On Tuesday, the Giants gave shortstop Brandon Crawford a six-year, $75 million dollar extension, buying out two years of arbitration and four years of free agency. Crawford completed what was by far the best season of his career, as he posted a 117 wRC+ and 4.7 fWAR in 561 plate appearances.
Crawford 's offense steadily improved every season of his career, such that he is now an above average hitter at one of the weakest hitting positions on the field. In 2015, this improvement came from an unexpected increase in power, as Crawford hit 21 home runs (more than double his previous career high) and posted a .205 ISO. Crawford also had the strongest season on defense in 2015, posting a 10.9 Ultimate Zone Rating and 20 Defensive Runs Saved.
Through a combination of strong offense and defense, Crawford actually accumulated the highest fWAR of all Major League shortstops in 2015. While Crawford may not have the track record of someone like Troy Tulowitzki, he is in the conversation for best shortstop in baseball at this point. As a result, some of you may be wondering if a six-year, $75 million dollar contract is too cheap for a player as good as Crawford.
First, we must consider the fact that Crawford had two years of arbitration left, meaning that his salary during these two years would have been below market value if the Giants went year to year with him. Crawford's contract gives him $5.8 million in 2016 (plus a $1.2 million signing bonus) and $8 million in 2017. Crawford will then make $15 million per season from 2018-2021, which represent the free agent years of his contract. While $15 million per season may seem low for a player in his prime coming off a 4.7 win season, we must keep in mind what Crawford had done prior to 2015.
In Crawford's three years as the Giants' starting shortstop (2012-2014), he posted fWAR totals of 2.0, 2.3, and 3.1 with much of his value generated on defense. His offense did improve, such that he was finally a league average hitter by 2014, but he still has a career wRC+ of 96, which includes his breakout 2015 season. It remains to be seen whether Crawford can sustain his 2015 power surge going forward. His HR/FB ratio was 16.2 percent in 2015, which is more than double his previous career high (7.0 percent in 2013), so it seems reasonable to expect some regression in 2016 and beyond.
If Crawford's power drops back to pre-2015 levels, then he will probably be closer to a league-average shortstop going forward. He is already 28, which is typically past a shortstop's defensive prime, so we should expect to see some decline over the next few years. Steamer projects Crawford for 2.4 WAR in 553 plate appearances in 2016, with a 94 wRC+ and a Def of 9.2. This projection feels conservative, especially given how good Crawford was in 2015, but it is still useful, as it takes into account Crawford's pre-2015 performance as well as the regression we should expect to see from him going forward.
Ultimately, Crawford's extension is a win-win for both sides, as the Giants get to lock in Crawford at a potentially bargain rate while Crawford gets to cash in on a career year. Crawford may not make anywhere near his potential contract as a free agent, but it would be risky to wait another two years until free agency arrived. If he reverted back to his pre-2015 level of performance (or worse), he would not be an attractive free agent option as a 30-year-old shortstop.
The Giants also benefit from this deal because Crawford's contract will be viewed a bargain if he is anywhere close to the player he was in 2015. Crawford will almost certainly be a good deal for the Giants over the next two years, which represent his final years of arbitration. After that point, Crawford will have to be worth around only two wins per season to justify his contract, due to the fact that teams are now paying close to $8 million per win on the free agent market.
Crawford has shown the ability to exceed that level of performance each of the last three seasons, and the Giants will certainly be happy if he continues to do so for the foreseeable future.