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Sonny Gray among pre-arb pitchers who could earn contract extensions

After a Spring Training strangely devoid of pre-arbitration extensions, there's still time for some early season moves. These pitchers most closely match past extension recipients.

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In 2015, Sonny Gray produced 3.8 fWAR while earning a third place finish in AL Cy Young Award voting.
In 2015, Sonny Gray produced 3.8 fWAR while earning a third place finish in AL Cy Young Award voting.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 Spring Training was strangely devoid of extensions for pre-arbitration players and was even without many rumors of potential signings. As was noted by FanGraphs' Dave Cameron, only the Cardinals' Kolten Wong and the Pirates' Gregory Polanco have signed extensions in 2016 (Salvador Perez signed a deal as well, but it was a reworking of a previously signed extension).

For someone who already wrote a piece about hitters who were potential candidates for new deals, this is not exciting news. It is, however, a little more exciting for someone who hadn't yet gotten around to writing a companion piece about pitchers, because all of the potential candidates are still available. There is also some recent history of extensions getting worked out in the first couple weeks of April — to name a few, Corey Kluber and Yordano Ventura in 2015, Chris Archer in 2014, and Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Niese in 2012.

So, it is possible. I did also want to take some time and work on a more exhaustive, quantitative approach to finding extension candidates, and I've made an attempt to do so. Using MLB Trade Rumors' extension trackerthe same site's Agency DatabaseBaseball-ReferenceFanGraphs, and Brooks Baseball as data sources, I've collected notes on all 32 starting pitchers to have received pre-arbitration extensions during the PITCHf/x era.

Using these data, a composite extension candidate was created based on average age, service time, pedigree, production, and fastball velocity.

Service Time Age Draft Round BA Top 100 Velocity 1YR fWAR 3YR fWAR
2.021 25 2 30 93.2 3.1 5.1

The average extended pitcher is 25, has over two full seasons of service time, has some Top 100 prospect pedigree, and is coming off an above average season. Interestingly, a recent trend has shifted toward pitchers with slightly less service time. Since 2012, the average pitcher has had about a year less service time at signing than the total sample.

Knowing this, one could reasonably look at pitchers like Jacob deGrom, Kyle Hendricks, Anthony DeSclafani, or Danny Salazar as potential extension candidates. However, because I feel more comfortable dealing with the larger sample, I'm going to focus on a few candidates that most closely match the composite pitcher described in the table.

After finding the same information used above (age, pedigree, production, velocity, and representation) for all current starting pitchers between two and three years of service time, below are three pitchers who appear most ripe for extensions. Considering these players are all picked for sharing similar characteristics, one could interchangeably project a contract for any of them. They'd each probably be looking at a deal in the ballpark of four years, $25 million, with one or two team options.

Sonny Gray, RHP, Athletics

Service Time: 2.061 Years; Age: 26; Draft: 1st, 2011; 2015 fWAR: 3.8; Career fWAR: 8.4; Agent: Not Scott Boras

Sonny Gray is the homegrown ace of the Oakland Athletics and came in third in AL Cy Young voting in 2015. Team executives have stated that Gray is the rare player not to be on the team's trading block, and he is very popular locally.

Listed at 5'10" and 190 lbs, Gray is not the typical pitcher picked in the first round of the draft. However, the Athletics selected him 19th overall in 2011 out of Vanderbilt on the strength of his high-90s fastball and plus curveball. He entered his first full season as a unanimous Top 100 Prospect and debuted in the Majors in 2013. While Oakland has struggled during this time, Gray has emerged as a surprising workhorse, throwing over 200 innings with a sub-3.50 FIP in each of his first two full Major League seasons.

The Athletics obviously would love to extend him, and he was one of the most hotly requested players on the trade market this past offseason. Gray's size offers some risk, but with the durability he's displayed, there aren't glaring red flags in his profile. He is currently making $20,000 over the league minimum in 2016, so it is possible that he could be enticed to negotiate his arbitration seasons for an immediate pay raise.

According to Cots' Contracts, Oakland currently has their highest-ever Opening Day payroll, but it is a figure still millions short of how the team stretched after the 2014 trade deadline. In a year when they don't appear at the top of AL West projections, that mid-season flexibility might not be as important as locking up their franchise star.

Similar Pitcher Extension: Gio Gonzalez

Carlos Martinez, RHP, Cardinals

Service Time: 2.073 Years; Age: 24; Draft: INT'L Sign; 2015 fWAR: 3.4; Career fWAR: 5.0; Agent: Not Scott Boras

Having already signed second baseman Kolten Wong to an extension this Spring, the Cardinals are undoubtedly interested in locking up their budding starters as well. Carlos Martinez is chief among these pitchers and comes with high prospect pedigree. In 2015, he was having an ace-like second half before a shoulder injury shut him down late in the season.

There have always been some concerns about workload capacity for Martinez, but this particular injury was less significant than it sounds - had it occurred any earlier than late September, he would have had the full month necessary to rehab the injury and would have pitched again in 2015.

Martinez was originally signed out of the Dominican Republic, throwing a hard fastball with life and has since developed stellar secondary offerings. Beyond durability concerns, fastball command is his largest question mark. However, if he can begin to spot the pitch better, the ceiling is almost limitless. Now may be the best time for St. Louis to strike a deal before he strikes out enough batters to put the team in a bind during arbitration.

Similar Pitcher Extension: Derek Holland

Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Rays

Service Time: 2.061 Years; Age: 26; Draft: 1st, 2011; 2015 fWAR: 3.8; Career fWAR: 5.2; Agent: Not Scott Boras

Jake Odorizzi has been traded twice in his young career. Once the 32nd overall pick by the Brewers, he was moved by Milwaukee in the massive haul that pried Zack Greinke away from the Royals. Merely two years later, he was again moved in a package for an ace — Wade Davis (James Shields came too) — and settled in with the Rays.

Throughout these moves, the young right-handed starter was a four-time Baseball America Top 100 Prospect with a great fastball and breaking ball but in search of feel for his changeup. Today, Odorizzi has maintained the fastball but now complements it with a stellar splitter. According to FanGraphs, the splitter featured a 52.0 percent ground ball rate and 15.7 percent whiffs in 2015 — elite numbers. Aside from an oblique injury last June, he's proven durable, making 59 starts over the last two seasons.

However, he's also thrown a total of only 339.1 innings over that time, with his 5.7 innings per start tying him for fourth-fewest among qualifying starters. Without a consistent third pitch, the Rays have been careful to limit Odorizzi's exposure to batters during their third time through the order.

The development of the cutter/slider he debuted in 2015 will determine a lot about his future, but that might not stop Tampa Bay from wanting to establish some cost certainty with yet another young starting pitcher. The Rays have a noted track record of extending young pitchers, including James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Wade Davis, Matt Moore, and Chris Archer. In fact, there's already mutual interest in a deal.

Similar Pitcher Extension: Yovani Gallardo
. . .

Obviously, listing each pitcher's agent as "Not Scott Boras" is a bit of a joke. Gray, Martinez, and Odorizzi are represented by Bo McKinnis, Octagon, and Arland Sports, respectively. Boras is just notorious for making sure his clients reach free agency — MLB Trade Rumors' extension tracker lists no pre-arbitration pitching extensions for Boras Corporation clients. Despite being the biggest agent in the game, the largest extension of any kind signed by a Boras client was Elvis Andrus' 8-year, $120 million deal in 2013, only the 23rd highest dollar amount recorded on the tracker.

There are some other interesting honorable mentions that, due to various factors, appear a little less likely than the above to sign extensions. Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers are two Astros starters with recent success but are older than usual and have low velocity already, signalling higher risk in a long term extension. Alex Wood and Michael Wacha have been tremendous on the field but have durability concerns that may give their teams pause. Gerrit Cole is the best of the bunch but is a Boras Client on a small market team (not a good combination).

. . .

Spencer Bingol is a Contributing Editor at Beyond the Box Score. He can also be read at Crashburn Alley. You can follow him on Twitter at @SpencerBingol.