Recent reports are stating that the San Diego Padres will renew contract negotiations with Cameron Maybin in January (h/t: Chicken Friars). This is good news.

As we’ve discussed lately, the Padres have generally avoided locking up their young players to team-friendly, long-term contracts. Obviously signing a young player to a long-term deal involves some risk from the organization’s side, but the reward is having a productive player under contract for far below market value.

In his first season in San Diego, 24-year-old Cameron Maybin hit .264/.323/.393 in 569 plate appearances, patrolling center field in Petco Park. Maybin’s game offers speed (40 for 48 on stolen bases), defense (+9.5 UZR, +12 DRS), and a promising bat (it was above-average in 2011) in an exciting combination.

Depending on your source, Maybin was worth anywhere from 2.9 WAR to 4.7 WAR in 2011, with the difference due to both offensive and defensive value. Either way, Maybin was very good in 2011, and he’s just entering into his prime.

Maybin isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2013 and he’s under Padres control through 2015. From the Padres perspective, it would make a lot of sense to get Maybin locked up for more than four years to avoid the arbitration process all together and also (perhaps more importantly) buy out some free agent years.

The recent deal that Tampa Bay and Matt Moore agreed to was five years, $14 million (with options that could extend the contract to eight years, $40 million). Maybin is more established at the major league level, a position player, and further along in service-time – he’s going to want more than $14 million to sign on long-term.

Let’s take a look at Maybin’s expected market value over the next six years:

Year Proj. WAR Est. Salary (M) Market value (M)
2012 2.5 $.5 $12.5
2013 2.8 $5 $14.8
2014 3.1 $8 $17.4
2015 3.1 $12 $18.3
2016 2.8 $17.4 $17.4
2017 2.5 $16.3 $16.3

As usual, there are a lot of assumptions and estimations being made here. Consider these numbers more for illustration than any serious evaluation.

If the Padres play it year-by-year with Maybin and he performs well, they’ll net over $35 million in surplus value through 2015. In 2016, he’ll become a free agent and likely won’t be returning to San Diego. In extending Maybin, the goal should be to grab a couple of those free agent years to keep the center fielder in San Diego a few years longer.

There is incentive to play it year-by-year for the Padres – they’ll still get a ton of value out of Maybin if he produces, and if he doesn’t there isn’t a long-term commitment. Still, if they want to avoid the the arbitration process and keep Maybin around for more than four years, they should try to lock him up now.

The Friar Forecast recommendation: six  years, $40 million (2018 club option $14 million).

Maybin gets $40 million guaranteed, a decent little sum of money. The Padres lock up their (hopefully) stud center fielder at a very reasonable cost, buying out two of his free agent seasons (potentially three, if they pick up the option).

The only way for the Padres to keep someone like Maybin around after  2015 is by taking a calculated risk and locking him up early in his career. We’ll see if they decide to do it.