No Discount For Padres On Maybin’s Arbitration Years

There are two reasons to sign a player to a multiyear contract extension before he's arbitration eligible.  One is to get a discount on the player's arbitration years as a tradeoff for guaranteeing them, and the other is to secure free agent seasons.  The Padres accomplished only one of these in signing center fielder Cameron Maybin to a five-year, $25MM extension on Saturday.

Arbitration hearings lag well behind the times in terms of the statistics argued by teams and agencies.  Arbitration panels consist of three base-level baseball people, and it's generally considered too risky to attempt to educate them about an advanced metric, prove its validity, and a present a strong case for the player within an hour.  That's why it wasn't surprising when Matt Swartz's arbitration model for MLB Trade Rumors proved that playing time and power matter most in arbitration salaries for position players, and even batting average and steals "pale in importance to the almighty HR and RBI."  Matt demonstrated that position doesn't affect salary much either.

MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith zeroed in on this point in his January Maybin extension candidate article.  Maybin was quite valuable in 2011, tallying 4.7 wins above replacement according to FanGraphs.  However, he accumulated this value almost entirely through skills that are rarely recognized in arbitration salaries, such as defense, baserunning, and playing a difficult position.  Assuming Maybin were to just keep repeating his 2011 season – a generous playing time assumption – Matt Swartz projects arbitration salaries of $2.4MM in 2013, $3.8MM in 2014, and $5.2MM in 2015, for a total of $11.4MM.  As part of the new five-year deal, Maybin will receive $15MM for that stretch of his career. 

Maybin's 140 pro games in 2011 marked a career-best; he's always battled injuries.  Playing time is a significant factor in arbitration salaries.  Not only did the Padres lose the chance to pay Maybin less during his arbitration years if he misses significant time due to injury, but they overpaid him by an estimated $3.6MM even if good health is assumed.  Perhaps Maybin's contract was modeled off Franklin Gutierrez's January 2010 deal with the Mariners, itself a clear overpay at the time for the same reasons.  One key difference is that the 24-year-old Maybin has plenty of offensive upside remaining, and if the former first-rounder realizes what was once considered "wicked raw power" by Baseball America, he could justify arbitration earnings in excess of $15MM.

As I mentioned, Padres GM Josh Byrnes received another benefit by locking up Maybin: the center fielder's first free agent year at $8MM and a club option for another at $9MM.  Even if Maybin does not take another leap forward with the bat, those 2016 and '17 salaries will still be considered good value relative to free agent prices.  With today's savvy front offices, free agency will likely continue to appreciate defense and position scarcity more and more.  As of right now, though, Maybin's agent Brian Goldberg is the winner, having secured $25MM for a player coming off a 137-game season in which he batted .264 with nine home runs and 40 RBI.

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10 Comments on "No Discount For Padres On Maybin’s Arbitration Years"

Kevin Swords
3 years 5 months ago

Great article recapping extensions for pre-arbitration eligible players. I fear that most see a 5/25 deal for a rising, young player and immediately attach “team friendly” to it. It could be team friendly if Maybin continues to develop and reaches his ceiling, but at this point it seems as if the Padres may have jumped the gun a bit (although they now get certainty through his arbitration years). 

3 years 5 months ago

I think there’s PR in this deal too. With Adrian Gonzalez gone, Heath Bell gone, Mat Latos traded, who else is there to hang a star on? Even if Maybin is not exactly an All-Star, someone’s gotta have their face on the banner outside the park.

3 years 5 months ago

Maybin’s bWAR was only 2.9.  A far cry from 4.7 fWAR. I wonder why the large discrepancy.

Brandon Cline
3 years 5 months ago

Fangraphs incorporates defense into the WAR calculation (UZR) where B-R doesn’t. Maybin is pretty solid with the leather out there in CF especially in PETCO Park

3 years 5 months ago

rWAR absolutely incorporates defense into its WAR figures; its metric is just different (and inferior). in this case, TZL disagrees with both UZR and DRS, the two more advanced metrics

even if you strongly prefer rWAR for some reason, you should at least split the difference here. that’s 3.8 WAR in 137 games

3 years 5 months ago

Waiting a year and the Padres are at the same spot the Giants were with Sandoval and the Rangers were with Andrus, both guys signed extensions at the time, but neither gave up a free agent year, let a lone two.

I applaud the organization for taking a small risk now. Paying him 8 & 9m for his two free agent years, his age 29 & 30 seasons, could turn out pretty great for the team.

3 years 5 months ago

absolutely worth it for the padres since they get two free agent years.  It’s worth overpaying slightly in his cost-controlled seasons to guarantee they get two FA years, considering how hard it is to bring in free agent hitters to san diego, let alone ones that handle a premium position.  Its the same logic behind them locking up adrian gonzalez early.

3 years 5 months ago

Awesome move, Love Maybin and really looking forward to seeing him for years to come in a Padres uniform. Good times

3 years 5 months ago

By signing Maybin to an extension it not only showed the fans, but also all of the Padres good young players that the team is now willing and able to sign them to extensions, something they hadn’t been willing to do recently.  That in it self is worth spending a little more than they should have according to some weird system on valuing players through the arbitration process.

The Padres needed a “face of the franchise” after the jettisoning of Gonzalez and Bell the last 2 years and they now have one.  Maybins’ style of play fits Petco Park perfectly and the team will build around him with other speedy contact hitters.

This was a great move by the front office and when all of these prospects start contributing I hope they get similar deals.  This is a good time to be a Padre fan.

3 years 5 months ago

I don’t buy that his arbitration years wont be a discount.  We haven’t seen the best of Maybin yet and his offensive numbers will always look worse than they really are because of Petco.  I think Maybin will be well worth this contract each and every year.