in on an extension with Yelich. The terms of the contract are $49.75 million over 7 years with a club option for an 8th year worth $15 million and a buyout worth $1.25 million. At first glance, this looks like a team-friendly deal, but let’s look a little bit deeper.
There are a couple deals that serve as solid comparables. The first comparable (and the one the team based their initial offer on) is the deal signed by Pirates left fielder Starling Marte a year ago. The contract guarantees Marte $31 million over 6 years and includes 2 club options. Just like Yelich, the deal covers 5 pre-free agency years and 3 free agency years. With both options exercises, the total value of the deal is $55 million over 8 years. That’s a little bit less than Yelich’s contract, which would be worth $64.75 million with the club option exercised. This is normal; baseball salaries are growing each year and when one contract is used as a baseline, the next one is a little bit bigger.
Both players are similar but have slightly different skill sets. Marte’s game centers around his speed; he adds a lot of value on the basepaths and in the outfield because of it, and it helps him maintain very high BABIP numbers. Yelich also adds a lot of value through baserunning and defense, but he’s a better pure hitter, has more discipline, and has higher power potential. All told, both players are perennial 4 win players but the big difference here is Yelich is 2 years younger than Marte at the start of their respective deals. While Marte’s deal with conclude with his age-32 season, Yelich will be 30 when he hits free agency, assuming all options are exercised. Even if Yelich was the same age at the start of his deal, this would be a steal based off what similar caliber players are getting.
Considering Yelich’s age, this deal looks incredible.
Another contract that this deal needs to be compared to is the one signed by Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons. This contract, signed last February, covers 7 years and will pay Simmons a total of $58 million and does not have any options. At the time of the signing, Simmons was also between 1 and 2 years of service time, like Yelich, but this deal does not have that third free agency year under control. A major factor here is Yelich’s deal is only worth a total of about $7 million more despite being a year longer. Had the Braves offered an 8th year, it probably would’ve pushed Simmons’ deal to close $75 million. Another thing to note is even though both deals run through each player’s age-30 season, Yelich’s age 30 season would be his 3rd free agency year while in Simmons’ case it is his 2nd.
So again, compared to players in his service time class, Yelich’s deal looks even more team-friendly. However, this contract isn’t as strong of a comparison as Marte considering Simmons is a different player than Yelich. Simmons provides other-worldy defense at a premium position while possessing the potential for league average offense, although he’s had his ups and downs in the department. Yelich is a sweet swinging, strike zone controlling hitter with well above-average defense in a corner outfield position. While both are probably about 4 win players, the differences in how each player provides value makes this a weaker comparison. Despite being younger and on the same talent level as both Marte and Simmons, Yelich signed a deal that appears to be even more team-friendly.
Now it’s time for the interesting part. We know Yelich just put up a season of 4.3 fWAR. We know none of what he did last season is a fluke and while we can’t say a .356 BABIP is Yelich’s talent level yet, he has been praised for his hit tool and advanced approach at the plate. He also consistently put up very high BABIP rates in the minors, with his lowest full season BABIP being .346 in AA right before getting called up in 2013. It’s very safe to say that Yelich is going to put up very high BABIP numbers, so that mitigates the only concern about Yelich’s game. The thing about Yelich is he still has that potential to add power to his game, and while he still might grow into that power, he would also be aided by some positive regression based off his average flyball distance. Playing at Marlins Park will suppress some of that power, but there’s still room for Yelich to improve even just by doing exactly what he has been doing.
All of this is important because depending on how much power you think Yelich will develop will determine whether or not you think he’s a star or a superstar. If you see Yelich regressing a little and not adding any power, maybe you’d expect him to be worth 25 wins over the next 8 years. That would make him worth just over 3 wins a year, so it’s a conservative estimate and it actually knocks him down a peg from his level of play in 2014. If you think he’s going to be about a 4 win player every year for the next 8 seasons, then maybe you’d have him at 30 wins over this contract. Maybe you think Yelich develops some power and hits something around 20 home runs. At that point you might be looking at something like 35 wins or more.
Yelich is an incredibly talented player and it would be very fair to expect 2014 to be indicative of his true talent level. However, let’s be conservative in estimating his value. Let’s say Yelich is worth 25 wins over this deal and let’s set the price of a win at $7 million, with 5% inflation each year. That would make Yelich’s total production worth $208.44 million. Yelich is a star player and the Marlins just bought out some very valuable years at a pittance.
This was the kind of move the Marlins needed to make. Stanton was never going to come cheap, but the Marlins had to be proactive in extending their cornerstone players. While the team would be best served to achieve cost certainty through signing players like Marcell Ozuna and Henderson Alvarez as well, those deals likely won’t happen.
There’s always the chance Yelich doesn’t put up the same production he did in 2013 and 2014, but that’s just not likely. Even if this deal somehow turns sour, it’s still not a lot of money compared to what players are signing today. Most importantly, it’s nice to see the Marlins locking up their homegrown studs and being smart about it. Yelich has a very good chance to be a superstar alongside Stanton and both are signed to good contracts that buy out a lot of prime years. The Marlins are going to get a lot of incredible value out of their outfield for years to come.
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