The risk and reward that comes with signing an extension before or during a player’s first year of arbitration can be a tricky one. Players can take the guaranteed money and set themselves up for life or play out the arbitration years and try to cash in with a bigger payday down the road. Washington’s Denard Span, Kurt Suzuki and Gio Gonzalez all signed early extensions and talked to MLBTR about their decisions.
Outfielder Denard Span (Signed a five-year, $16.25MM deal with Minnesota in March 2010):
“It was after my first full season in the big leagues, after the '09 season. It took me a little bit of time to get to the Major Leagues, I didn’t get there at 20 or 21 years old, so at the time the Twins came to me about the extension, it just made sense for me and my family. We realized what we possibly were leaving on the table if I had good years but we also thought about the risk of if I got hurt or anything like that. It just made sense for my situation.
“My agent set out numbers and I remember after my best year in '09, he said if you just do this for the next two, three years and don’t take this contract, this is what you would get in arbitration so we compared the numbers and it was a little bit of a discount to take the contract at the time and he put that out there, but the decision was ultimately my decision.
“I’ve been on the DL the past few years so I’d like to think it worked out fine but there’s so many unknowns and that’s the risk you take when you're dealing with any kind of guaranteed contract, whether to take it or play your cards and wait for that big payday.
“I wouldn’t say it was an easy decision. It was something that me and my family had to pray about. It was a situation where we felt like if I were to get hurt and never play again, at least all the hard work that I’ve put forth in this game, I’d at least have something to walk away from. That was one of the determining factors. I realized that when this contract is up, I wouldn’t be naturally young but I wouldn’t be old. I’m going to be 31, lord willing when I’m a free agent, so what I didn’t get in the beginning, I believe that I’m going to get at the end.”
Catcher Kurt Suzuki (Signed a four-year, 16.25MM deal with Oakland in July 2010):
“It’s a tough decision obviously. At the time you work so had to get to a point to where you're starting to get paid I guess and I think I was signed during my last season before arbitration, so it was the year leading up to arbitration, and obviously I knew I was going to arbitration next year but the multi-year deal, to have the security for your family, it was hard to look that much money in the mirror and say I don’t want it, I’m going to wait. You get security for your family. It’s a pretty good chunk of change. It was hard to turn down. Some guys take that route and some guys don’t. I thought it was a deal where I felt it was enough security for my family and I. I was married at the time.
“Obviously if you sign a long term deal before arbitration years, you’re going to have to take a discount because you’re obviously not in line to make the money yet. You’re kind of predicting the future so you have to take a little bit of a discount but at the same time, how much of a discount you want to take, you have to ask yourself and what are you happy with. After deciding with my wife, we felt OK with taking the deal and having that security.
“You break it down and you have comparables. My case was a little different because they said I didn’t have many comparables. I don’t know, they just said there wasn’t many people to compare me with that signed multi-year deals so like Russell Martin was a comparable but he didn’t sign a multi-year deal so it was kind of hard to gauge off somebody for a deal.
“There’s a risk. It was an amount that my wife and I felt comfortable with and it was worth taking. Later on I might have been looking to make more, obviously if I went year to year, but at the same time, we felt that money was sufficient enough to take the deal. I’m happy with how it worked out. Obviously there’s a chance you could have made more money but at the same time, with how things [worked] out I think it was a good deal.
“Denard and I talk about it all the time. He comes from Minnesota who has the similar philosophies as Oakland to try and lock players up long term before their arbitration years and we talked about giving up money but we also talked about how its hard to turn that much money down because you’re making a really good amount of money. The Major League minimum is a really good amount, but when you’re talking millions of dollars, to turn that down is tough to do. When you get offered that much money in your face, what are you going to do?”
Pitcher Gio Gonzalez (Signed a five-year, $42MM deal with Washington in January 2012, a record at the time for a first-year arbitration eligible pitcher. He was traded from Oakland just a month earlier):
“I looked at as you know what? The organization gave me a chance to play and Mike Rizzo (Nationals GM) believed in me from the beginning and he gave me something that I felt was reasonable and gave me an opportunity and I said why not? The only way to keep getting up there and is keep improving and try to make the best of it.
“You also look at the team and the guys that were coming up, you had Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, you had all these guys and the pieces they were putting together, I felt like that rotation was going to get better and better and I was like why not be a part of it?
“I think it was just me wanting to play baseball and I think it helped secure my family and me and it almost was to the point where it was like, you can roll the dice and see what happens, but you can never promise tomorrow. I was more excited to play here than anything. It was a new team, new uniform, I think the thing that really drove me to want to play here more was the fact that ‘Rizz’ believed in me from the beginning. He didn’t question anything and he gave me a opportunity and I felt like he gave me a great price for what was reasonable. He didn’t skyrocket me but he got me right where I needed to be to go out there and prove my performance.
“I liked it. Like I said, nothing is promised tomorrow. I think what ‘Rizz’ did was more than reasonable. He thought it was fair, I thought it was fair. We worked both sides out with no complaints. I was ready to grab a baseball and start pitching. Trust me, I was thinking way beyond the money. I was thinking more like World Series. Let’s go. Great rotation, great offense and defense. I was more than happy to play for them.”