Projecting a Joe Musgrove Contract Extension

Joe Musgrove
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

All-Star Week may be a relaxing midseason respite for most players, but for front offices, it’s business as usual. For the Padres, it may be a high-stakes one, as they’re reportedly closing in on a long-term deal with their best starting pitcher, Joe Musgrove. Without a deal, he hits free agency for the first time in his career, and there’s not much that teams like less than being drawn into a bidding war over their ace.

The starting pitchers the Padres have acquired over the last few years have mixed in many lows with their highs, but Musgrove has been rock-solid in mustard-and-brown, putting up a 2.90 ERA, a 3.48 FIP, and a hair under six WAR in 47 starts since coming over from the Pirates. During last season’s late-year debacle that saw San Diego in desperate enough straits to sign Jake Arrieta as a free agent and throw him into the rotation, Musgrove was a rare example of solidity, with only one truly awful start in the last month of the season. While he’s lost some strikeouts from 2021, he’s also bid adieu to some of the walks — not an unpleasant tradeoff, given that he ranks fifth among qualifying starters in lowest average exit velocity at 86.7 mph.

Fewer walks and strikeouts have allowed Musgrove to get through innings slightly more efficiently. As a result, he’s averaged almost a full inning per start more than last year while throwing just three more pitches per outing. Getting through the sixth more often has resulted in his quality start percentage shooting up from 48% to 88%; among MLB qualifiers, only Framber Valdez has racked up a higher rate. Musgrove’s five-inning loss to the Rockies last Wednesday was the first time he failed to finish six innings this season. This durability and consistency are crucial to the Padres, given their experience last season when they tried to keep the rotation’s inning count low in the early going, resulting in an exhausted bullpen breaking down by July.

With the trade deadline fast approaching, getting some certainty about Musgrove’s future with the club has quite a bit of value. The Padres seem likely to add a bat, and getting a better idea of how many pitchers they’ll need to replace over the next few years should provide some guidance on which prospects they can afford to give up. Sean Manaea and Mike Clevinger are also free agents after this season, and Blake Snell and Yu Darvish will be after 2023, so getting Musgrove inked for most of the rest of the decade takes at least one problem off their plate.

So, what kind of deal is Musgrove likely looking at? Let’s fire up ZiPS and run him through the mathematical wringer.

ZiPS Projection – Joe Musgrove
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2023 13 8 0 3.34 30 30 175.3 149 65 21 45 188 125 3.9
2024 12 8 0 3.40 29 28 164.3 140 62 20 42 176 122 3.6
2025 11 8 0 3.48 28 28 160.3 139 62 20 42 169 119 3.3
2026 10 7 0 3.50 26 25 146.7 127 57 19 38 154 119 3.0
2027 10 7 0 3.60 24 24 137.3 120 55 18 37 145 115 2.7
2028 9 6 0 3.69 22 22 127.0 113 52 18 35 134 113 2.3

Musgrove is a legitimate No. 1 starter, but he’s certainly not going to be in Gerrit Cole territory north of $300 million unless there’s a big-spending team out there with a very divergent opinion. ZiPS suggests five years, $129 million, or six years, $149 million, as reasonable numbers for both sides. That’s not in line, though, with recent contracts such as Darvish’s 6/126 or Zack Wheeler’s 5/118 when you consider inflation since they signed their deals.

Letting Musgrove hit free agency, even with the intention to beat other offers, would be a perilous play. The starting pitchers potentially available this winter are not a star-studded cavalcade.

ZiPS Projections for Free Agent Pitchers
Player Five-Year ZiPS WAR
Joe Musgrove 16.4
Nathan Eovaldi 10.8
Sean Manaea 9.8
Clayton Kershaw 9.5
Noah Syndergaard 9.2
Jameson Taillon 8.3
Wade Miley 8.1
Chris Bassitt 8.1
Zach Eflin 8.0
Martín Pérez 7.3
Mike Clevinger 6.7
Dallas Keuchel 5.6
Zack Greinke 5.3
Tyler Anderson 5.2
Zach Davies 5.2
Josh Lindblom 5.1
Joe Ross 4.9
Michael Lorenzen 4.9
Corey Kluber 4.9
Jose Quintana 4.4

Musgrove may not be elite, but his combination of relative youth, outstanding performance, and no giant recent injury red flags make him a better long-term bet, at least in the opinion of ZiPS, than any other starting pitcher available. Aaron Nola, who can theoretically be a free agent, edges out Musgrove in the projections at 17.0 WAR over the next five seasons. But the idea that the Phillies would choose to take Nola’s $4.5 million buyout rather than the $16 million club option, short of anything dramatic happening over the next two months, is an absolutely ludicrous notion.

2023 ZiPS Projections – San Diego Starting Pitchers
Player Age W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
Yu Darvish 36 9 7 3.80 26 26 146.7 128 66 62 19 40 152 109 2.5
Nick Martinez 32 6 5 3.91 24 19 122.0 111 57 53 14 47 119 106 1.9
MacKenzie Gore 24 6 5 3.92 22 20 103.3 93 48 45 10 51 106 106 1.6
Blake Snell 30 5 5 4.20 20 20 90.0 77 45 42 14 43 108 99 1.1
Pedro Avila 26 4 4 4.22 30 16 85.3 75 43 40 11 42 92 98 1.0
Jesse Scholtens 29 4 4 4.48 26 18 98.3 95 52 49 14 39 93 93 0.9
Matt Waldron 26 5 5 4.58 21 20 98.3 99 54 50 13 37 78 91 0.9
Luke Westphal 34 3 3 4.36 26 14 74.3 64 39 36 10 41 88 95 0.7
Aaron Leasher 27 7 8 4.81 26 17 97.3 94 56 52 14 44 89 86 0.5
Reiss Knehr 26 6 7 4.95 32 18 103.7 98 61 57 15 59 99 84 0.3
Ryan Weathers 23 7 8 5.12 29 27 133.7 138 81 76 21 62 99 81 0.3
Jacob Nix 27 1 1 4.37 5 5 22.7 24 12 11 3 7 19 95 0.2
Reggie Lawson 25 6 9 5.50 23 23 88.3 91 58 54 14 53 68 76 -0.2

While ZiPS still sees the Padres as deep in relatively plausible back-of-the-rotation options, a starting five built only on players the Padres have under contract for 2023 is not particularly exciting (I’ve intentionally left off Dinelson Lamet as I think he’s a reliever now). They’d be missing a top-of-the-rotation arm and an innings-eater, and Musgrove is both in one package. It seems unlikely that, if San Diego lost Musgrove and Manaea and Clevinger, it would actually go into the 2023 season with this exact group of pitchers. But patching together a rotation to make the Dodgers feel any discomfort would be a tall order in a winter where the team really needs to repair some holes in the offense. Musgrove is unlikely to finish his career with a speech at a podium in upstate New York, but he’s the right pitcher at the right time for the Padres, who are right to court aggressively a pitcher whose loss might throw their 2023 plans into disarray.





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.

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realitypolice
6 months ago

If Musgrove agrees to a new contract for ’23 and beyond before the end of this season, does it impact his AAV for this year?