The Giants locked up another core player on Tuesday night, signing shortstop Brandon Crawford to a six-year, $75 million extension that buys out four of his free-agent years and will keep the Bay Area native in a San Francisco uniform through his age-34 season.
Crawford, who will turn 29 in January, was arbitration eligible for the second time this off-season and coming off a career year in which he hit .256/.321/.462 with 21 home runs and 84 RBIs, making his first All-Star team and winning his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. That season was less a fluke than it was the continuation of his maturation at the plate, which has seen the shortstop add power in every one of his major league seasons. For proof, check out his home run totals and isolated slugging (slugging percentage minus batting average) figures since 2011:
Given that trend, the Giants have reason to believe that Crawford will retain much of the power he showed this past season; combined with his outstanding play in the field, that makes him a player well worth the contract they just handed him.
Crawford will make rough approximations of his arbitration settlements over the next two seasons ($5.8 million in 2016, an almost exact match for his projected arbitration settlement, per MLB Trade Rumors’ Tim Dierkes, and $8 million in '17), then receive $15 million per year for what would have been his first four post-free agency seasons. That’s slightly more than the $13.25 million average annual value of the four-year deal Jhonny Peralta signed with the Cardinals prior to the 2014 season, but Crawford's free-agency years won't be bought out until 2018, or four years after Peralta signed his deal; salary inflation accounts for some of the price increase there. Crawford will also be a year younger in 2018 than Peralta was at the start of his contract, and he does not have the performance-enhancing drug suspension on his record that Peralta did when he signed with the Cardinals.
Peralta’s contract is the only one for a shortstop that can be used as a proper comparison, which is an indication of how rarely a quality shortstop becomes available on the free-agent market. Ian Desmond is out there right now, but Andrelton Simmons (who was just traded to the Angels) is signed through 2020, as is Troy Tulowitzki, who is already in his thirties; both of them signed extensions with their original teams before being traded. Along with Simmons and Tulowitzki, the best shortstops in the American League are all still in their pre-arbitration years: Xander Bogaerts is under team control through 2019, and Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa and runner-up Francisco Lindor are under team control through 2021. With those five all in the AL now, Crawford is easily the best shortstop in the National League, and the Giants were smart to lock him up for the remainder of his prime.
Though I have criticized the Giants in the past for their tendency to re-sign their own players, they have done very well with early extensions for their core players. They signed Madison Bumgarner to a five-year deal with two club options way back in April 2012 and now have control over him through '19 at a maximum salary of $16 million, delaying his free agency by three years and suppressing his salaries (Bumgarner will make $9.75 million next season, which would have been his final year of arbitration). In 2013, they signed Buster Posey to a nine-year, $167 million extension, which continues to look good: Posey is a perennial MVP candidate and the best player on a team which has now won three World Series with him behind the plate. Posey’s salary will jump to $20 million in 2016, but if not for the extension, next season would be his walk year, and there is little chance that any team would have been able to sign him for the $106 million over five years (plus an option) that will remain on his current contract after the coming season. The one dud in the bunch has been the extension for Matt Cain, whom San Francisco still owes $47.5 million over the next two years, including a $7.5 million buyout on his 2018 option.
By extending Crawford, the Giants have locked up yet another key piece of their homegrown, up-the-middle core. They now have Bumgarner under control through 2019, infielders Joe Panik and Matt Duffy signed through '20 (via the reserve system) and Crawford and Posey guaranteed through '21. With that group in place, San Francisco should continue to contend for the remainder of the decade.