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The risk vs. reward of Brandon Crawford's extension

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Brandon Crawford agreed to less money than Ian Desmond might get this offseason. Why? What do the Giants have to lose?

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In the year 2021, the year that Johnny Mnemonic takes place, Brandon Crawford will still be on the Giants. He might still be excellent, or he might be on the downslope of his career, but he'll be on the Giants. And his salary probably won't be preventing them from getting good players. This is all good news.

The money, six years and $75 million, is reasonable. If Crawford were a free agent right now, he would be one of the hottest free agents on the market. Jon Heyman is predicting Ian Desmond will get six years and $90 million, even though he was pretty lousy offensively last year. Crawford is a year younger, and he settled for $15 million less than that. What gives? Why isn't this a super-huge contract? Why wouldn't Crawford wait two years and see if he could get $100 million or more with two more seasons like his last one?

The Giants are accepting risk. They're trying to get a heaping help of reward. Crawford is paying his risk to go away, even if it's going to cost him part of his future reward. It makes sense for everyone involved, so let's dig into it. Here's the risk the Giants are accepting, and here's the reward the Giants are hoping to get.

The Risk

The risk isn't that Crawford's 2015 isn't his true talent level. Even if he regresses back to 2013 or 2014 levels, he's still worth the money. He's still a valuable shortstop. The Giants aren't worried if last year was the real Crawford. They'll just be giddy if it was.

No, the risk is that Crawford gets appreciably worse than he's ever been. It happens to the best players, the youngest players, the players whom you thought it would never happen to, so don't minimize this risk. The risk is that Crawford becomes so dreadful over the next two years, he wouldn't have even been worth what he would have made in arbitration. If that had happened without this extension, the Giants would have been free to release him into the wild, with no financial liability. That would have been true before 2017, and it would have been true after.

As is, the Giants are thinking that's unlikely. I'm thinking that's unlikely. We're alllllll thinking that's unlikely. Except it happens. That's the biggest risk, here.

A smaller risk is that Crawford tails off toward the end of the contract and becomes a below-average shortstop or worse. That's not unlikely, really. But if he gives the Giants some good years at the beginning, it'll be worth it. Most free agent deals are supposed to be dogs by the end; the teams are paying a premium for the short-term value. The Giants don't have to get All-Star seasons out of Crawford over the next three or four years to feel good about the deal.

Of course, it would be just swell if that happened. That would be a part of ...

The Reward

That Brandon Crawford keeps hitting. No, that he keeps getting better. I made this before the 2014 season, and it still applies:

Eerie.

The real reward, though, is that the Giants don't have to deal with a big decision in two years if he doesn't stop hitting as well as he did last year. If he showed up at the doorstep of free agency after three-straight 20-homer seasons (with another Gold Glove or three mixed in), the Giants would have had a choice:

  • Pay Crawford so much money, for so long, that there would be almost zero chance of him being valuable by the end of the deal

  • Let Crawford, a valuable fan favorite, leave because of money

The Giants probably would have done the first one. That's been their modus operandi for the last few years, at least. But we're talking just a ton of money, for a long, long time. The reward is the Giants don't have to deal with it.

When Buster Posey signed his extension -- three years away from free agency, and after an MVP season -- I was a little worried that the Giants weren't patient enough. Because if he didn't have as good a season the next year (and he didn't), they would have been paying for him to play at an MVP level, not an All-Star level.

There's time. Time to gather information, and time to experience seasons where everything doesn't end with a major award and a championship. Because, call me a cynic, but that isn't going to happen every year.

What I didn't take into account, though, is that baseball salaries keep getting wackier and wackier. Posey would have been a free agent after 2016, and he would have made a squillion dollars. As is, his current contract is similar to a five-year, $108 million deal. That's ... not too far from what Mike Leake will get this year. It's about half of what Jason Heyward will get, and we all know that Posey's better clap-clap-clapclapclap.

In two years, I'm thinking even 2013 Crawford gets $75 million. A plus-plus glove with a 93 OPS+? That's basically Desmond up there, and he might get even more than that. The Giants' reward is that they don't have to jostle with the other 29 teams for Crawford's services.

The Giants' reward is also Brandon Crawford, who is good at baseball.

It used to be that the Giants couldn't build good hitters, they had to steal them from somewhere else. In the last few years, though, that's not true. There's no better proof of that than Crawford, though. And considering that he's one of the better fielders in baseball at any position, it's pretty likely that the Giants just locked up a special player. They should be proud of themselves.