The Miami Marlins made quite the headlines when they made the rare move to sign a closer (Heath Bell) to a lucrative multi-year deal, a big ticket free agent in Jose Reyes and a starting pitcher in Mark Buehrle.
They've tried to continue adding on to their rotation, bench and even possibly target Yoennis Cespedes, but they haven't seriously dug deep in trying to sign Mike Stanton to a contract extension.
The small-market Tampa Bay Rays have managed to pull off countless extensions—most notably with Evan Longoria—but also with James Shields, Wade Davis and most recently with phenom pitcher Matt Moore.
Back in September, I wrote on Marlins offseason priorities and listed that a Mike Stanton extension was due. Now, in the wake of the team flashing $200 million at Albert Pujols, the franchise must make a conscious effort to do so before Stanton commands more money.
The Marlins—even with a new ballpark—should follow the Rays' mold so that they can align their money the right way for the future.
Stanton, who turned 22 in November, is slowly become an elite force in baseball and is poised to become one of the games best power hitters. In his 100-game rookie season, Stanton hit 22 home runs with 59 RBIs in 359 at-bats.
In 2011, Stanton smashed 34 home runs (15 of which were no-doubters—most among NL hitters, according to ESPN home run tracker). He drove in 87 runs in an otherwise weak lineup that featured an injured, slumping Hanley Ramirez and a struggling Logan Morrison.
Stanton had the longest home runs at Citi Field (465 feet), Coors Field (475 feet), Nationals Park (455 feet) and Sun Life Stadium (466 feet) during the 2011 season.
Recently, smaller market teams such as the Colorado Rockies (with Troy Tulowitzki), Arizona Diamondbacks (with Justin Upton), and the Milwaukee Brewers (with Ryan Braun) have locked their star franchise players long term.
I'll take Longoria out of the equation because he signed his extension before he was even a month through his major league career.
Here are the breakdowns on the contract extensions signed by Justin Upton, Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki.
Upton signed a six-year, $50 million contract extension at age 22 (prior to the 2010 season, entering third full season), thru the 2015 with AAV (average annual value) of $8.3 million.
Braun signed an eight-year, $45 million contract extension at age 24 (during the 2008 season, entering second full season), thru 2015 with AAV of $5.6 million.
Braun signed a five-year, $105 million contract extension (during 2011 season), thru 2020 with a $20 million mutual option (or $4 million buyout) for 2021. The AAV for the second extension rests at $21 million for a near cumulative average of $12 million a season when it's said and done.
He signed a six-year, $31 million contract extension at age 23 (prior to 2008 season, entering second full season) thru 2014 with AAV of $5.1 million.
Tulowitzki signed a six-year, $118 million extension (right after the 2010 season), thru the 2020 season with a $15 million team option (or a $4 million buyout) for 2021. The AAV for the second extension rests $19.6 million, adding up to a $12.4 million AAV for both contracts combined.
* = Signed double extensions, meaning the first extension mostly covered team control years and second one went deep into free agent years.
As you can see, the more you wait, the more expensive the contract throughout the length—judging by Justin Upton's case in comparison to Braun or Tulowitzki, who are arguably more talented than Upton based on their track records.
Stanton may not hit for average or steal bases like Braun, Tulowitzki or Upton, but its not to say he won't get there soon enough. Upton hit .250 during the 2008 season (his first full season) and went on to hit .300 in 2009. Now in a more packed lineup, Stanton figures to get more pitches to hit, therefore helping his batting average.
The Marlins can't afford to wait until next offseason: They just can't.
Doing so will make the contract extension in the mold of Hanley Ramirez's six-year, $70 million deal (which was signed after his third full season with Marlins at age 25). That contract extension's AAV stands $11.6 million, which is higher than the aforementioned first contract extensions.
Furthermore, the Marlins have money tied in to their recent offseason haul of Reyes, Bell and Buehrle, and have to been as financially efficient as possible.
If I'm the Marlins, I indeed let the dust settle like they've been saying regarding Stanton, but give him the contract extension prior to Opening Day. That way, fans will have fresh in their minds they have a young superstar locked in for the near future.
This is the realistic contract extension I'd give Mike Stanton, which I have little to no doubt he'd take:
Eight years, $56.7 million through the 2019 season (buying out first three years of free agency) with AAV of $7.08 million.
2012 (700K), 2013 ($1.5 M), 2014 ($4 M), 2015 ($6 M), 2016 (8.5 M), 2017* ($10 M), 2018* ($12 M), and 2019* ($14 M).
The Marlins could pull do the same things the Brewers and Rockies did and approach Stanton in a few seasons and offer him another extension right around the time the contracts of Bell, Buehrle and Nolasco are off the books.
Speaking of Stanton, he will be featured in the Jan. 9, 2012 ESPN NEXT issue, which focuses on rising athletes who promise to be the superstars of the sport in the near future.
For the Marlins, he'd better be the "NEXT" contract they invest highly in, for their sake.
The Marlins have made all the right moves to contend for the near future, but they should not forget about their long-term future. The Marlins may have missed out on Pujols, but Stanton figures to be the next best thing for them, a player with the potential to be a home run king and that's always good for business.