All too often, Marlins stars have changed area codes when their salary increased, much to the dismay to the South Florida faithful, a reason why the Marlins have been nicknamed “the farm system for the Major Leagues.” Fernández is one of a handful of Marlins players — Dontrelle Willis is another — that singlehandedly was capable of raising attendance at games that he started. A potential Rookie-ofthe-Year winner, Fernández has impressed Marlins fans both on and off the field.
He is the archetype of what a young face-of-the-franchise should look like. He is polite (save for a debatable skirmish with the Atlanta Braves), he plays the game with an infectious childish exuberance and he is great. But fans with well-earned skittishness toward devotion to home-grown superstars have had trouble trusting the management to keep Fernández in house, even though he is locked up under team control for the next five seasons.
Take a look at Josh Beckett or Dontrelle Willis or Gary Sheffield or Miguel Cabrera, all players the fans became infatuated with, and all players who quickly departed, not of their own accord. Those players were traded away, some for better reasons than others, and the next batch of young players made their way to the Major Leagues. But what if they had stayed and made Miami their permanent home? It doesn’t happen very often in South Florida. The original-team-lifer exists in Boston or New York. The Marlins’ best example is Ricky Nolasco, and he was hardly the face-of-the-franchise.
The paradigm for small-market teams is relatively consistent. Produce and trade. There’s a big reason to shift the paradigm, and that’s José Fernández. Lock him up for a long time. Yes, it comes with risk. He could get hurt, as pitchers are wont to do. But it also has its potential rewards. Barring a major setback or injury, signing him long term could prove to be a bargain for the Marlins.
The move is rare, but it isn’t without precedent. The Tampa Bay Rays have championed the move as of late. Six games into Evan Longoria’s Major League career, the Rays rewarded him with a six-year, $17.5 million contract. In 2012, four years before the contract was set to expire, they extended the contract through 2022.
Similarly, the Rays and Matt Moore agreed to a five-year, $14 million contract, which includes three team option years at the end. When Moore signed the contract, he had appeared in only three regular season games. For more on the Rays’ recent history, read Jonah Keri’s The Extra 2%.
By signing those players extraordinarily early, they were able to concoct a sort of win-win situation. The player wins because he ensures that he will be paid, even if he stops performing or gets injured. The team benefits because if the player does perform as they expect him to, the contract will be a bargain of high proportion.
Using FanGraph’s statistic Win Values, which translates a player’s value to the going rate at free agency, Longoria has been worth $159.5 million in his six years in the league. He has been paid $14.6 million. Moore has been worth $22.9 million and he’s been paid a little more than $2 million.
Of course, locking up Fernández long term comes with its risks. But, as evidenced above, it can come with some massive dividends.
Preston Michelson is a freshman at the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism and is a graduate of Palmer Trinity School. He is a frequent contributor to this newspaper and the opinions he expresses are his own and not necessarily those of the editors and publishers. Contact him on Twitter at @PrestonMich or by email at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.