With extension season upon us, we are looking at some of the current record-holding contracts. Last week, we broke down the most notable extensions for pre-arbitration players. Now, we’ll turn to those players who reached agreements at a point at which they were eligible for arbitration but before they were within their final season before free agency.
(So, we’ll include Super Two-eligible players in this post. But we won’t yet be looking at those 5+ service-class players who signed as the open market beckoned.)
Typically, a fair number of significant players sign long-term pacts in the period between the start of a new year and the start of a new season. This time last year, we were within a week or so of learning of mid-arb deals for players including Yangervis Solarte, Wil Myers, and Kole Calhoun. Many of this season’s arbitration-eligible players also feature as plausible candidates.
Of course, the need to hammer out an arbitration salary for the coming campaign often helps spur talks. This time around, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes reports, it seems that all of MLB’s teams will be utilizing a “file-and-trial” approach to arbitration, which could further incentivize multi-year deals — though not necessarily ones that buy out would-be free agent seasons.
On to the most notable deals from the Super Two, 3+, and 4+ service groups …
Biggest Contract, Super Two
This particular contract stands out from the crowd quite a bit. It dwarfs the other large Super Two deal, such as those agreed to by Starlin Castro ($60MM), Jay Bruce ($51MM), and (most recently) Kevin Kiermaier ($53.5MM). Indeed, it tops anything agreed to by players in their 3+ service class as well (see below). And the Posey deal also represents the second-largest deal of any kind ever agreed to by a catcher. There’s a reason for all that, of course: Posey was and is a once-in-a-generation talent at his position. His suitably monstrous deal, then, functions as a notable market marker for any truly elite players engaging in contract talks early in their arbitration eligibility.
Biggest Contract, Super Two Pitcher
As we saw with the pre-arb extensions, there’s a big gap between what top position players have been able to command and what’s available for pitchers. Teams just have not been willing to promise that much money through arbitration eligibility, even if it means picking up affordable future control. The other top contract in this service class is Jaime Garcia, at a $27.5MM guarantee. Still, as the Nats’ experience with Gonzalez shows, there’s quite some upside to be found even when a team does plunk down a relatively significant promise; he has delivered excellent value over the deal and has had both his options exercised.
Biggest Contract, 3+ Service Class
While Freeman couldn’t top Posey, this was still a notable contract. The first baseman was certainly an accomplished hitter, but wasn’t a tremendous power source and was considered limited to first base. Of course, the Atlanta organization was right to trust in Freeman, as he has turned in a 157 OPS+ in each of the past two seasons while showing 30+ home run pop (as well as the ability to play third in a pinch, though we’ve likely seen the end of that experiment). This deal topped the second extension of Ryan Braun ($105MM) as well as large contracts agreed upon with 3+ service class players Kyle Seager ($100MM), Albert Pujols ($100MM back in 2004) Wil Myers ($83MM), and Justin Morneau ($80MM).
Biggest Contract, 3+ Service Class Pitcher
It seems fair to say that Martinez had established a similar level of productivity as had Freeman to the same points in their career. But his own record-setting deal came in way shy despite the fact that he was only entering his age-25 season. Still, Martinez handily out-earned prior pitchers from this service grouping, such as Ervin Santana (link), Scott Kazmir (link), and Johnny Cueto (link).
Biggest Contract, 4+ Service Class
The Stanton deal remains the biggest and longest contract yet agreed to by a MLB player, so it more or less sets all the records. The 4+ stage is a popular time to lock up established superstars, but it typically takes a hefty sum to get it done. Ten-year commitments have gone to Joey Votto ($225MM) and Troy Tulowitzki ($157.75MM). Other nine-figure guarantees include the first Miguel Cabrera extension ($152.3MM), the ill-fated Ryan Howard pact ($125MM), and the roller-coaster Elvis Andrus deal ($120MM). Evan Longoria’s $100MM second extension was just traded, with the Rays taking a bit of a haircut but also receiving some talent in return.
Biggest Contract, 4+ Service Class Pitcher
Verlander and Felix Hernandez ($78MM) set the bar for mid-arbitration pitchers. The highly accomplished duo performed well enough in the early going under these contracts that each ultimately inked similar, yet more significant extensions. Both have had their stumbles since their newer contracts kicked in, though the former has mostly been in excellent form of late and the latter is at least still fairly youthful (he’ll turn 32 at the beginning of the 2018 season, whereas Verlander is soon to hit his 35th birthday). The only other player in shouting distance is Matt Harrison, whose $55MM deal did not pan out due to a serious back injury. A variety of other 4+ pitchers have inked deals within $5MM or so of a $40MM guarantee, including Dan Haren (link), Josh Johnson (link), Zack Greinke (link), and Chad Billingsley (link). As the names listed here would indicate, it has been quite a while since we’ve seen a significant contract for a 4+ hurler.
Biggest Contract, Mid-Arb Reliever
Kimbrel has long been a super-elite reliever. Indeed, his raw numbers were so impressive that they busted MLBTR’s arbitration model. With some real questions as to just how much Kimbrel might earn in arbitration, the sides agreed to an interesting contract that was utterly without precedent. To that point the biggest reliever extensions of any kind were in the $20MM range (Huston Street (link) and Carlos Marmol (link)). Nothing has approached Kimbrel’s extension since, though ensuing growth in the free agent market for top-end relievers has certainly changed the situation. Indeed, this contract has been traded twice for good value, showing that the Braves did well for taking a risk that no other organization really had before. (Things worked out well for Kimbrel, too: he weathered some relatively lesser seasons without worrying about security and is now poised to hit free agency at 30 years of age, where he might still set new records.)