As players approach free agency, they generally gain leverage in contract negotiations with their teams. That’s how Joey Votto and Matt Kemp, two superstars within striking distance of free agency, obtained two of the offseason's most lucrative contracts.
But when players sign extensions early on in their careers, the deals take a different shape. Low-revenue Major League teams can’t afford $200MM mistakes, so they often choose to commit tens of millions to relatively unproven players in exchange for extended team control at a manageable rate. These teams are investing less money in a commodity that’s less certain to pay off.
This offseason has already featured 11 extensions for pre-arbitration eligible players, as MLBTR’s Extension Tracker shows. The group – Andrew McCutchen, Derek Holland, Jon Niese, Alcides Escobar, Cameron Maybin, Sergio Santos, Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Santana, Cory Luebke, Salvador Perez and Matt Moore — includes some players who have already become stars. Here are some more observations about the deals:
- Club options are a must. Teams have obtained at least one option on each extension.
- These contracts are the domain of small market teams. The Padres (30th in Opening Day payroll), Royals (27th in payroll), Pirates (26th in payroll), Rays (25th in payroll) and Indians (21st in payroll) are responsible for seven of these 11 extensions.
- WMG was the lone agency to broker more than one of these deals (Santana, Escobar).
- Teams seem to prefer up the middle position players. Three catchers, two center fielders and a shortstop populate the list of pre-arbitration position players who signed this offseason.
- Starting pitchers can also cash in early; they obtained four of the 11 contracts.
- Santos, a late bloomer who became a pitcher years into his professional career, is one of two players on this list who's over 25. Santana, who celebrated his 26th birthday on Sunday, is the other.
These deals seem to be on the rise. We saw five extensions for pre-arbitration eligible players last offseason and seven the previous year. Perhaps teams are drawing inspiration from the Rays, who have retained star-caliber players affordably with some successful early-career extensions.