Each Spring Training, young players with limited service time sign extensions, exchanging potential upside in arbitration (and sometimes years of free agency) for long-term financial security. There are few signals in a player's early career that indicates that they're likely to sign an extension, and teams are often eager to do so.
This is all just fun and speculation, but below are three situations where both team and player might benefit from the signing of a long-term extension.
Kevin Kiermaier, CF, Rays
Service Time: 1.131 Seasons; Draft Round: 31st, 2010; Career fWAR: 9.5; Agent: Not Scott Boras
There probably aren't a lot of players who've recorded a seven win season and are still an extension candidate for the Rays, but if one existed, he'd probably look like Kevin Kiermaier. He's arguably the best defender in baseball at any position, and he led the league with a staggering 42 defensive runs saved in 2015.
His transcendent center field defense did lead to a Gold Glove and a 17th place finish in the MVP voting, both of which are favorable factors in arbitration hearings. However, batting average and offensive counting stats are still what get players paid, and while he's no slouch with the bat, Kiermaier doesn't have gaudy totals in those departments.
His career wRC+ is 106, which is just six percent better than league average. He has moderate power and speed (he produced double digit home runs, stolen bases, and triples in 2015), but Kiermaier doesn't hit for a high average; he doesn't have a good OBP; and his RBI (40 in 2015) and runs scored (62 in 2015) totals are fairly modest.
He lacks the eye-popping offensive stats in major counting categories and receives a large portion of his value in defense, so his ceiling in front of a third-party arbitrator is lower than comparably valuable players. Having the reputation of a generational defensive talent might be enough to improve his case, but the similarly regarded Andrelton Simmons signed an extension with almost the same amount of service time (1.125 seasons) before the 2014 season.
The Rays have a history of signing pre-arbitration extensions, most notably with third baseman Evan Longoria; and with back-to-back seasons of at least 4.0 fWAR for Kiermaier, Tampa would likely jump at the opportunity to extend him. From the player's perspective, he is a late-round, low-bonus draft pick without prospect pedigree. He has yet to proverbially "cash in," so that may be a tempting consideration.
In exchange for higher, guaranteed salaries over the next five team controlled seasons, the Rays would probably want his first two seasons of free agency at a team friendly rate. A seven-year extension in the vein of Simmon's aforementioned deal seems mutually beneficial.
Potential Extension: Seven years, $60 Million (no options)
Matt Duffy, 3B, Giants
Service Time: 1.059 Seasons; Draft Round: 18th, 2012; Career fWAR: 5.0; Agent: Not Scott Boras
Duffy is a different case than Kiermaier. He broke out in 2015 with a 4.9 fWAR campaign, and came in second to Kris Bryant for NL Rookie of the Year honors. As another late round pick without elite prospect pedigree, he came out of nowhere and became one of the better all-around third baseman in the National League.
He smoothly transitioned to facing Major League pitching (116 wRC+), and hit with more power than anyone expected. Those figures are likely to regress, but he is also expected to demonstrate more speed in the future. Advanced metrics rate his defense highly, and he scores well as a baserunner.
He does a little better with counting stats than Kiermaier, and has a higher offensive ceiling. However, he also features a very short track record - which means there's some risk that he won't be as valuable when he finally reaches arbitration. He has a wide range of outcomes, and the Giants may want to preempt the possibility that he continues to perform offensively and takes them to the bank after two more seasons.
The Giants have previously signed other members of their young core to extensions, namely Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, and Brandon Crawford. In the case of Duffy, he may not sacrifice free agent years in a deal, but instead agree to a five-year extension covering the seasons he's already under control with San Francisco.
In this scenario, he'd receive a higher pre-arbitration for the next two seasons than he'd otherwise receive at the league minimum. However, Duffy would likely receive less than what his ceiling could be during those three arbitration years to receive long-term security. Similar extensions have been signed by players like Jonathan Lucroy, Juan Lagares, and Carlos Santana.
Potential Extension: Five years, $30 Million (no options)
Ender Inciarte, OF, Braves
Service Time: 1.157 Seasons; Draft Round: Int'l signing; Career fWAR: 6.1; Agent: Not Scott Boras
Recently traded to the Braves with Aaron Blair and Dansby Swanson in the questionable Shelby Miller trade, Inciarte is another player who has exceeded expectations in his young Major League career.
He was the Phillies' Rule 5 draft pick in 2012, but Inciarte was quickly returned to the Diamondbacks. Since his Major League debut in 2014, he has been a consistent defensive-minded outfielder. He produced a 2.8 fWAR in 2014 and finished 5th in the NL Rookie of the Year; and in 2015, while playing all three outfield positions, Inciarte finished with an fWAR of 3.3
He produces a decent number of stolen bases, hits for high average, rarely strikes out, and will likely be put into position to accumulate a high number of runs scored on a bad Atlanta team. Those features, as well as a generally positive defensive reputation, are modest positive indicators for his arbitration future. However, he spends a lot of time in the outfield corners and receives a lot of value from his defense. He is also yet another player without past security or a large signing bonus, so he has an incentive to sign a deal.
He's also a Super-two eligible player, meaning he will reach arbitration four times instead of the typical three - an added incentive for Atlanta to lock him up sooner rather than later. In this case, it wouldn't be unreasonable to see a scenario in which the Braves buy out his five seasons of team control, and receive one or two team options.
Atlanta has a history of signing young players to long-term deals, and similar extensions have recently been signed with players like Adam Eaton, Jedd Gyorko, and Inciarte's former teammate Paul Goldschmidt.
Potential Extension: Five years, $22 Million (two team options, $16 Million total)
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Spencer Bingol is a Contributing Editor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SpencerBingol.