San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean has made sure his 2012 World Series championship team will stay together for the upcoming season and beyond.
During the offseason, Sabean re-signed second baseman Marco Scutaro, center fielder Angel Pagan and left-handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt to new contracts. Scutaro and Affeldt inked three-year deals, while Pagan signed on for four years.
This ensures the Giants will have the opportunity to defend their title with the same team that won it last season.
With the immediate future addressed, Sabean now has to think about the Giants' long-term future. Catcher Buster Posey will be a significant part of whatever success San Francisco in the years to come and the smart move is to sign the 25-year-old to a long-term contract.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Schulman, the Giants are beginning discussions with Posey's agent on what's termed a "blockbuster" deal.
It's not an urgent situation for the Giants yet. Posey has only played 308 games in his MLB career, with two full seasons among the four years he's played in the major leagues. This year will be the first of his four years of arbitration eligibility.
That gives the Giants some time, but the idea is that a long-term contract would buy out some of Posey's arbitration years to save some money.
If Posey were to go through the arbitration process year-to-year, he would earn more due to an annual salary increase determined by performance and market value. However, if Posey got hurt or had a bad season, that could affect the salary he might get as well.
That's why players want the long-term contract. It ensures them financial security against injury or poor performance. For someone who plays the most demanding position in baseball like Posey, a multi-year deal is even more important—even if it costs him a potentially huge free-agent payday.
What sort of contract can the Giants and Posey expect to work out in the weeks and months—or years, if it comes to that—ahead?
Posey certainly brings an impressive résumé to the negotiating table. He's won the NL Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards. He also earned his first NL batting title. Perhaps most importantly, he's been a part of two World Series championship teams.
In his four major league seasons, Posey has compiled a .314 average, .883 OPS, 67 doubles, 46 home runs and 191 RBI.
MLB Trade Rumors' Matt Swartz projects a $5.9 million salary for Posey in 2013. That seems low for a player of his caliber, but consider that Posey will only be playing his fifth major league season. Last year, he made $615,000.
Perhaps the best comparison for the sort of contract Posey can expect is Ryan Howard.
After his first four MLB seasons, Howard also had NL Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in his trophy case. He hit 129 home runs with 353 RBI by that point. In his 2006 MVP season, he led MLB with 58 homers and 149 RBI.
In 2008, Howard's first year of eligibility, he and the Phillies went to arbitration. Howard won the hearing, earning a $10 million salary (opposed to the $7 million figure Philadelphia submitted), the highest ever awarded to a player. (Howard's previous salary was $900,000—a record for a player with less than two years of MLB service.)
Coming off a 2008 season during which he once again led the majors with 48 homers and 146 RBI, while finishing second in the NL MVP vote, Howard was looking at earning another huge salary through the arbitration process. (He was prepared to ask for $18 million in a hearing.)
To control their costs, the Phillies and Howard agreed to a three-year, $54 million contract that bought out the first baseman's final three seasons of arbitration eligibility. The average annual salary of the deal matched the figure Howard was prepared to submit in his arbitration hearing with the Phillies.
That gives the Giants a frame of reference to work from. Posey and Howard aren't entirely comparable, of course, because of Howard's prodigious power numbers. Yet Posey plays a far more important defensive position and helps lead a pitching staff that's one of the best in baseball.
San Francisco also got an idea of just how valuable Posey is when he was sidelined for the 2011 season. He suffered a broken bone and two torn ligaments in his left ankle after a collision at home plate with the Marlins' Scott Cousins in late May. The Giants went on to win 86 games, finishing second in the NL West.
Let's start by saying this, even if it's an obvious statement: Posey won't get a nine or 10-year contract worth nine figures, as Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder or Joey Votto received. Not yet, anyway. He simply doesn't have the established careers of those three players yet, regardless of how impressive his first four seasons have been.
Additionally, as 2011 demonstrated, Posey is a greater injury risk at catcher than at first base. That could lead the Giants to move him to a different position eventually. But it's possible that will be addressed in a subsequent contract.
If Posey does indeed earn a $6 million salary for 2013, it's not difficult to imagine that he could get a $10 million to $12 million figure through the arbitration process in 2014.
Wendy Thurm of FanGraphs projects that Posey could earn approximately $51 million over the course of his four seasons of arbitration eligibility. Obviously, that depends on his performance and ability to stay healthy. Posey could get even more if puts up comparable—or better—numbers than he did in 2012.
But given what Posey could earn in his four seasons of arbitration eligibility, something along the lines of a four-year, $48 million contract seems reasonable.
A $12 million annual salary wouldn't put him among the 50 highest yearly paychecks in baseball, but Posey would still have another opportunity for a huge free-agent payday by the end of that contract, when he would be 30 years old. By then, Posey might be making the transition to first base, thus extending his career.
One more thing the Giants might want to consider is buying out Posey's first one or two years of free agency. That would significantly add to the overall value of the contract; Posey could very well earn a salary over $20 million by then.
Under those circumstances, San Francisco and Posey could be looking at a five-year contract worth $70 million to $75 million. Is that an offer the Giants are prepared to make at this point?
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