Trevor Cahill is still over a year away from becoming eligible for arbitration for the first time, but if the Athletics' past signings are any indication, the team has already started thinking about offering him an extension. More than any other club over the last decade, the A's have exhibited a willingness to lock up their young pitchers very early in their careers, which means an agreement between the A's and Cahill could be on the horizon.
Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, Rich Harden, and, most recently, Brett Anderson all inked their extensions with Oakland prior to racking up two years of service time. In each instance, the structure of the contract was similar: with the exception of Anderson, who has a club option for his first year of free agency, the A's never bought out more than the pitchers' arbitration seasons. While there was some risk involved for the team, locking up pitchers so early in their careers, the moves were designed to avoid paying exorbitant raises through arbitration down the road.
It's possible that, given injuries to Harden and Anderson after they signed their extensions, the A's will be more inclined to go year to year with their current crop of young starters. If the club is still willing to assume the risk inherent in long-term extensions though, players like Dallas Braden, Gio Gonzalez, and especially Cahill could benefit.
After throwing six more shutout innings today, Cahill ranks third in the American League in ERA, his 2.72 mark bested only by Clay Buchholz and Felix Hernandez. Cahill, 22, has improved his peripherals across the board this year, including a walk rate of 2.7 BB/9 and just 0.8 HR/9. There are a couple of red flags for the former second-round draft pick; he doesn't strike out many hitters (5.1 K/9) and his ERA is two runs lower at home than on the road. Still, he has been the undisputed ace of the staff this season, and the A's would be doing well to lock him up at an affordable price.
When considering what sort of contract offer would be appropriate for Cahill, the A's and the pitcher's agent will likely have different ideas for comparisons. Oakland could point to Fausto Carmona, who signed a long-term extension following a 2007 campaign (3.06 ERA) that earned him Cy Young votes. Carmona's deal guarantees him $15MM for his final four years of team control, and includes affordable club options for each of his first three free agent years.
Cahill and his agent would probably prefer to align the right-hander with Ricky Romero, Yovani Gallardo, and Jon Lester, who signed extensions worth about $30MM over five years - four of team control and one of free agency. Cahill isn't as dominant as those pitchers, relying, like Carmona, more on groundballs than strikeouts, but his age and his comparable peripheral numbers work in his favor.
Given Oakland's preference to lock up its young pitchers for their arbitration years, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the two sides reach an agreement this winter. A deal worth a little less than $20MM for Cahill's final four years of team control could make sense for both the team and the 22-year-old.