Brian Sabean's decision to table contract talks with third baseman Pablo Sandoval a few weeks ago is starting to make plenty of sense right about now.
According to a report from CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman, Sandoval and his agent, Gustavo Vazquez, are seeking a contract extension worth "at least $100 million" over five years. Here are the specifics, per Heyman's article:
Neither side will discuss the particulars of the offers and counteroffers, but word is Sandoval is seeking at least $100 million on a five-year deal, which shouldn't come as a shock considering his age (27), a market lacking in big punch (among players in their prime, Chase Headley may be the closest thing to Sandoval, and he isn't the player Panda is) and a terrific talent that has seen him twice make All-Star teams, twice receive MVP votes and twice exceed a .900 OPS despite not always being in peak shape ("just a great, great hitter," one competing executive called him).
Through the ups and downs of his time in San Francisco, Sandoval’s All-Star-caliber numbers have defined him more than his shortcomings, which include recurring weight issues and failing to make an impact during the Giants’ 2010 World Series run. A World Series MVP award in 2012 and three seasons hitting over .315 or better have quelled the concerns and turned Sandoval into a hero in San Francisco.
The flip side of that are the struggles that Sandoval is going through this season. There's no looking past the third baseman's slow start, which has included a .165/.258/.278 slash line, a career-worst K% of 20.2 and a WAR of -0.2.
The issue then becomes something like this: Should the Giants agree to Sandoval's contract demands, they would be handing out a nine-digit contract to a player who has been below "replacement level" in a small sample size of games this season, but has put up borderline-elite numbers in the past. The argument essentially comes down to whether you believe prior success should outweigh current performance, and right now, Sandoval has a lot to of leverage when it comes to the former, but essentially nothing to work with in regards to the latter.
Perhaps the most important point to consider here is the MLB market as it stands today. As I wrote earlier this week, Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka is already looking like a bargain through just four starts, which says quite a bit about today's market considering general manager Brian Cashman dished out $155 million on the Japanese right-hander. Then, when you look at Reds starter Homer Bailey's $105 million contract, and other similarly lucrative deals, it really gets scary.
Yet even with the insane contracts that above-average players are signing, one could argue that Sandoval's recent demands simply exceed his worth.
I'll reiterate and say that Sandoval has contributed immensely to the Giants' success during the past several years, and he stands to be rewarded for such. But in a few years, those will be even more distant memories than they currently are. Consider this: Are Albert Pujols' three MVP trophies from his days in St. Louis helping the Angels win? It's a seemingly obvious rhetorical question, yet the point it raises is one that Sandoval (figuratively) ignores.
Giving any MLB player $100 million carries some risk, regardless of whether that player is Mike Trout or Sandoval. But for a player who has battled injuries, his weight and overall inconsistency, doing so could be considered marginally insane.
Of course, the obvious issue is that the upcoming free agent market is one that will be unusually light on hitting, with a slew of talented pitchers likely to hit free agency. Before the season began, Sandoval could have been considered the top hitter of the soon-to-be free agent class, and even with a down season, that could remain as the prevailing opinion.
That means Sandoval will likely fetch more than he's worth, regardless of whether or not he re-signs with the Giants. With that in mind, Sandoval and Vazquez can afford to aim high with Sabean, as they have done, given the assurance that plenty of teams in need of a third baseman will be looking to secure Sandoval's services this offseason.
Perhaps expecting lesser contract demands is unreasonable given today's market standards, but Sabean seems to be onto something. Via CSN Bay Area's Andrew Baggarly, here's what the San Francisco GM had to say back in early April:
"We’ve given our best shot with good faith intended to try to get him signed and they’ve drawn a line in the sand that we’re not going to beat nor should we meet," Sabean told CSN Bay Area’s Jim Kozimor on Yahoo Sportstalk Live Tuesday. "Things have been tabled and we’ll see what happens up the line, but we’re not going to have ongoing talks from this time forward."
As Heyman remarks in his article, Sabean and the Giants have a remarkable track record when it comes to re-signing soon-to-be free agents–even if it means rewarding mediocre performance with a top-dollar contract. (Yes, we're looking at you, Tim Lincecum.)
That raises an interesting point. It's curious that Sabean would allocate such a significant portion of his team's payroll to Lincecum, despite the right-hander's two-year slump–especially with the team's trove of young pitching talent–then refuse to hand Sandoval slightly more (at least on a per-season basis), even with the third baseman's solid recent seasons and a lack of infield depth across the organization. Perhaps baseball's lack of predictability extends to the front office.
I'll leave you with this parting question: How many bad nine-digit, multi-year contracts will it take before we begin to realize that maybe, just maybe, massive long-term investments–especially one on a player with a history of injuries and weight issues–just aren't the right way to go? Sabean looks like he's getting it, but as long as there's a market for players like Sandoval (which there always will be), these gargantuan contracts are here to stay.