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.