2012 Extension Candidates Rumors

Extension Candidate: Kris Medlen

It speaks to Kris Medlen's dominance over the last two months that his quality start last night against the Marlins (three runs on five hits over seven innings, eight strikeouts and no walks) was his worst outing of the season.  Medlen's season ERA rose all the way to 1.64 but the Braves' 4-3 victory means that the club has now won 22 consecutive games that Medlen has started, tying the right-hander with Hall-of-Famers Carl Hubbell and Whitey Ford for the longest such streak in the modern era of baseball. 

It's pretty heady company for a guy who didn't even return to the Atlanta rotation until July.  Medlen underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2010, returned to pitch just 2 1/3 innings in September 2011 and began this season in the bullpen as the Braves both wanted to keep his arm healthy and felt they were already set for starting pitchers.  After some of those starters faltered, however, Medlen rejoined the rotation in July and has posted video game numbers since: a 1.04 ERA, 80 strikeouts and almost a 9.00 K/BB rate in 77 2/3 innings over 11 starts.Uspw_6609726

Unless Medlen is a modern-day Sandy Koufax, it's safe to assume that he won't quite keep up this particular level of greatness, though the righty certainly appears to have turned a corner in his pro career.  This hot streak comes at an opportune time for Medlen; not only did it come during a postseason stretch, but Medlen is also due to be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter.  He'll certainly get a nice raise over his $490K salary in 2012 and it's possible the Braves could be so impressed by Medlen's performance that they'll look to get some cost-certainty on their surprise ace for the next few years.

Medlen's case is "tricky" according to Matt Swartz, who calculates arbitration projections for MLB Trade Rumors and believes Medlen will probably be treated as a starter for arb purposes. 

"The way I’ve been separating swingmen into starters and relievers, he would actually be projected as a reliever, but those rules were kind of arbitrary and I’m not sure here," Swartz said.  "The reason it matters is that if we call him a starting pitcher he gets $2.4MM, and if we call him a reliever, he gets $1.3MM. He has a lot more wins per games started than he does saves and holds."

You could argue that the Braves have enough set 2013 rotation starters (Tommy Hanson, Mike Minor and Tim Hudson, as his $9MM option is sure to be exercised) and enough other young arms in their farm system that a Medlen extension is unnecessary for the moment, but I tend to disagree.  As this season has shown, the Braves' pitching depth isn't as sturdy as believed, so Medlen's development is a great boon for the club.  Medlen seems to be able to consistently perform at the Major League level, which is something that can't yet be said about their prospects.

Cost-certainty is also of particular interest to a franchise that has kept a mid-level payroll since being bought by Liberty Media in 2007.  The Braves had a $102MM payroll in 2008 but have since ranged between $86-$93MM, with only $15MM in committed salary for 2013.  If they believe Medlen is the real deal, an extension could save the team millions through Medlen's arb years.  Extending him now would cost maybe $10MM over three years ($2MM in 2013, $4MM in both 2014 and 2015) with perhaps a $6MM club option for Medlen's first free agent year.  

The Braves have a lot of business to attend to this winter, since such major names as Hanson, Jason Heyward and Jonny Venters are also arb-eligible for the first time, Martin Prado is only a year away from free agency and the team is expected to at least attempt to re-sign Michael Bourn.  Given Medlen's injury history and the fact that his arb number may be $2.4MM at the most, Atlanta could be in no rush to pursue a multiyear deal quite yet with the right-hander.  

Medlen will get one (very high-profile) further chance to prove himself as he's scheduled to start for Atlanta in the wild card playoff game.  Just the fact that the Braves would give Medlen this start is a sign that they believe he's more than just a pitcher on a hot streak, so they could also be eager to lock him up while his price is still low.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Shirey/US Presswire

Extension Candidate: Dexter Fowler

The Rockies are expected to discuss a contract extension with Dexter Fowler this offseason in an attempt to keep him in Denver long-term. While an extension could make sense for both sides, it’s no longer possible for the Rockies to lock him up inexpensively. 

Dexter Fowler - Rockies (PW)

The arbitration eligible center fielder recently switched agencies from the Boras Corporation to Excel Sports Management, a development that the Rockies reportedly found encouraging. Fowler indicated to Troy Renck that he’s open to signing an extension this winter if the Rockies wish to discuss one. It sounds as though there’s already some positive momentum toward a deal. 

Fowler has leverage since he's enjoying his best offensive season and plays a premium defensive position. He has a .304/.389/.495 batting line with 12 home runs and a league-leading 11 triples so far in 2012. As well as he has played, his bargaining power could collapse following a poor season or injury, so an extension could be appealing.

If the Rockies pursue an extension, they would likely attempt to lock the 26-year-old up through one or more free agent years and obtain a club option. Such a deal would provide the Rockies with an above-average performer at a premium position for his prime seasons. Meanwhile, Fowler would obtain the security of guaranteed salaries for his three remaining seasons of arbitration eligibility and beyond.  

Fowler, who’s now earning $2.35MM as a first-time arbitration eligible player, is under team control through 2015 as a super two. Any long-term deal would presumably cover his next three arbitration seasons and at least one free agent year. In general, teams are also able to obtain a club option when extending a player three years away from free agency.

Fowler has likely played his way to a 2013 salary in the $4.3MM range, but that’s if he goes to arbitration. Players who sign extensions don’t generally obtain maximum value for their arbitration years, so $3.5MM might be a more reasonable estimate for Fowler’s 2013 salary. The sides might then approximate Fowler’s last two arbitration salaries at $6MM in 2014 and $8.5MM in 2015. This would add up to a total of $18MM for his three remaining arbitration years. 

Fowler’s free agent years would be valued below market value but above his arbitration seasons. Adam Jones recently obtained $15MM per free agent year on his extension with the Orioles, but he was less than two years from free agency when he signed. Cameron Maybin obtained $8MM per free agent year on his extension with the Padres, but his offensive numbers are inferior to Fowler’s and he signed as a pre-arbitration eligible player. Fowler’s free agent years can safely be valued in the $8-15MM range at this stage, likely around $11.5MM. Lastly we'll add a club option worth $11.5MM ($1MM buyout) for a third free agent year.

If the sides agreed to value Fowler’s three remaining arbitration seasons at $18MM total and his two free agent years at $23MM total, they’ll have reached $41MM in guaranteed money. Add the $1MM buyout for the 2018 club option and the total climbs to $42MM over five years.

This proposed deal wouldn’t be unlike the extensions signed by Kevin Youkilis (four years, $41.25MM), Ryan Zimmerman (five years, $45MM) and Alex Gordon (four years, $50MM). Each deal covers a number of arbitration years and at least two free agent years. These contracts provide teams with discounted arbitration years and extended control over the player. They provide the players with security they wouldn’t otherwise have: tens of millions in guaranteed money. In this context I believe a five-year, $42MM deal would represent fair value for both the Rockies and Fowler.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.

Extension Candidate: Martin Prado

The Braves currently sit atop the NL Wild Card race thanks in large part to the impact and versatility of Martin Prado. The 28-year-old is hitting .295/.357/.416 with 30 doubles and 14 steals (in 16 attempts) while playing left field (88 games), third base (18 games), second base (four games), first base (three games), and shortstop (two games). Quite a bargain for $4.75MM.

Uspw_6380054Last month we heard that the Braves want to sign Prado to a multiyear contract extension because they believe he is their long-term replacement for Chipper Jones at third base. The two sides have yet to start serious negotiations, however. Prado will be arbitration-eligible for the third and final time this offseason and is due to become a free agent following the 2013 campaign.

Given his unique career, it's very tough to pin down Prado's value relative to his peers. The best comparison may be Alex Gordon, who has also spent significant time at third base and in left field. He's a career .268/.348/.437 hitter with 77 homers in over 2,800 plate appearances, and signed a four-year, $37.5MM extension (with a $12.5MM player option for a fifth year) back in Spring Training. He was due to become a free agent after 2013 as well.

Prado is a .294/.344/.431 career hitter with 47 homers in just over 2,600 career plate appearances, so he matches up well with Gordon in the OBP and SLG departments. Gordon had his big breakout season a year ago while Prado has been a bit more consistent, posting a 108 OPS+ four times in the last five seasons. Gordon has done it three times in his five-year career, but he's also been demoted to the minors on a few occasions.

Because he's closer to free agency and has an All-Star Game nomination to his credit, Prado and his representatives at Peter E. Greenberg & Associates should have no problem asking for something north of Gordon's deal. Perhaps four years and $40-45MM makes sense for both parties, especially the team since it's easy to see him eclipsing that guarantee on the open market 15-16 months from now.

The Braves have shown a willingness to sign players to extensions in the middle of the season, most notably with Chipper years ago and David Ross back in 2010. Prado's upcoming arbitration case figures to bump his salary up into the $7-8MM range next year, if not even higher. Given the impending free agency of Michael Bourn, Atlanta may want to act quickly to avoid potentially losing two core offensive pieces in back-to-back winters.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.

Extension Candidate: Buster Posey

The first order of business for Buster Posey this season was to prove himself healthy following a 2011 campaign cut short after 45 games due to a fractured fibula.  Not only did that home plate collision with Scott Cousins cost Posey most of a season, it also may have cost him some money in the short-term, as the Giants may have wished to quickly sign him to a multiyear extension. Uspw_6440026

Ironically, Posey's injury may make him a wealthier man in the long-term.  Posey had a .756 OPS when he was injured in 2011, so supposing he'd stayed healthy and stayed at that more modest number (call it a sophomore slump), the Giants might have been able to sign Posey to an extension akin to Carlos Santana's five-year, $21MM deal with the Indians. 

That scenario will remain a hypothetical, however, as Posey has returned from injury with an MVP-caliber .328/.394/.542 batting line and 18 home runs over 409 plate appearances entering Wednesday's action. This performance has only strengthened Posey's case as the best-hitting catcher in the game and now he'll have an even higher price tag should the Giants look to lock him up.

Posey will reach arbitration for the first time this winter and he'll have four arb years in total as a Super Two player, leaving him under Giants control through the 2016 season.  MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith opined that Posey would likely be in line for a salary between $2-$3MM for 2013, and at Posey's current rate of production, I'd guess that $3MM will be at the low end of his 2013 salary.

The Super Two status makes Posey a unique case, as while several notable catchers (such as Santana, Brian McCann, Yadier Molina and Joe Mauer) have signed extensions that covered their arb years, none of these players had that fourth year of arbitration.  Also, none of these players signed their extensions with between 2-3 years of MLB service, as Posey will have at the conclusion of this season.

Perhaps the closest comparison is Mauer, who signed a four-year, $33MM extension with the Twins before the 2007 season that covered his three arb years and his first free agent season.  Mauer had a career line of .321/.399/.471 with 28 homers through his first 1284 plate appearances before signing his extension; Posey currently has a a 307/.369/.492 career line and 40 homers through 1054 plate appearances and should make up that gap in PAs by the end of the season.

Mauer's deal broke down as $20.5MM for his three arb years and $12.5MM for his first year of free agency.  If we use $3MM as the baseline for Posey's 2013 salary, I could see the Giants offering something like a five-year deal worth around $47MM for their star catcher.  The salaries would break down as $3MM in 2013, $6MM in 2014, $9MM in 2015 and $12MM for 2016 to cover the arb years, and Posey would then earn $17MM for the 2017 season, which would've been his first free agent year.  Posey will turn 31 years old in March 2018, so he'd still be young enough to net another big contract in free agency.

There's also the possibility that Posey and agent Jeff Berry would look to go even longer-term in San Francisco.  A seven-year deal — worth $17MM and $20MM, respectively, for 2018 and 2019 — would bring the total value to $84MM.  That's a big contract for any player and especially for a catcher, though the Giants have already looked to keep Posey fresh with occasional starts at first base.  If Posey can keep up his current .935 OPS, that's certainly enough pop to play at first base (particularly at AT&T Park) and be worthy of that type of major financial commitment.     

A seven-year, $84MM contract would be the third-most expensive deal ever given to a catcher, behind Mauer's eight-year, $184MM extension with the Twins and Mike Piazza's seven-year, $91MM deal with the Mets from 1999-2005.

Since the Giants do have four years of control to work with, it's possible they just settle on a one-year deal with Posey this offseason and save extension talks for a later date.  Still, the Giants face some interesting payroll issues — Melky Cabrera will be a free agent and the newly-acquired Hunter Pence is going into his last arb year (the Giants claim to be able to extend both), not to mention potential tough decisions about franchise icons like Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson.  Posey is a player the Giants obviously want in the fold for years to come so they might look to get some cost certainty on his future salaries before looking at other business.

Photo courtesy of Kelley L. Cox/US Presswire

Extension Candidate: Melky Cabrera

Even though Melky Cabrera enjoyed a surprisingly productive 2011 campaign, it's safe to say that the outfielder has been a surprise this season as well, as few (outside of the Giants front office, that is) expected Cabrera to top himself. 

Melky Cabrera - Giants (PW)

Cabrera broke out with a .305/.339/.470 slash line with the Royals last year, a performance that moved the Giants to acquire him in exchange for a promising young left-hander in Jonathan Sanchez.  It seemed like a risky deal at the time given that Cabrera had just one quality season under his belt, but while Sanchez has struggled in Kansas City, Cabrera has excelled in his return to the National League.  Cabrera carried a .338/.386/.490 line into Tuesday's action and his hot bat has been a blessing for a San Francisco lineup that was struggling to score runs even before Pablo Sandoval's hand injury.

Giants GM Brian Sabean told Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle that the team was open to discussing a contract extension with Cabrera.  The club usually prefers to not negotiate during the season but, with Cabrera scheduled to hit free agency after this season, the Giants could get a head start on locking up the outfielder before he reaches the open market.  For his part, Cabrera has said he enjoys playing in San Francisco, so appears to be some interest on both sides to get a deal done.

Cabrera avoided arbitration for the third time by signing a $6MM contract with the Giants in January — a nice step up from the $1.25MM free agent deal he signed with the Royals after being non-tendered by the Braves following the 2010 season.  Cabrera is a unique case when it comes to comparables, as shown by a quick look at the MLBTR Extension Tracker.  The ACES client turns 28 in August, will have over six years of service time once this season is complete and, of course, has just one above-average Major League season to his credit plus what he's done thus far in 2012. 

Cabrera has a .376 BABIP, which is a sign that his numbers are soon due to come down to earth.  It might be a wise move for the Giants to wait out the season to make sure Cabrera can keep hitting, as while waiting might cost the team a few extra dollars to re-sign him in the offseason, they'd have more peace of mind that they're making a solid investment. 

If the Giants were to jump the gun and extend Cabrera now, something like a three-year/$24MM contract would be fair for both sides.  If the Giants wait and Cabrera still has an .876 OPS by season's end, his price tag will rise to the $9-$10MM per season range on the open market.  It seems expensive given Cabrera's spotty career history but, given how big bats are becoming hard to find in free agency, several teams will show interest in a corner outfielder in his prime years who managed big numbers in pitcher-friendly AT&T Park.

As MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith recently pointed out in his look at the Giants' 2013 contract issues, the team has already committed $80MM to next year's payroll.  The Giants are also looking to extend Tim Lincecum and may look into an extension for Buster Posey to cover their franchise catcher's arbitration years, so there might be relatively little money left over to extend Cabrera as well.  This could be an added reason for the team to move now and sign Cabrera at more of a bargain price, but since this is also the team that has spent unwisely on several veterans (i.e. Miguel Tejada, Aubrey Huff, Edgar Renteria, Mark DeRosa), a bit of caution could be prudent.      

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.

Extension Candidate: Brandon Beachy

It's not easy for potential stars to arrive in the Major Leagues with less fanfare than Brandon Beachy in the present day media environment. Beachy, who originally signed as a non-drafted free agent, has followed up a standout debut season with three strong starts this April. It could be time for the Braves to consider an extension.

Beachy has an impressive 3.27 ERA with 10.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and a 35.9% ground ball rate at the Major League level. His leverage in contract talks will be limited by his relative inexperience, however. He has just 31 starts and 176 innings in one-plus years with the Braves (one year and 14 days of service time through 2011).

Brandon Beachy - Braves (PW)

Madison Bumgarner recently established a record for pitchers with one-plus years of service time, obtaining a six-year, $35MM guarantee from the Giants. In my view, Beachy doesn’t have a case for a similar deal. The 25-year-old right-hander has 176 career innings — approximately 50% of Bumgarner's total. He also trails Bumgarner in wins, starts and ERA, so it’s hard to imagine a compelling case for anything in the $35MM range.

But Bumgarner's deal was exceptional. Most starting pitchers who sign extensions after one-plus MLB seasons obtain four-year contracts in the $10-13MM range that tend to include multiple club options. The extensions ensure that the pitchers are paid handsomely through their second arbitration seasons and provide the teams with options on two additional seasons.

In recent years, James Shields, Ubaldo Jimenez, Brett Anderson, Wade Davis and Cory Luebke have signed four-year deals in the $10-13MM range. Beachy's current numbers are reasonably similar to the ones Anderson and Davis had at the time of their extensions. Beachy trails Jimenez and Shields in all-important bulk stats like innings, starts and wins, but boasts more impressive rate stats. Luebke, who signed most recently, compares especially well with Beachy. They have similar year to year totals and career stats, so the Braves could argue convincingly that Beachy should be in line for a similar four-year deal in the $12MM range. It would be difficult for Icon Sports Management to argue that much separation exists between Beachy and Luebke.

Unlike many top MLB players, Beachy didn’t obtain a life-changing bonus when he signed his first professional contract (the Braves offered $20K). The security of an extension might appeal to the one-time non-drafted free agent.

Meanwhile, the Braves haven’t signed Boras Corporation clients Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens to extensions. It’s unclear whether this reflects hesitation from a front office with reservations about the pitchers’ health or resistance from an agency that typically eschews extensions that delay players' free agency. Either way, Braves GM Frank Wren could turn to Beachy should he want to lock at least one young starter up long-term.

The cost — likely $12MM or so — is significant. But it’s not the kind of contract that’s going to set a franchise back long-term. I would consider a four-year deal in the $12MM range a team-friendly one as long as the Braves obtained multiple club options in the process. Beachy’s only going to get more expensive — a five-year deal in the $30MM range might be attainable within six months — so this is Atlanta’s best chance to sign Beachy at this rate. If they believe in his ability to sustain his success and stay on the field, they should make him an offer now.

Photo by Daniel Shirey courtesy of US Presswire.

Extension Candidate: Robinson Cano

Two of the game's best second basemen have agreed to contract extensions in the past 24 hours. Ian Kinsler took five years and $75MM from the Rangers while Brandon Phillips took six years and $72.5MM from the Reds, setting the market for elite players at the position. The Yankees and Robinson Cano were surely paying attention.

Uspw_6106016Cano, 29, will become a free agent after the Yankees exercise his no-brainer $15MM option for 2013. Kinsler – who is only five months older than Cano – was in a similar situation before signing his extension, with the Rangers holding a $10MM club option for 2013. The two are very different players – Cano hits for a much higher average while Kinsler offers some more power and speed – but they rate similarly in wins above replacement, or WAR. Since the start of 2009, Cano has compiled 16.3 WAR while Kinsler is at 15.8 WAR according to FanGraphs.

The two players may be similar, but Cano's credentials give him a better shot at a huge contract. He's a three-time All-Star, has twice finished in the top six of the MVP voting, was the Rookie of the Year Award runner-up in 2005, and has played in at least 159 games in each of the last five seasons. Kinsler is a two-time All-Star, has zero top-ten finishes in the MVP voting, and made at least one trip to the DL in five of his six big league seasons. Cano also has gaudier RBI totals, and that stuff pays.

Kinsler's extension contains the largest average annual value ($14MM) ever given a second baseman, though that will change when Cano's option is exercised. I'm sure the Yankees would love to give their second baseman the same five-year, $75MM contract Kinsler received, but that would represent a pay cut for Cano based on his salary for next season. Cano hired Scott Boras last February, and a player usually doesn't hire the super-agent so close to free agency unless he's looking for a monster payday.

Fair or not, the Yankees are going to have to give their second baseman a contract larger than what Kinsler and Phillips received if they intend to keep him beyond next season. Cano is primed for a six or seven-year guarantee with an annual salary somewhere in the $15-20MM range. If he takes a step forward and wins an MVP award this year or next, he could command even more on the open market. The Yankees insist on not negotiating new contracts until the current one expires, but they broke that policy once for Cano and it would not be surprising if they did it again.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.

Extension Candidate: Matt Wieters

Catchers often take a few years to adjust to big league life after being called up from the minors, in part because they have to learn a pitching staff in addition to focusing on their own development. The Buster Posey-types who have an immediate impact are few and far between. Matt Wieters was the best prospect in all of baseball before the 2009 season according to Baseball America, but it wasn't until 2011 that he started to put it all together.

Icon_13072813Wieters, 25, hit .262/.328/.450 with 22 homers for the Orioles last season and was named to his first All-Star Game. A switch-hitter, Wieters was Barry Bonds from the right side (.339/.430/.694) and Neifi Perez from the left (.235/.291/.371). His career splits are much less pronounced, however. Wieters won the Gold Glove Award for his work behind the plate, and also won the Fielding Bible Award at the position for those of you who prefer a more analytical approach to defense. His career may have started slowly, but now Wieters is starting to break out.

Quality catching is hard to find, which is why teams are eager to lock up their young backstops these days. Nick Hundley (three years, $9MM) and Salvador Perez (five years, $7MM) traded their arbitration-eligible years for guaranteed payouts this offseason while Yadier Molina set the market for free agent backstops with his five-year, $75MM contract. A Molina-like payday may be unavoidable for the Orioles and Wieters down the road, but the club certainly has reasons to look into buying out his arbitration years as well some potential free agent years with an extension.

Molina ($9.25MM), Kurt Suzuki ($14.85MM), Brian McCann ($15.5MM), and Joe Mauer ($20.5MM) all signed away their three arbitration years for similar amounts as part of a multi-year extension. The free agent years surrendered as part of those four extensions range in value from $5.25MM (Molina) to $12.5MM (Mauer). Miguel Montero did not sign an extension but will earn $11.1MM during his three arbitration years. Using those five backstops as a blueprint, a five-year contract worth $22-25MM could make sense for both the O's and Wieters. It would cover his final pre-arbitration year (2012), all three arbitration years ($13-15MM total), and one free agent year ($9-10MM). Options for additional free agent years are, as they say, optional.

It's worth noting that Wieters is a Scott Boras client, but the superagent has been willing to let clients like Jered Weaver, Carlos Gonzalez, Stephen Drew, and Elvis Andrus sign long-term extensions in recent years. Baltimore hired new GM Dan Duquette back in November and they're just starting to pick up the pieces of a franchise that's finished in the AL East cellar in each of the last four years. Wieters could be part of the next contending Orioles team, and the club might want to gain some cost certainty before he continues his breakout and gets even more expensive.

Photo courtesy of Icon SMI.

Extension Candidate: Drew Storen

Long is the list of closers who've taken the circuitous route to ninth-inning stardom. Their stories makefor great narratives about perseverence. Some, like Sergio Santos, are failed position players who just so happened to be blessed with lightening bolts for right arms. Others, like Mariano Rivera, slogged through underwhelming starting careers before finding a home in the bullpen.

None of that applies to Drew Storen.

The Nats drafted the hot-shot closer out of Stanford with their second first-round pick in 2009 — you might have heard of their other first-rounder that year, Stephen Strasburg — at No. 10 overall. Storen made a grand total of 41 minor league appearances in late 2009 and early 2010 before getting The Call.

Some questioned the Nats' decision to take a closer so early in the draft, and many still would, but Storen hasn't disappointed on the promise he flashed as an amateur. He's logged a solid season of setup work as a rookie in 2010 (with five saves sprinkled in) and followed that up with an even better year as Washington's full-time closer in 2011. And with arbitration eligibility looming (as a likely Super Two) for Storen after what will presumably be another full season of closing in 2012, he's on the verge of getting pricey, which is why the Nats may be inclined to explore an extension for the right-hander.

As Matt Swartz explained in October, saves is one of the stats afforded substantial weight in arbitration hearings. Storen, if he gets through 2012 with his job and health intact, should head to arbitration with a conservative estimate of 80 career saves — and perhaps as many 95 or so. For reference, Brad Lidge, then of the Astros, was awarded $3.9MM as a first-time arbitration eligible closer after the 2005 season. Lidge, like Storen, was a setup man in his first big league season before spending the next two as a closer, during which time he piled up 72 saves. The Red Sox's Andrew Bailey also settled for $3.9MM this offseason after spending the first three years of his career as the Athletics' closer, netting 75 career saves, although he spent time on the DL in two of those three years.

So, Storen will likely seek about $4MM next offseason, and probably more. Of course, his salaries will only go up from there, likely breaking into the eight-figure range by his final year (or two) of arbitration eligibility, a la Jonathan Papelbon. The Nationals have deep pockets, but the idea of paying a closer that much — through arbitration, no less — can't sit well with many teams.

Interestingly, the Nationals have already shown a willingness to explore trading Storen, so I'd guess they're not interested in the kind of extension that would buy many, if any, years of free agency unless Storen were willing to surrender one or more at a pretty steep discount, which probably doesn't interest him in light of the kind of deals free-agent closers landed this offseason.

All that said, I think it would make sense for both sides to reach an extension of something like four years (beginning in 2013) and $22-24MM, which is similar to what Ben Nicholson-Smith recently prescribed for John Axford and the Brewers, with an extra year tacked on to account for Storen's likely Super Two status. At that rate, Storen would probably be leaving some money on the table — perhaps something like $10-12MM overall if he continues to produce like he did in 2011 — in exchange for security, but it's not a bad strategy for a 24-year-old who is slated to hit free agency in his prime but whose lifeblood is a role rather predisposed to volatility.

We haven't heard much about an extension for Storen yet, but whether such a deal would prove prudent for either team or player would largely depend on if this fast-riser is able to continue along on his path to elite-closer status.

Extension Candidate: Eric O’Flaherty

For all of the hype generated by Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters last year, it was easy to overlook the impressive numbers posted by left-hander Eric O'Flaherty in 2011.  O'Flaherty recorded 32 holds in 2011, throwing 73 2/3 innings over his 78 appearances and posting an 8.2 K/9 rate, a 3.19 K/BB ratio, and a miniscule 0.98 ERA (though, advanced metrics indicate that ERA may have been a bit lucky, as O'Flaherty had a 2.54 FIP and 3.05 xFIP).  Also, O'Flaherty stayed dominant down the stretch, while Kimbrel and Venters' respective struggles in September were big reasons why the Braves blew their lead in the NL wild card race.Icon_13282623

It was the best season yet for a southpaw who has thrived since Atlanta picked him up off waivers from Seattle in November 2008.  O'Flaherty has a 2.02 ERA in 174 innings as a Brave, which translated into a nice payday in his second trip through the arbitration process this winter, as O'Flaherty and the Braves agreed to a $2.49MM contract for 2012.

O'Flaherty is the first of Atlanta's big three relievers to reach arbitration, as Venters is eligible after this season and Kimbrel is eligible after 2013.  While it can be argued that the Braves should worry about those other two pitchers first, O'Flaherty's bronze-medal status within the Braves' bullpen could actually be more of a reason for the team to explore extending him; GM Frank Wren can use Kimbrel and Venters' presence as leverage to try and extract a bargain on an O'Flaherty contract.

MLBTR's Extension Tracker reveals three notable extensions for left-handed relievers over the 14 months…

  • Glen Perkins' three-year, $10.3MM extension with the Twins, plus a club option for 2016.  This deal covered Perkins' last arb-eligible season and his first two free agent years.  Perkins, 29, enjoyed a big season in his first year as a full-time reliever and looks to stay in the Twins' bullpen for the foreseeable future.
  • Sean Marshall's three-year, $16.5MM extension with the Reds that could earn him up to $4MM more in incentives.  Marshall, 29, was scheduled to hit free agency after 2012.
  • Marshall again, this time the two-year, $4.7MM deal he signed with the Cubs in January 2011.  This contract covered Marshall's final two years of arbitration eligibility.  

O'Flaherty just turned 27 last month, so he'll be roughly the same age as Marshall when he signed that 2011 contract with the Cubs, though O'Flaherty will be in line for a more expensive deal since he's already making $2.49MM this year.  O'Flaherty's three-year track record of stellar relief also gives him an argument that he should earn more than Perkins.

I would say that a three-year, $12MM deal would be a fair price for both O'Flaherty and the Braves.  It's notably less than Marshall's latest contract, but Marshall has pitched better than O'Flaherty over the last two seasons, plus the Reds made that deal with an eye towards Marshall likely taking over as closer should Ryan Madson leave next winter.  Here's where the Braves' leverage over O'Flaherty comes into play — whereas Marshall could close in Cincinnati and Perkins could perhaps supplant Matt Capps as Minnesota's closer, O'Flaherty will see minimal opportunity to finish games as long as Kimbrel and Venters are in the fold.  With this in mind, I can see the Braves trying to go lower with an initial offer akin to Perkins' contract before settling on the $12MM number, with incentives and maybe an option year included.

Whatever Atlanta pays O'Flaherty will set the table for what his fellow lefty Venters might look for in a contract extension, and you can bet that Kimbrel will generate an even bigger deal if he keeps up his current elite status.  Busy times lie ahead for the Braves in bullpen negotiations, so it can't hurt to get the first piece of the puzzle locked up now.  Or, with free agency awaiting after 2013, O'Flaherty might choose to forego security now and take a shot at a more lucrative closer's contract in two years.

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