When MLBTR's Tim Dierkes and I examined the reasons teams do and don't extend young starters last fall, it became apparent that obtaining control of free agent years was critical for teams considering extensions. By locking a player up for one or more of his free agent seasons, the team gets to keep the player for longer, without having to bid for him on the open market.
Red Sox GM Theo Epstein weighed in on extensions for arbitration eligible players this morning and explained that he doesn't like the idea of extending players if they aren't willing to sign a deal that includes a free agent season.
"If we’re going to sign arbitration-eligible players long term, we have to get one free agent year and we have to get an option for the club," Epstein said on WEEI. "Because we’re giving the player certainty. We need to be able get some of those prime years back in exchange. That makes it a fair bargain."
Most of the 21 arbitration eligible players who signed extensions this offseason surrendered at least one year of free agency, but nine players signed multiyear deals that provided them with security without delaying their arrival on the free agent market.
There are potential benefits for the teams that signed extensions without gaining control of their players' free agent years. The clubs obtained cost certainty and may end up saving money through arbitration, so free agent years aren't the only variable in play. The arbitration eligible players below signed extensions that did not include free agent years this offseason (sorted by most guaranteed dollars):
- Reds – Joey Votto $38MM for three years
- Rangers – Josh Hamilton – $24MM for two years
- Diamondbacks – Stephen Drew – $13.75MM for two years (mutual option for 2013)
- Rockies – Jason Hammel – $7.75MM for two years
- Blue Jays – Rajai Davis - $5.75MM for two years
- Cubs – Sean Marshall – $4.7MM for two years
- Nationals – Sean Burnett – $3.95MM for two years (mutual option for 2013)
- Tigers – Ryan Raburn – $3.4MM for two years
- Mariners – Brendan Ryan – $2.75MM for two years
These extensions are by no means a new trend. Last winter alone, Mark Reynolds, Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton and Matt Kemp signed extensions that didn't cover any free agent years.