San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval wants $100 million, according to the reporting of CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman. So did Ervin Santana, and he is now working on a one-year, $14.1 million contract in Atlanta. But Sandoval and his agent Gustavo Vazquez have already rejected a three-year, $40 million offer from the Giants, and if the gap between the two sides is that large, Sandoval will get a chance to see if anybody is willing to pay up after this season. Sandoval, a .180/.263/.315 hitter in the season's early action, is earning $8.2 million in the final year of a three-year contract signed after the 2012 season.
Since 2012, Sandoval has hit .270 with 28 home runs, 55 doubles and a .752 OPS over 272 games. In 2013, the average Major League Baseball third baseman hit .260 with a .735 OPS. San Francisco's AT&T Park is a tough one for hitters, but compared to other $100 million names in the past -- Matt Holliday, Buster Posey, David Wright, Jacoby Ellsbury -- Sandoval's performance pales.
But it's clear that Sandoval and Vazquez aren't banking on the names of the past $100 million players. Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman serves as a perfect comparison point. He plays the same position, will make just about $100 million over the next six years, is nearly the same age (29, whereas Sandoval will be 28 next season). Zimmerman signed the contract in the winter following the 2012 season. Over the previous three seasons, Zimmerman hit .292 with 62 home runs, 89 doubles and an .843 OPS. Even accounting for the fact that Zimmerman signed an extension, not on the open market, it's difficult to reconcile Sandoval's $100 million demand with the gap between his performance and Zimmerman's.
Sandoval and Vazquez, however, can see opportunity in the upcoming free-agent class. Sandoval will be just one of four free-agent position players under the age of 30. And measured against the other three -- Toronto's Colby Rasmus, Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera and Baltimore's Delmon Young -- two-time All-Star Pablo Sandoval begins to look pretty good. His only real competition at third base will be San Diego's Chase Headley, who will be 31 and has just a .726 OPS in his last 161 games, and Aramis Ramirez, who has been excellent in three years in Milwaukee but will be 37 years old after the season. And in terms of star position players, his main competition will be Los Angeles's Hanley Ramirez -- but only if the mega-rich Dodgers let Ramirez hit the market.
But if anything favors Sandoval and Vazquez on their quest for nine digits, it's the growth of $100 million contracts over the past few offseasons. Where $100 million was only attainable for the royal jewel of the free-agent class in the mid-2000s, it is now a foregone conclusion for stars like Mike Trout, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw and rather a question for mid-market players like Santana and Sandoval. Thus, the idea of the $100 million contract as a status symbol -- whether for the star or the franchise acquiring him -- has started to degrade.
Of the 54 $100 million contracts signed throughout baseball history, 24 have been signed over the past four seasons. It appeared the $100 million contract ceiling was broken in the late 2000s, but the effects of the nationwide recession led to a brief halt in salary growth. Major League Baseball teams managed to jump out of the recession quickly, and thanks to the continuous growth in television revenue across the league, there's little reason to believe the spending will stop now.
Thus, if Sandoval can turn around his slow start to 2014, he has to like his chances in the winter of 2015. He will be the best of the free-agent market's younger offerings, and he will be one of a select few third basemen or power hitters available. Perhaps Sandoval doesn't read like a $100 million player of the past. But he and his agent aren't concerned with the past. And with some $18 million in MLB earnings under his belt after this season, what does Sandoval have to lose?