Over the last few years, March has brought not only pretend baseball to keep us distracted from the absence of real baseball, but also a large number of fascinating contract extensions to think (and write) about. Flush with cash from new television revenues, teams have worked aggressively to lock up their best players, with players cashing in earlier and earlier with guaranteed contracts.
A year ago, we saw pre-season extensions for the likes of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Yordano Ventura, Brian Dozier, and Christian Yelich, among others. Two years ago, the March extension crowd included Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Starling Marte, Jose Quintana, Matt Carpenter, Andrelton Simmons, and Chris Archer. The game’s very best players were landing big money deals, with the end of spring training turning into a hub of contract activity rivaling what we see each winter.
This year, though? Crickets. Kolten Wong got a five year extension back on March 2nd, but not a single long-term deal has been struck between a team and player since. Salvador Perez got an extension the day before that, so Wong isn’t the only March extension so far, but Perez was already signed long-term; his deal was essentially a reworking of an existing contract to make him feel a bit more appreciated.
And it’s not like the game is lacking for superstar young talents. Even putting aside the guys who probably won’t sign before getting to free agency — looking at you, Bryce Harper — the sport just had a huge influx of high-end talents who look like pretty safe bets for teams to take long-term risks on. I don’t know what Carlos Correa would want to sign away a few free agent years right now, for instance, but he seems like the perfect target for a long-term deal. And while Correa might be the best of the young guys who have arrived on the scene lately, there’s a huge crop of really fantastic young players who are all set to make around $500,000 this year; based on recent years, we’d have expected a few of them to trade some long-term financial upside for some short-term security.
Now, maybe teams are just finalizing the terms of these deals, and we’ll get a whole flood of them this weekend. Opening Day isn’t necessarily a deadline for these kinds of things, as Rick Porcello’s deal was announced after the season started last year, so it’s too early to say that the extension trend definitely died in 2016.
But as it stands right now, Kolten Wong is the only guy this spring who traded his arbitration and a few free agent years for some guaranteed income. Given what we’ve seen the last few years, that’s pretty unexpected. Perhaps the looming CBA negotiations have convinced everyone to just take a year off while they wait to see how the economics of the sport will change, or maybe the previous extensions have left enough money on the table for players that there’s some pushback in the prices young stars will accept in order to sell their free agent years. It’s hard to say definitively, but the lack of spring training extensions certainly is a change from what we’ve seen the last few years.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.