We’ve already seen three extensions this month, with Wade Miley signing for three years (plus an option) with the Red Sox, Todd Frazier receiving a two-year deal from the Reds and Mike Dunn getting two from the Marlins. That’s no surprise, since contract extensions are common this time of year. Less than two weeks remain before the start of Spring Training, so agents and teams might prefer to discuss deals now, before extension discussions become distractions from preparations for the season. Perhaps just as importantly, the sorts of players who typically receive pre-free agency extensions frequently have arbitration cases pending in February.
Some February extensions, like Frazier’s and Dunn’s, only buy out arbitration seasons and thus don’t impact the player’s free agency timeline. Others, however, have a significant impact on both player and team. Here are some of the key February extensions of the 27 signed between 2012, 2013 and 2014.
- Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons and Julio Teheran, Braves, 2014. The Braves spent last February aggressively extending many of their key players, likely with an eye toward the opening of their new ballpark in 2017. Jason Heyward only received a two-year deal to cover his last two seasons of arbitration eligibility, but the Freeman, Kimbrel, Simmons and Teheran moves were dramatic ones. Freeman’s eight-year, $135MM deal, in particular, was a gigantic commitment to a player with a good, but not elite, track record. Still, Freeman had another strong season in 2014, and with the escalation of salaries throughout the game, he won’t need to have an Albert Pujols-like peak to justify the $20MM-plus salaries he’ll receive from 2017 through 2021.
- Homer Bailey, Reds, 2014. Bailey’s $105MM deal raised some eyebrows when it was signed, given his somewhat underwhelming overall track record, but there was a case for it, given his age (27) and 2012 and 2013 performances. Bailey recovered from a poor April to post good overall numbers in 2014, although he missed the last six weeks of the season with a forearm injury.
- Michael Brantley, Indians, 2014. After a breakout 2014 in which he hit .327/.385/.506, Brantley’s $25MM deal now looks like a steal for Cleveland. Brantley will make just $7.5MM in 2017, the first season in which he would have been eligible for free agency, and the Indians also have an $11MM option on him for 2018, his age-31 season.
- Brett Gardner, Yankees, 2014. Gardner would have been the top players available on this offseason’s free agent market had he not signed a four-year extension last February. The deal, which begins this year, guarantees Gardner $52MM and allows the Yankees to control his age-31 through age-34 seasons, with an option on another season after that. Gardner more than doubled his previous career high in home runs in 2014 while stealing fewer bases than any season since he was a rookie (excepting his injury-shortened 2012), so it’s possible his next four seasons could look quite different than the four leading up to the extension did.
- Felix Hernandez, Mariners, 2013. Two years in, Hernandez’s enormous contract (which you might see as seven years and $175MM or five years and $135.5MM of new money, depending on how you want to look at it) has worked brilliantly so far, and it’s served as an obvious precedent for many of the biggest pitcher deals since, like those of Justin Verlander, Masahiro Tanaka and Clayton Kershaw.
- Yadier Molina, Cardinals, 2012. At the time, Molina’s $75MM deal was the third largest ever for a catcher, but now it looks like a bargain, with Brian McCann and Russell Martin since signing as free agents for greater amounts and Miguel Montero landing a $60MM extension just months after Molina’s. Two years into his deal (which did not begin until the 2013 season), Molina is still an elite catcher due to his defense, although his offense took a step backward in an injury-ravaged 2014 season.
- Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals, 2012. Zimmerman’s defensive and injury issues threaten to make his contract troublesome despite his still-strong offense. With Adam LaRoche out of the picture in Washington, Zimmerman will likely play out the remainder of the five years (or six, if the Nationals exercise his 2020 option) at first base. The yearly salaries of Zimmerman’s deal ($14MM per season through 2018, $18MM for 2019) are reasonable, so if Zimmerman takes well to first, he could end up justifying the deal even though he’s unlikely to return to his 2009 and 2010 peak, when he delivered consecutive seasons of over 6 fWAR.
- Salvador Perez, Royals, 2012. Perez’s contract was highly unusual because he had just 158 career plate appearances at the time and wasn’t regarded as a likely star. There wasn’t much precedent for it (the only other players who had signed extensions before accumulating a year of service time were Evan Longoria and Matt Moore, both of whom were very highly regarded), and it hasn’t established a precedent for similar deals. The Royals took a minor gamble on an unproven commodity, guaranteeing Perez just $7MM over five years, and almost certainly saved tens of millions in the process. Perez has become a good hitter and an elite defensive catcher, and his deal also gives the Royals extremely cheap options for 2017, 2018 and 2019, the last two of which would have been free-agent years had Perez not agreed to a deal.