The Giants will look into signing shortstop Brandon Crawford to a long-term extension this offseason, ESPN’s Buster Olney reports (Insider subscription required). The 28-year-old Crawford is entering his second winter of arbitration, and MLBTR projects he’ll earn $5.7MM in 2016 — a nice bump from his $3.175MM salary last season.
Of course, Crawford certainly earned himself a healthy raise in the wake of breakout 2015 campaign. The shortstop had earned a reputation as an all-glove, no-hit player over his first four seasons, though he had been quietly improving at the plate each year; Crawford even posted a 103 wRC+ in 2014, his first above-average year of run creation. Still, few expected Crawford to suddenly hit 21 homers with a .256/.321/.462 slash line over 561 plate appearances.
While the batting average and OBP were only mild increases over Crawford’s 2011-14 numbers, Crawford had only 27 career homers and a career .359 slugging percentage heading into 2015. The combination of this potent bat and Crawford’s best defensive year yet (as per the Defensive Runs Saved and UZR/150 metrics) led to a 4.7 fWAR season, a total topped by only 23 players in baseball last season.
It should be noted that Crawford did much of his hitting damage in the first two months of last season, and while he generally kept his power up through the summer, the rest of his numbers fell. As well, aside from an increase in his swings at pitches in the strike zone, his hitting metrics weren’t appreciatively different from his career norms, so it could be that this inflated home run rate will be hard for Crawford to maintain. A shortstop with 20-homer pop and strong defense carries a significant price tag, so the question of whether Crawford’s power is for real will surely be a major factor for what the Giants will offer the WMG client.
The MLBTR Extension Tracker reveals that most shortstops between 4-5 years of service time who signed extensions only took short-term deals that covered the rest of their arbitration years. (The two big exceptions were Troy Tulowitzki and Elvis Andrus, and we can safely assume that the Giants won’t offer anything close to either of those two mega-deals.) San Francisco is likely looking for a deal that covers Crawford’s two remaining arbitration years and at least one free agent year, probably two. MLB.com lists three shortstops within their list of the Giants’ top seven prospects, yet none of the trio (Christian Arroyo, Lucius Fox, Jalen Miller) is older than 20 and scouts are mixed on any of them sticking at short at the Major League level, so Crawford wouldn’t be blocking anyone.
Payroll flexibility shouldn’t be an issue for the team, as Buster Posey and Hunter Pence are the only players signed beyond 2017. One can assume Madison Bumgarner’s 2018 team option will be picked up and the Giants may sign the ace to an extension of his own. San Francisco has also been linked to several of this winter’s top free agents in the rumor mill, so the club could also have at least one more big long-term deal on their books over the next few months.
Teams generally turn their attention to extensions once their major free agent shopping is over, so you can probably expect talks between Crawford and the Giants to pick up steam in January as the arbitration filing deadline approaches. The two sides could also settle on a one-year deal for 2016 and then work out an extension later in February or March.