On Monday, the Padres signed Jedd Gyorko to a 5-year $35 million contract extension. The contract does not start until after this season, so it covers the 2015-2020 seasons. This contract buys out Gyorko's remaining pre-arbitration season (2015), his three arbitration years (2016-2018), and his first year of eligibility for free agency (2019). The Padres hold a club option for 2020 worth at least $13 million, with escalator clauses that could increase the total value of the contract.
The 25-year old Gyorko will be the Padres everyday second baseman, with the potential to move to third base if Chase Headley leaves via free agency after this season. Gyorko is coming off a solid rookie season in which he produced 2.5 fWAR in 125 games. His .249/.301/.444 slashline in 525 plate appearances (PA) may not look like much, but playing in the National League and with a majority of his games in pitcher friendly Petco Park, it provides an above average offensive contribution (110 wRC+). His 23 home runs ranked second among second basemen in 2013, and represent the second most home runs hit in a season by a rookie second baseman since integration. His slashline could look better going forward, if he works on his plate discipline. In 2013, his strikeout and walk rates were both poor at 23.4%, and 6.3%, respectively. Along with his offensive contributions, Gyorko is a stable defender, posting -1 defensive runs saved (DRS) and 1.7 ultimate zone rating (UZR). Gyorko has started slow in 2014 (.152/.231/.283; 37 wRC+) but will hopefully get on track soon.
The Gyorko contract extension looks like a good move for both player and team. It is representative of an emerging trend within baseball, wherein teams lock up their young players with contract extensions that buy out arbitration and free agency years. Recent examples of this trend include:
There is some debate within baseball as to whether these players are leaving money on the table by taking these deals. The deals seem to be very team friendly. They are signing high-quality players to contracts that are below what it would cost them on the open free agent market. While that is true, it needs to be remembered that this is all guaranteed money and as such is also very player friendly. If Yan Gomes' breakout season (3.7 fWAR in 88 games) was an outlier, and he turns into a pumpkin for the remainder of the contract, he still gets $23 million! But if he continues to produce at a good level, he will enter into the free agent market as a clear asset while he is still fairly young.
The recent Gyorko extension, along with the other extensions mentioned above, made me wonder about players that teams might want to consider locking up in similar fashion. So, I looked at each team's roster and identified one player that I think fits (i.e., still within pre-arbitration or arbitration years). The idea is similar to a recent article from Jim Bowden. It should be noted that there are teams for whom multiple players could be considered but only one was selected and there are teams for whom nobody really fits the idea. I avoid giving specifics for potential years and dollar amounts of the contracts, as I would just be guessing and the numbers would vary a fair amount depending on the team and player's agent.
In going through this exercise I realized that I could group the vigor with which teams should pursue contract extensions for these players into three categories: (1) Do it now; (2) Worth considering soon; (3) Wait for a couple of years.
Do it Now.
The following 8 players are those that I think are worthy of being extended now. For each player, relevant evidence of production is given. List is ordered by team name.
Donaldson had a breakout year in 2013 (his age 27 season), finishing fourth in the American League MVP race. He produced at the plate (.301/.384/.499, 148 wRC+) and in the field (11 DRS; 9.9 UZR) for 7.7 fWAR. While it was only one year, his strong defense and decent plate discipline (8.8 BB%, 18.9 K%) suggest that he will remain productive for the coming years.
St. Louis Cardinals. Michael Wacha (SP) [Pre-Arbitration eligible; Service time: 0.062]
Wacha was a star of the Cardinals run through the playoffs and into the World Series in 2013. As a 21 year old he showed considerable ability on the mound in big moments. In 30.2 playoff innings pitched (IP) he had a 2.64 ERA (3.44 FIP), striking out 27.7% of the batters he faced while only walking 10.1%. In his 64.2 IP during the regular season he was also excellent (2.78 ERA; 2.92 FIP; 25.0 K%, 7.3 BB%). His fastball and changeup are already plus pitches, and he is learning to implement a cutter and curveball.
Despite what local media may report about Brandon Belt, he is a productive player (1.6 fWAR in 145 games in 2012, and 4.0 fWAR in 150 games in 2013) that should be playing everyday. He is consistently above average at the plate (career 125 wRC+) and pretty good defensively (career at 1B: 10 DRS; 4.7 UZR). His power numbers increased last season (ISO 2012: .146; 2013: .193) and he is off to a powerful start in 2014 with 5 HRs.
Seattle Mariners. Kyle Seager (3B) [Pre-Arbitration eligible; Service time: 2.085]
Seager is coming off two very productive seasons for the Mariners (his age 24 and 25 seasons): 3.6 fWAR in 155 games in 2012, 3.4 fWAR in 160 games in 2013. For those seasons he had a .260/.327/.424 slashline but struggled defensively (-15 DRS; -2.7 UZR). His power is suppressed a bit by playing the majority of his games in Safeco, but he still managed to hit 13 of his 44 HRs there (2012-2013). His production should increase as he enters his prime years.
Harper does not really fit what we are looking for with this exercise as he has already signed a contract. But that contract is up at the end of the 2015 season, so the Nationals should be considering an extension beyond that. Harper, just 21 years old, already has two major league seasons under his belt. His performance as a 19 year old put him on a list with some elite company. A talent like Harper does not come along very often. The Nationals will certainly want to lock him up as soon as they can.
Machado's first full season in the majors in 2013 at age 20 was a success (.283/.314/.432, 101 wRC+, 6.2 fWAR) until he suffered a gruesome looking knee injury in Tampa Bay. He had knee surgery in the offseason and most reports are that he is progressing well with his rehabilitation. Hopefully when he returns he can continue to play elite level defense at third base (35 DRS; 31.2 UZR), reminding Orioles fans of previous greats.
Pittsburgh Pirates. Gerrit Cole (SP) [Pre-Arbitration eligible; Service time: 0.111]
The Pirates locked up their star outfielder Starling Marte, but may also want to consider a core pitcher in their rotation. As a 22-year old Gerrit Cole helped the Pirates earn their first postseason appearance in more than 20 years. In 117.1 IP he posted a below average 3.22 ERA (2.91 FIP), striking out 21.3% of the batters he faced while only walking 6.0%. His fastball averages 95.5 mph, which he uses to setup his slider and changeup, all of which are plus pitches.
Tampa Bay Rays. Wil Myers (OF) [Pre-Arbitration eligible; Service time: 0.104]
Myers was the critical piece of the trade that involved James Shields going to Kansas City. In his first season in the majors (age 22), Myers was very productive at the plate (.293/.354/.478, 131 wRC+), producing 2.4 fWAR in 88 games. Pairing him in the middle/top of the order with Evan Longoria will make the Rays lineup difficult for opposing pitchers. While he has some room for improvement defensively (-4 DRS; -0.9 UZR as a RF in 2013), he is a player the Rays should aim to lock up.
Worth Considering Soon
For this group of 12 players, a contract extension is worth considering relatively soon; perhaps in the offseason after additional evidence of performance has been accumulated. I will spare you a write-up for each player. Rather, here is a list with some brief notes for a few of the selections.
|Brett Lawrie||3B||Blue Jays||Pre-Arbitration||2.055|
|Xander Bogaerts||SS||Red Sox||Pre-Arbitration||0.042|
It was difficult to keep Jose Fernandez out of the first group, but in the end the Marlins will need to decide how they want to build their team. Are they interested in winning in the near future? If yes, they should consider locking up Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton. If no, then keeping them under control at lower salaries (before arbitration) is likely best. For the Mets, I went with Wheeler over Matt Harvey mainly due to health. The team will need to see how Harvey performs when he returns from Tommy John Surgery.
Wait a Couple of Years
This category includes teams that are still building and do not necessarily have players that should be extended soon, or include players that have not reached the majors yet, or players that still have to prove consistency before being considered for an extension. Again, I will spare you a write-up for each player.
|Mike Olt||3B/OF||Chicago Cubs||Pre-Arbitration||0.063|
|Adam Eaton||OF||White Sox||Pre-Arbitration||1.030|
The Astros and Twins have a bunch of prospects coming in the next few years. Their prospects are the players that they should be waiting on for contract extensions. The Astros will also want to consider Mark Appel. Billy Hamilton is on this list because the Reds need to see if he will become anything more than a runner. If not, it is probably wise to avoid a contract extension.
The Dodgers, Braves, and Indians are notably absent from these categories. The Braves and Indians are not listed because they have already extended their core players. The Dodgers, on the other hand, don't really have anybody to extend. They signed everyone to contracts and do not have a very strong farm system. For now, they are settled.
As noted, signing young players to contract extensions appears to be how front offices prefer to operate. There have already been a number of team friendly extensions signed this year, with Gyorko the most recent. It will be interesting to see how things play out for the other players listed here.
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Chris Teeter is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @c_mcgeets.