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 tracker, the same site's Agency Database, Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, 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|
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
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
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).
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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.