More Young Players Who Should Be Next to Sign Long-Term Deals

Walker Buehler
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I discussed some of the young, pre-free agency players who teams should be trying to sign to long-term contract extensions. I hadn’t been planning for there to be a part two, but you guys had so many additional players you wanted to talk about, and I can’t remember the last time I got more DMs about a piece than that one — well, about a piece for which everyone isn’t mad at me, at least!

So, let’s oil up and turn the crank on the ol’ ZiPS-o-Matic and get this projection mill hopping for seven more players.

Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers: Eight years, $204 million

Buehler is currently in the second and final year of an extension with the Dodgers that pays him $4 million a year. His next deal will be a tad more pricey. Clayton Kershaw is still around in Dodger blue, but his injury history and mild decline resulted in 2021 being the year that Buehler became The Man in the rotation, reducing Kershaw to the role of deuteragonist. And while Los Angeles still has a rocking rotation, the depth isn’t quite what it was in recent years, so there should be more than slight concern that the franchise’s most valuable pitcher is unsigned. With Buehler two years from free agency, the Dodgers aren’t likely to get any massive discounts, but this is the best time to sign him if you don’t want to pay him Gerrit Cole money later. The Dodgers don’t necessarily have to stop at this figure, either; what’s the fun of being wealthy if you don’t use that cash to pay for cool things?

There may be some concern in some places about the dropoff in Buehler’s strikeout rate, but while strikeout rate changes do tend to stick very quickly, they stick far more when the underlying stats support the drop-off than when they don’t. In this case, the contact rates and swinging-strike rates haven’t worsened at all, nor has his velocity fallen off a cliff, suggesting that it’s a blip rather than a plunge. You can make a similar argument for the Dodgers signing Julio Urías to an extension, likely for a significantly lesser haul, but given the workload Buehler has shown he can handle, he’d be my priority.

ZiPS Projection – Walker Buehler
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2023 13 7 0 3.30 32 32 188.3 156 69 23 46 200 127 4.3
2024 12 7 0 3.20 31 31 182.7 150 65 22 43 197 131 4.4
2025 12 7 0 3.21 30 30 176.7 146 63 21 42 189 130 4.2
2026 11 6 0 3.23 27 27 161.7 133 58 19 38 173 130 3.8
2027 10 6 0 3.26 26 26 151.7 126 55 19 36 163 128 3.5
2028 9 6 0 3.29 24 24 142.3 119 52 18 35 154 127 3.3
2029 8 5 0 3.38 23 23 133.3 113 50 18 33 145 124 2.9

Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers: Six years, $131 million

Woodruff isn’t off to a great start in 2022, but other than a couple extra home runs, there’s no red flag that suggests mortal peril ahead. In any case, ZiPS is already assuming that he regresses somewhat from his 2021 campaign, a star-level season that was naturally a bit overshadowed by Corbin Burnes snagging a Cy Young award. This isn’t to cast any aspersions upon Burnes, but my suspicion is that Woodruff will be the easier of the two to sign, as I think the former’s massive breakout leaves him in a stronger position to wait out the service time.

Having Woodruff signed for the long haul to go along with Freddy Peralta’s team-friendly deal gives the Brewers a little certainty at the top of the rotation if Burnes bolts after 2024 — at least, assuming Peralta’s shoulder injury isn’t a career-altering one. A rotation with Woodruff, Peralta, hopefully Ethan Small, and maybe Aaron Ashby, to go along with a less lucrative extension for Adrian Houser or Eric Lauer, is a group that can at least survive the loss of its lead pitcher.

ZiPS Projection – Brandon Woodruff
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2023 13 7 0 3.05 28 28 156.3 123 53 17 39 194 141 4.1
2024 12 6 0 3.07 26 26 149.3 117 51 17 37 186 140 3.8
2025 12 6 0 3.14 25 25 143.3 114 50 16 36 176 137 3.6
2026 11 6 0 3.14 23 23 131.7 105 46 15 33 162 137 3.3
2027 10 6 0 3.21 22 22 123.3 99 44 15 32 152 134 3.0
2028 9 5 0 3.31 20 20 114.3 93 42 14 30 141 130 2.7

Pete Alonso, New York Mets: Five years, $99 million

Hitting free agency at 30 versus hitting it at 27 is a pretty big deal; in the case of Alonso, ZiPS projects a loss of about $60 million in terms of contract projection. I’d still counsel the Mets to go a little higher than this if need be, simply because I think that the universal DH has increased the value of defense-challenged sluggers, though I cannot completely prove it as of yet. In any case, Alonso is their homegrown hitting star, and even if he’s already had his best season, the Mets are better with him than trying to use that money to replace his bat. He is at least open to the idea, though willingness to discuss and agreeing on nine-figure deals are two very different things.

ZiPS Projection – Pete Alonso
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .262 .346 .501 569 82 149 27 2 35 109 61 146 3 133 -2 3.8
2024 .263 .348 .508 547 79 144 28 2 34 106 59 138 3 136 -2 3.8
2025 .264 .346 .507 535 76 141 27 2 33 102 56 131 3 135 -2 3.6
2026 .258 .342 .489 515 71 133 25 2 30 95 54 126 2 129 -2 3.0
2027 .252 .333 .465 493 65 124 23 2 26 86 50 118 2 120 -3 2.2

Harrison Bader, St. Louis Cardinals: Four years, $94 million

I won’t lie: one of the reasons I’m including Bader is that I think the Cardinals can sign him to an extension for considerably less than ZiPS — which is absolutely in love with him — would be willing to offer. There are no discounts here, as he’s already signed through 2023, which would otherwise have been his final arbitration season before free agency. Maybe I’m wrong, and teams are more bullish on defense-first center fielders in their 30s than I think they are. It helps that one of the reasons Cardinals pitching has been so acceptable despite few dominant pitchers is that consistently excellent up-the-middle defense, and Bader has been the lynchpin of that, even more than late-career Yadier Molina. He’s not matching his 2020–21 level of offense, but the drop-off is a lot smaller than the triple-slash numbers would lead you to believe, since a lot of that is the league’s disappearing offense.

ZiPS Projection – Harrison Bader
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .235 .335 .399 404 58 95 20 2 14 47 52 120 13 105 9 3.3
2025 .234 .333 .402 393 55 92 20 2 14 46 50 113 13 105 9 3.2
2026 .233 .332 .389 378 52 88 19 2 12 43 48 105 12 101 9 2.9
2027 .230 .326 .373 365 49 84 17 1 11 40 44 97 10 96 8 2.4

Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox: Three years, $85 million

This one may be a challenge, though the Red Sox should certainly explore it. With the additional handicap of the juiceless ball placed on top of being a lefty power hitter in a park that’s tough on that type of player, the fact that Devers is hitting for even more power than last year is quite impressive. And with an $11.2 million contract for 2022 and just a year to go to free agency, he is highly incentivized to bet on himself, as Aaron Judge did this year (and, I’d argue, even more justified at the start of the season).

I don’t think the incentives are there to get a five- or six-year deal unless you pay Devers an absolute king’s ransom, since he’d then hit free agency for the first time in his 30s. So that leaves either a mega-deal or the Carlos Correa Gambit of giving a player a rich short-term deal that still allows him to hit the open market in his 20s. Devers already rejected a contract extension offer, so I asked ZiPS to come up with something of a different configuration than Boston likely did. ZiPS would “only” offer $225 million for the entire rest of Devers’ career, so if he does see himself in Fernando Tatis Jr.’s league, this may all be a moot point.

ZiPS Projection – Rafael Devers
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .298 .353 .550 624 108 186 43 3 36 105 50 133 5 140 -5 4.5
2024 .296 .353 .556 602 105 178 43 3 36 103 50 130 5 141 -5 4.3
2025 .291 .350 .550 587 102 171 41 3 35 99 50 129 5 139 -6 3.9

Luis Arraez, Minnesota Twins: Five years, $64 million

If you brought 1997 Dan Szymborski into 2022, there would be a lot of things he would not understand, such as why all technological advances are geared toward people being mad at each other on the internet and just what the heck 2022 Dan Szymborski had been eating over the intervening 25 years. Something else he would not understand is how Arraez is actually underrated. After all, what kind of extreme contact, scrappy, batting average machine is overlooked? ZiPS projects Arraez to be the active leader in batting average for the near future. Using 3,000 plate appearances as the cutoff (ZiPS projects Arraez to still be there when he hits that threshold), there has never been an active leader in that stat who was not a Hall of Fame inductee or contender. Seriously, Lefty O’Doul is probably the worst player to be the active champion, and he was pretty good.

I’m not saying that Arraez is going to be a Hall of Famer. But he brings a lot to the table, and it’s perplexing that the Twins seem to think of him as a Plan B going into every season. I also think they’re hamstringing his defensive development; he’s not a Gold Glove type, and his usage is preventing him from getting experience at one position. Pick a position, leave him there, and hit him first or second for the next five years. He’s a really good player, even if his lack of power and defense limits his ultimate upside.

ZiPS Projection – Luis Arraez
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .310 .374 .391 496 70 154 25 3 3 41 51 47 4 116 1 3.2
2024 .311 .376 .400 470 66 146 25 4 3 40 50 43 4 119 0 3.1
2025 .306 .371 .396 457 63 140 24 4 3 38 48 41 4 117 -1 2.7
2026 .303 .368 .394 442 60 134 23 4 3 37 46 39 4 115 -1 2.4
2027 .299 .361 .388 425 56 127 21 4 3 35 43 36 4 112 -2 2.0

Zac Gallen, Arizona Diamondbacks: Five years, $61 million

Gallen, long a favorite of ZiPS, has been Arizona’s pitching WAR leader since he was acquired at the 2019 trade deadline for Jazz Chisholm Jr., and the forearm stress fracture from last year is long behind him, so any lingering concerns there should be minor. His strikeouts are down a bit this year, but he’s throwing harder than ever and he’s in the top 10 in both Statcast’s hard-hit percentage and average exit velocity. He’s never thrown 150 innings in a season, so it would be a mistake to price him as if he’s a 180–200-inning workhorse, and the fact that he’s a year farther from free agency than Woodruff or Buehler also serves to make the numbers more team-friendly.

Now, would Gallen sign this deal? That’s a thornier question. He’s spoken out before about some of the fundamental unfairness of MLB’s reserve system and was publicly unhappy about Arizona’s stance on pre-arb salaries. He also happens to have Scott Boras as his representation, and while the common public storyline of Boras being some svengali plutocrat who single-handedly blows up CBAs is, very charitably, highly misleading, he is a tough negotiator. But you never sign a player you don’t try to, except maybe Mitch Moreland, who I swear just showed up to spring training every year, and the Red Sox would just assume someone agreed to pay him $4 million or something.

ZiPS Projection – Zac Gallen
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2023 8 6 0 3.61 26 26 137.0 114 55 18 46 157 120 2.8
2024 8 6 0 3.59 25 25 133.0 111 53 17 45 152 121 2.7
2025 8 5 0 3.63 24 24 129.0 108 52 17 43 148 119 2.6
2026 7 5 0 3.65 22 22 118.3 99 48 16 39 135 118 2.3
2027 7 5 0 3.64 21 21 111.3 93 45 15 37 129 119 2.2





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

46 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
soddingjunkmailmember
4 months ago

What a great feature.

Thanks Dan.