The Mariners have reportedly signed first base prospect Evan White to a six-year, $24 million deal with three club options that, if exercised, mean the deal will max out at nine years and $55.5 million.
White, who will turn 24 in April of next year, was ranked fourth in the Mariners system and 77th in baseball overall on our midseason 2019 prospect list. When we wrote the Mariners list, we described White by saying:
We now have a full season of data to help us figure out whether Evan White’s weird profile is going to play. A plus-running, backwards guy (he bats right and throws left, a generally unfavorable combination due to the defensive limitations and platoon issues caused by both) who plays plus defense at first base, White was slugging .391 at the start of August, which is rather uninspiring for a college hitter in the Cal League. By the end of the month, however, White had 30 hits in 90 plate appearances and was slugging .763.
He has made subtle changes to his lower half, drawing his front knee back toward his rear hip more than he did at Kentucky, and taking a longer stride back toward the pitcher. White is more often finishing with a flexed front leg, which has helped him go down and lift balls in the bottom part of the strike zone by adjusting his lower half instead of his hands. White looked good during the Arizona Fall League, too, squelching some concern that he was just a polished college hitter beating up on Cal League pitching. He’s one of the more bizarre players in the minors.
We’ve been down this road a number of times lately, with varying amounts of guaranteed money, length, track record, and quality of player. This site wasn’t crazy about the Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies extensions last year from a labor perspective; last offseason, Eloy Jiménez signed another big deal, albeit one that was slightly more player-friendly. A number of clubs have offered deals like this to top prospects just before or after their major league debuts over the years, with Evan Longoria, Matt Dominguez, Jon Singleton, Brandon Lowe, and Matt Moore all coming to mind.
Scott Kingery’s six-year, $24 million extension, which also had three options, before he had reached the major leagues seems like the closest comp, but Kingery’s max value was $65 million. He had also reached Triple-A, while but for a brief four-game stint in Tacoma in 2018, White hasn’t played above Double-A. Both Kingery and White had the issue of signing out of college and reaching the big leagues three years later, likely at age 24 for both. That Kingery is a speedy second baseman and White is a backwards first baseman without huge power could explain the difference, though GM Jerry Dipoto recently indicated that White had the second-highest average exit velocity among Mariners minor leaguers this season, and Eric and I have been told similar things about White’s hard hit rate outstripping his traditional raw power.
Both players gave up all of their prime years — and potentially, their entire careers — to one contract before they were able to establish their market value with major league play. Trading the promise of your career for an up-front payday obviously makes sense for a lot of people. We’re happy for White if he’s happy about this deal. And it’s a good day for the Mariners to have a potential core piece locked in for the foreseeable future. But the decision players face isn’t just one of taking the money or go year-to-year and assume massive risk. With a strong year or two, the guarantee on a theoretical early extension could almost double, and possibly entail fewer options. I got texts from industry people about this deal last night, and they were not pleased. One agent summarized the thoughts from the labor side: “Been dealing with about five big leaguer clients talking my ear off about this awful deal and how someone needs to talk to these young kids.” The vomit emoji made an appearance earlier in the exchange.
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.