Elite Defenders Myles Straw and Manuel Margot Sign Extensions

© Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Last week may have been highlighted by the start of the 2022 regular season, but it also featured a spate of contract extensions. Today I’m going to take a closer look at two such extensions, both involving glove-first outfielders entering their age-27 seasons.

We’ll begin with Myles Straw, the center fielder for the Cleveland Guardians, who signed a five-year, $25 million extension, according to Zack Meisel of The Athletic. The extension includes club options for the 2027 and ’28 seasons that would bring the total to $41.5 million over the next seven years. Remarkably, this is the Guardians’ third extension this month with the potential to keep a player in Cleveland through the 2028 season — the team also inked deals with star third baseman José Ramírez and closer Emmanuel Clase.

2021 was Straw’s first full season as an everyday player. He came over to Cleveland from the Astros at the trade deadline in exchange for Phil Maton and Yainer Diaz. After the trade, he continued to build on his breakout campaign. He ended the having posted stellar defense (11 OAA), great baserunning (30 steals in 36 attempts), and about league-average offense (98 wRC+). That well-rounded production quietly placed him among the best center fielders in baseball last season, finishing sixth in WAR at the position with 3.7:

2021 Center Field WAR Leaderboard
Starling Marte 526 12 47 134 12.3 0.9 5.5
Bryan Reynolds 646 24 5 142 3 -5.3 5.5
Cedric Mullins 675 30 30 136 4.8 -7.6 5.3
Byron Buxton 254 19 9 169 4.4 6.1 4.2
Enrique Hernández 585 20 1 110 3 7.4 3.9
Myles Straw 638 4 30 98 6.1 8.5 3.7
Brandon Nimmo 386 8 5 137 -0.9 2.9 3.5
Harrison Bader 401 16 9 110 2.5 15.1 3.4
Luis Robert 296 13 6 157 1.4 -1 3.2
Chris Taylor 582 20 13 113 6.5 -4 3.1

That chart does a good job of showing how unusual Straw’s profile is compared to his peers’, as he’s the only center fielder on the list without a clearly above-average bat. These offensive limitations mostly come from a lack of power, and it is a serious lack of power at that, with Straw posting an ISO, Barrel% and HardHit% all below the fifth percentile. His max exit velocity is actually above average, which could be a sign that more consistently hard contact is hidden away somewhere, but there’s just not a lot to suggest that he’ll be putting up double-digit home run totals anytime soon.

That’s not to say his offensive game isn’t without some strengths. Straw has a very compact swing with a flat bat path that generates plenty of contact (4.7% career SwStr%) and line drives (24.5% career LD%). This profile plays up a bit due to his 96th-percentile sprint speed, and he’s also remarkably good at squaring up the ball. The high end of the Soft% leaderboard is littered with guys like Straw who have limited power, yet he is nowhere to be found thanks to his Goldilocks approach of rarely hitting it too hard or too soft. In fact, he had the eighth lowest Soft% last season, right in-line with some of the games best hitters, like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Shohei Ohtani.

Besides his compact swing, his ability to make quality contact comes from his impressive plate discipline. As you might expect, pitchers challenge Straw in the zone quite often, with only J.P. Crawford and David Fletcher seeing a higher percentage of pitches in the zone last season. And yet Straw still turned in an above-average walk rate of 10.5%. This of course comes from an elite ability to lay off of pitches out of the zone. Last year, he chased pitches only 18.8% of the time, good for seventh best in baseball. With his contact-oriented swing and ability to lay off nasty pitches, he has a good foundation for capable offensive performance despite his lack of thump. Take at look at his ZiPS projections over the life of the contract, courtesy of Dan Szymborski:

ZiPS Projection – Myles Straw
2022 .271 .342 .349 539 79 146 24 3 4 39 58 31 88 7 2.5
2023 .266 .338 .353 462 68 123 22 3 4 34 50 25 88 6 2.1
2024 .266 .339 .354 443 65 118 21 3 4 32 48 21 88 5 2.0
2025 .270 .342 .361 429 63 116 21 3 4 32 46 20 91 5 2.1
2026 .267 .338 .351 427 62 114 20 2 4 32 45 17 87 5 1.8
2027 .266 .334 .344 387 54 103 17 2 3 28 39 15 84 4 1.4
2028 .263 .328 .343 353 48 93 15 2 3 25 34 12 82 4 1.1

ZiPS doesn’t fully buy Straw’s offensive breakout last season and still views him as a below-average hitter. This makes sense given his relative lack of track record, but even with that conservative outlook, you can see how he should remain a consistently valuable player for the Guardians into his early 30s as he rides great defensive value. Straw’s speed has remained elite in the early part of his career, which is a big part of where his defensive prowess comes from. His jump rating, a metric that looks at the first three seconds after contact, is less than stellar, though, primarily due to merely average route running. His reaction time and elite speed make up for this, and he’s a great defender no matter which overall metric you look at, but more direct routes to the ball could definitely improve his game, especially if he’s going to remain a superlative defender as he ages out of that world-class speed.

Prior to this extension, Straw was set to reach free agency after the 2025 season at age 30; this contract buys out at least one year of free agency and potentially three if the Guardians exercise the two options. Given his strong performance last season, the deal makes sense for both parties. The Guardians can lock in a fairly inexpensive contract, one that could look great if Straw keeps putting up three-plus-win seasons. Straw, meanwhile, locks in the safety of guaranteed money and consistent raises even with his fairly limited track record.

Next, we turn toManuel Margot, who, as a glove-first outfielder with plenty of speed, is very similar to Straw in a lot of ways. As reported by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Margot and the Rays agreed last week on a two-year extension that will keep the 27-year-old in Tampa through at least the 2024 season. Margot is set to make $7 million in 2023 and $10 million in ’24. There is also a $12 million mutual option for the 2025 season with a $2 million buyout, bringing the guaranteed amount to $19 million. This deal buys out two years of free agency, and potentially a third.

Since joining the Rays prior to the 2020 season, Margot has been a key piece of what is arguably the best defensive outfield in baseball; the team ranked first in Outs Above Average last season and was second in 2020. Margot is an elite center fielder in his own right but sharing an outfield with Kevin Kiermaier, one of the few who could be considered better, has meant Margot has primarily played right field, a role he has more than excelled at:

2021 Outfield Defensive Metrics
Player Innings OAA DRS UZR
Manuel Margot 961.1 16 13 3.7
Michael A. Taylor 1186 15 19 13.9
Harrison Bader 886.2 14 15 15.1
Kevin Kiermaier 894.2 12 13 12.1
Myles Straw 1338 11 4 8.5

By OAA, Margot was the game’s best outfielder last season, and he’s routinely been in the top 10 over the years. He’s simply a fantastic outfielder, one who is as great going back on the ball as he is coming in. But while he’s only 27, his underlying speed skills have already started to take a hit. Where once Margot had a 99th percentile sprint speed (over 30 feet per second), he’s been steadily declining year-over-year, down to 28.6 ft/sec last season, good for the 87th percentile. Margot is still quite fast, but this dip has shown up in the jumps he is getting in the outfield, which dropped to a career-low 80th percentile in 2021.

As a hitter, Margot has never put up even a league-average offensive season, although 2021 saw him post a career-high 95 wRC+, his third straight season of slight improvement in that regard. He makes plenty of contact (he boasts an 87th-percentile strikeout rate), which keeps his batting average above water, but there’s very little power to speak of; his average exit velocity, barrel rate, and ISO are all below average. The one area where Margot showed some notable improvement in 2021 was in his frequency of making hard contact, as his HardHit% climbed over league average. It could be a sign of some power development.

One of the things that has held back Margot’s overall offensive game is his performance against righties, against whom he has a career .285 wOBA. Mind you, he’s hardly prolific against lefties, but his .328 career wOBA against southpaws is much more formidable. On the surface, 2021 was another poor showing against righties (.281 wOBA) but he actually showed some underlying improvement and finished with a career-high .310 xwOBA and above average exit velocity against them, suggesting some bad luck held him back. If Margot’s improvements against right-handed pitchers are real, it would go a long way to turning him into an above-average hitter, as 68% of his career plate appearances have come against righties. Here’s what ZiPS thinks of Margot:

ZiPS Projection – Manuel Margot
2022 .249 .307 .387 434 57 108 22 4 10 52 37 15 93 4 0.8
2023 .248 .306 .382 408 54 101 22 3 9 50 35 13 91 3 0.7
2024 .248 .308 .383 399 52 99 21 3 9 48 35 11 92 3 0.7
2025 .246 .305 .383 386 50 95 20 3 9 46 33 10 91 3 0.6

The system doesn’t expect much to change over the life of this extension. That makes sense given that even if the 2025 mutual option is exercised, it will only be his age-30 season. Where this contract gets interesting, however, is in its team-wide implications, coming as it does on the heels of an offseason filled with trade rumors surrounding Kiermaier, the Rays’ most expensive player over the next two seasons (he’s owed $12 million this season, with a $13 million club option for 2023). Margot’s extension could be a sign that the team is preparing for life without Kiermaier roaming center field. Margot is nearly five years younger, but given his already declining speed, I have my doubts that his defense will age as gracefully as Kiermairer’s has. Kiermaier’s speed has remained in the 95th percentile or higher, even as he enters his age-32 season, and his defensive abilities in center have remained elite.

Of course, this extension doesn’t have to mean that a Kiermaier trade is likely. Having an abundance of great outfield defenders is a good problem to have, especially if you’re making up that offensive production at some of the other more defensively-minded positions, as the Rays are with Wander Franco at shortstop and Mike Zunino at catcher. The skills that Margot brings to a team that clearly values outfield defense, as well as his continued offensive improvements, make this a fairly low-risk contract even if Margot’s role stays the same as it is now.

Luke Hooper is a designer and writer at FanGraphs. He lives in Portland, Oregon, longing for a major league team to materialize.

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2 years ago

AWESOME ARTICLE! A silly question: wouldn’t it make more sense to compare UZR and DRS with RAA instead of OAA?

2 years ago
Reply to  krusty

Not a bad point if you’re looking to compare all the stats but frankly I think UZR and DRS are about as useful defensively as batting average is for finding good hitters.

2 years ago

They have significant issues, but OAA for outfielders completely ignores throwing arms, which is a significant issue

2 years ago
Reply to  proiste

Wow! That’s a pretty significant difference. More reason to use multiple metrics, I guess?

Is there anything similar for infield defense re. DRS/UZR vs RAA? IIRC, UZR doesn’t do much for shifting?

2 years ago
Reply to  proiste

There are other metrics that can easily evaluate strength of the arm like velocity on the throw which statcast can measure and it can also measure accuracy. It’s just in different data and far and away easier to quantify that. The other aspects of fielding