Betts, Lindor Top Contract-Extension Candidates

Three years ago, seven major-league position players who had yet to reach salary arbitration agreed to contracts with their teams, conceding multiple free-agent seasons in the process. Most of those deals have turned into bargains: Matt Carpenter, Jason Kipnis, Starling Marte, and Mike Trout have all played at a high level since then. This came one year after Paul Goldschmidt and Anthony Rizzo signed contracts that have proved to be incredibly valuable, as well.

In the last two years, however, just four players have signed similar extensions. There are quite a few potential reasons, the most likely being that players are more reluctant to sign deals that give away free agency so easily. It’s also possible that teams haven’t found as many potential candidates who are worthy of a long-term investment.

When I looked at potential extension candidates last year, I noted that there weren’t a great many players who were ideally suited for extensions. Only Gregory Polanco and Kolten Wong ultimately signed extensions, so my hypothesis seems to have been accurate. Teams have made up somewhat for lost time this winter, though, as players like Ender Inciarte, Carlos Martinez, and Wil Myers — all of whom were mentioned as candidates last year — reached extensions this offseason. The guarantees doled out by the teams — in particular, the $83 million to Wil Myers and the $51 million to Carlos Martinez — illustrate why signing players to extensions before they reach free agency is much more advantageous for the teams. While the deals for Myers and Martinez could still prove to be bargains, compare the figures they received to the deals signed by position players in the three previous offseasons.

Pre-Arbitration Contract Extensions Since 2014
Name PA OBP SLG wRC+ WAR Service Time Contract Terms*
Mike Trout 1490 .404 .544 164 21.5 2.070 6/144.5
Matt Carpenter 1076 .381 .470 137 8.3 2.012 6/52.0, 1
Christian Yelich 933 .365 .400 118 5.8 1.069 7/49.6, 1
Andrelton Simmons 840 .304 .400 94 6.6 1.125 7/58.0
Starling Marte 748 .332 .440 117 5.8 1.070 5/35.0, 2
Jason Kipnis 1480 .349 .424 115 8.7 2.075 6/52.5, 1
Yan Gomes 433 .324 .453 112 3.1 1.083 6/23.0, 2
Adam Eaton 918 .350 .390 108 3.2 2.030 5/23.5, 2
Jedd Gyorko 525 .301 .444 109 2.4 1.016 6/35.0, 1
Kolten Wong 1108 .303 .374 88 3.8 2.045 5/25.5, 1
Gregory Polanco 964 .316 .369 92 2.6 1.103 5/35, 2
Odubel Herrera 1193 .353 .419 111 7.8 2.000 5/30.5, 2
*Year/$M, Options
Note: Herrera’s was signed this winter.

All of these players signed away two — or, in some cases, three — years of free agency in exchange for a decent guaranteed contract. While a couple years might seem like just a small delay to free agency, teams generally received a 60% surplus on every dollar invested in contracts like these, and the recent extensions seem unlikely to break that pattern.

Most of these guarantees are around $30 million or so, which is significantly less than the deals for Myers and Martinez that were signed one year along in service time. Players take a significant risk by turning down money between their second year and third year in the league, as they have to play that season on a near-minimum salary. Once they hit arbitration and benefit from the security that comes along with a million-dollar contract, there’s less incentive to take a guarantee, especially with free agency just a few years away.

Generally speaking, the ideal player for an extension of this type (from the clubs’ perspective) is a season away from arbitration. Unlike last year, we have quite a few good candidates currently. Here are the players who’ve recorded between two and three years of service time who have yet to hit arbitration (i.e. aren’t Super-2 players) who might make good candidates for an extension.

Pre-Arbitration Contract-Extension Candidates
Name PA wRC+ WAR Service Time (Yr.Days)
Mookie Betts 1597 127 14.4 2.070
Kevin Pillar 1444 85 8.2 2.113
Joe Panik 1245 109 7.8 2.100
Jose Ramirez 1253 100 7.4 2.074
Joc Pederson 1099 120 6.6 2.028
Matt Duffy 1042 101 6.1 2.059
Randal Grichuk 944 113 5.8 2.048
J.T. Realmuto 1042 97 5.4 2.038
David Peralta 1048 119 5.1 2.120
Rougned Odor 1519 102 4.9 2.121
Devon Travis 670 119 4.8 2.000
Marcus Semien 1548 97 4.9 2.118
Jake Lamb 1117 101 4.5 2.053
Eugenio Suarez 1302 96 3.2 2.061
Jonathan Villar 1337 101 2.8 2.113
Cameron Rupp 796 88 2.6 2.089
C.J. Cron 1102 111 1.8 2.110
Justin Bour 850 116 1.8 2.064

Mookie Betts is obviously the big name here. If he’s able to approximate his MVP-caliber campaign of 2016, Betts will have a case for an arbitration salary exceeding $10 million. At that point, there’s very little reason for him to sign a contract extension. Right now, though, there could be some middle ground. Mike Trout signed an extension that bought out three years of free agency. That deal looks to be a fantastic one for the Angels right now. Betts is no Mike Trout, but for him to give up two years of free agency, something approaching a $100 million guarantee seems reasonable. Although if Boston doesn’t feel that way, that would be understandable.

As for the rest of the players on the list, none jump out as must-signs. Most simply represent buy-low opportunites for club, with the hope that such an investment would pay off later. Jake Lamb seems like a decent candidate, his poor second half notwithstanding. Teammate David Peralta had a lost season last year, but if his wrist is healthy in spring, Arizona could try to get some cost certainty. Jose Ramirez seems like a decent candidate. Cleveland has generally been very aggressive with extensions for young players, having signed Carlos Carrasco andCorey Kluber on the pitching side and Yan Gomes, Jason Kipnis, and Michael Brantley on the position-player side in recent seasons.

That list isn’t all of the position players likely to hit arbitration next year. There are three others, and they’re pretty big names.

Pre-Super-2 Contract-Extension Candidates
Name PA wRC+ WAR Service Time (Yr.Days)
Kris Bryant 1349 143 15 1.171
Addison Russell 1121 93 6.9 1.167
Maikel Franco 1023 100 2.8 1.170

All three players here were held out of the beginning of the 2015 season so that their teams could get acquire extra year of control before free agency. While that goal was accomplished, it also means that those players will head to arbitration after this season. It’s not clear that any of the three players are realistic candidates for an extension. Franco hasn’t played all that well, while Bryant and Russell are both represented by Scott Boras, who has a very strong preference for taking his players to free agency.

There’s one final group of players who could make for contract-extension candidates. These are players who, if not extended this year, might top the list of extension candidates next year. They’ve recorded more than one year of service time and are still two years away from free agency, but players like Starling Marte, Christian Yelich, and (last year) Gregory Polanco have all signed extensions with similar service time.

Extension Candidates with Less Than Two Years of Service Time
Name PA wRC+ WAR Service Time (Yr.Days)
Francisco Lindor 1122 118 10.8 1.113
Corey Seager 800 142 9.0 1.032
Carlos Correa 1092 127 8.3 1.119
Stephen Piscotty 905 120 3.9 1.076
Michael Conforto 542 109 3.4 1.043
Adam Duvall 757 101 3.3 1.096
Miguel Sano 830 124 3.3 1.095
Travis Shaw 778 97 3.0 1.088
Trevor Story 415 120 2.8 1.000
Javier Baez 759 83 2.5 1.089
Kyle Schwarber 278 129 1.8 1.086
Adonis Garcia 761 95 1.7 1.062
Byron Buxton 469 77 1.2 1.064

What I said about Jose Ramirez goes double for Francisco Lindor. He got a decent bonus coming out of the draft back in 2011, but if Cleveland has a chance to sign him long term, they’d be foolish not to. Carlos Correa’s signing bonus was near $5 million back in 2012, but Houston would be wise to try and sign him long term, as well. Corey Seager is another Boras client. After that, we have a mixed bag of players on whom it might be better (from the clubs’ perspective) to wait another season. That said, it might be worth it for Minnesota to see what kind of guarantee they could get to sign Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, even as they lost some of their prospect luster.

While the last two years have been relatively slow when it comes to players signing contract extensions, there’s a pretty good crop here. Players could hold out for more money than their predecessors received given how much of a bargain most of those contracts turned out to be, but the allure of life-changing money is often too difficult to pass up given the risk of injury and prospect of receiving nothing.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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7 years ago

I’ve heard Rizzo has advised the younger cubs against signing extensions. Not sure if it’s true but obviously he cost himself a ton of money so I could see it.

7 years ago
Reply to  JediHoyer

Where’d you hear that? Just curious.