MLB free agency is normally seen as a huge opportunity for stars to cash out (Bryce and Manny), but the trend of the week in the MLB has been numerous clubs extending their star players’ contracts. Well, the trend of this calendar year I guess; it all started at the end of January when the Kansas City Royals extended star utility man Whit Merrifield to a 4 yr/$16.25 million contract (I know it doesn’t seem like star money but the man can play). Since then, we have seen a handful of other stars lock themselves into their clubs’ respective futures, and here’s a list of such occurrences (in chronological order):
Aaron Nola, Phillies: 4 yr/$45 million
Luis Severino, Yankees: 4 yr/$40 million
Aaron Hicks, Yankees: 7 yr/$70 million
Nolan Arenado, Rockies: 7 yr/$234 million
Miles Mikolas, Cardinals: 4 yr/$68 million
Alex Bregman, Astros: 5 yr/$100 million
Mike Trout, Angels: 12 yr/$430 million
Eloy Jimenez, White Sox (yet to appear in the MLB): 6 yr/$43 million
Blake Snell, Rays: 5 yr/$50 million
Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals: 5 yr/$130 million
Chris Sale, Red Sox: 5 yr/$145 million
Justin Verlander, Astros: 2 yr/$66 million
So it appears that after what was quite possibly the worst offseason in MLB history, teams are not willing to wait months on end to get a chance of signing a free-agent star; rather, they’re taking the initiative and signing them before they hit the open market.
And let me just say this is a brilliant move for any organization. The first, and most important, thing it does is prevent these players from ever becoming free agents, which is beneficial in two ways: one, it ensures these teams can hold onto their stars for the foreseeable future and two, they can extend these guys for much less than they would demand in free agency. That second point is the real kicker in this whole thing, because from my perspective any player would be stupid to sign an extension when they are still years away from free agency. One prime example to look at would be Blake Snell. Fresh off an AL Cy Young award at the age of 26 and with still three years before free agency left, Snell agreed to stay with the Rays for $10 million a year. Really? It seems as if Snell is just getting started in his rise to MLB stardom, and surely his next three seasons are shaping up to be dominant ones. Had he waited even two more years, he could have commanded a much larger extension while still avoiding free agency and staying with Tampa. I understand when a player feels a loyalty to a certain club and wants to stay there for multiple years, if not their whole career, but why jump the gun so prematurely on a contract and cost yourself millions? A couple of other young starters dove into the same boat as Snell this offseason, with both Aaron Nola ($11.25 mil/year) and Luis Severino ($10 mil/year) deciding to put free agency on hold for a little while.
In the case of guys like Trout, Goldschmidt or Sale, an extension like theirs makes perfect sense (as they remain their franchise’s centerpiece and make the max amount), but for young players who are years from hitting the open market extensions simply are not beneficial. Now if only the A’s could follow suit and lock up some of their guys…