If you pull Buster Posey and the Giants out of 2013 and place them gently in, say, 2007, then the idea of a "mega-deal" for a first-year arbitration player might look a little different. Back then, Joe Mauer was Buster Posey -- beloved by his team's fans, incredibly productive, and a catcher who hit well enough to play elsewhere on the diamond. To avoid arbitration with their greatest asset, the Twins signed Mauer to a four-year, $33 million contract.
While that was great in the short term for both the Twins and Mauer, in the long run, it resulted in both parties negotiating a new deal at the start of 2010 to keep him from becoming a free agent after the season. These negotiations turned into an eight-year, $184 million contract. Unlike the initial 2007 deal, when Mauer had years to go before he was to become a free agent, 2010 was the end of the line for him in a Twins uniform lest he sign. Leverage shifted towards Mauer, resulting in a significantly longer and more lucrative deal. The contract that resulted was not only the fourth-largest for any player at the time it was inked, but also the largest ever for a backstop.
Now, with the news that Posey and the Giants are discussing a huge contract extension, there is a legitimate chance Mauer's deal could be left in the dust. Posey is already set to make $8 million in arbitration this year, so when you combine that with the fact the words "mega-deal" are being used, it's hard to imagine him signing a contract that simply puts him through his arb years and a year of free agency, a la Mauer. Instead, it's likely the two sides are going to cut straight to the heart of the matter and make Posey as rich as he'll ever need to be in one fell swoop.
That $8 million doesn't just represent Posey's present-day value to the Giants, as a first-year arbitration player. It's also projecting what his future value would be. Generally speaking, first-year arbitration-eligible players will pull in about 40 percent of their expected free agent value. Second-year players tend to come in around 60 percent, and third-year players, 80 percent. Things can fluctuate, of course: Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley are two recent examples of players that didn't break out until already in their arbitration years. Posey has already matured into the player we can expect to see from now on, so his projected free agent value is likely close to finalized.
Using the above, $8 million is 40 percent of $20 million -- if Posey and the Giants have agreed on his free agent value at about $20 million per year, and he signs for anything approaching a decade, he could surpass Mauer's record-setting deal. That might not be wise, just as it wasn't for Mauer -- catchers have a hard life, and Posey has already had major ankle surgery thanks to a well-publicized collision at the plate. If he has to become a first baseman down the line, the expectations for production at his price would also change.
That being said, as our resident Giants' blogger Grant Brisbee points out, the Giants have won two World Series with Barry Zito's contract hanging around their necks like a $126 million weight. They have the budget to compensate for Posey decline in the long-term future, especially at the expense of guaranteeing he sticks around in the short-term future. That concept goes double when you consider just how much money is in the game because of the new obsession with enormous, decade-spanning television contracts, both in terms of how much the Giants could afford him, and how much their competitors -- like the spend-happy Dodgers --could as well.
We'll have to wait to see what kind of numbers and years the two sides work out -- the latter is of more concern than the former -- before condemning or praising the Giants for their actions. Chances are good, though, given the way the baseball economy is working these days, that San Francisco should be able to survive their own rush to lock up Posey even if things go south eventually.