We don’t really know whether or to what extent extension talks will continue during the coronavirus hiatus. But as I wrote yesterday, it seems reasonable to think they’ll be explored. Some may already have advanced nearly to completion before the global pandemic intervened.
While we may have to wait to learn who the targets are and see what deals get done, there’s a silver lining: more time for rampant speculation! Okay, we’re not going to speculate here; rather, we’ll tick through some interesting possibilities on paper. Remember, we’ve seen an increasing prevalence of deals with less-experienced players (even some without any MLB service) and with new player types (early-career relievers and utilitymen).
In the present MLB environment, value is king and the old forms are fading. Here are some names to chew on from the NL Central …
The Brew Crew already reached two deals this winter, both of which are quite interesting for very different reasons. The Milwaukee organization reached a big new extension (that still feels team-friendly) with superstar Christian Yelich. And it placed a upside bet on young hurler Freddy Peralta, whose ERA hasn’t quite yet matched his talent.
Scanning the rest of the roster, the name that jumps off the page is Josh Hader. True, he just lost an arbitration hearing to the team. But he’s still got a big $4.1MM starting point to build from for three more seasons and his salary could go wild if the Brewers keep him in the closer’s role. Perhaps there’s a path to a deal, even if it doesn’t expand the Brewers’ control rights past arbitration much (if at all).
Likelier, perhaps, are highly talented youngsters Keston Hiura and Brandon Woodruff. The former isn’t even close to arbitration but seems like an easy bet to keep hitting. The latter is a year away from Super Two qualification, so this might be the best opportunity to get him locked in at a palatable price. Given the aggressive stance the Brewers took in the Peralta deal, you can’t rule out negotiations with fellow hurlers Adrian Houser and Corbin Burnes.
Of greater long-term intrigue is the situation of staff ace Jack Flaherty. But odds of an agreement seem long, particularly after the club renewed his contract at a rather meager rate this spring. Perhaps fellow starter Dakota Hudson is a likelier target. If the club gets creative in exploring deals with the staff, relievers Giovanny Gallegos and John Brebbia might be approached, though neither is terribly youthful.
Two years out from free agency, Kolten Wong is a conceivable but hardly pressing potential target. It’s more interesting to contemplate an early pact with emerging utilityman Tommy Edman. But most intriguing of all? A pre-debut pact with top prospect Dylan Carlson. That would free the club to promote him whenever it wishes and perhaps secure a potential new franchise star for his entire prime.
If you can’t trade ’em, extend ’em? Perhaps not in all cases, but the Cubs have a lot of quality players that could be targeted for extensions — now that the team has elected not to deal them over the winter and likely won’t have a chance to revisit its decision in the middle of the 2020 season. Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, and Kyle Schwarber could in theory all fall in this bucket.
The likeliest candidate, though, is shortstop Javier Baez. He was never really on the block, so far as anyone knows, and there’s clearly mutual interest in a deal. Baez is two years from free agency but already well into bigger earnings via arbitration. Talks have been up and down thus far.
Otherwise, the Cubbies could explore ways of locking in lower prices on non-stars for the foreseeable future. What if — and believe me, this is a hypothetical — but what if the team saw some value in the right arrangement with a younger, less-established player? The most interesting possibilities: infielder Nico Hoerner, backstop Victor Caratini, and center fielder (for the time being, anyway) Ian Happ. Having already done a deal with David Bote, this sort of possibility can’t be ruled out.
Thankfully, in this case the team has more or less provided its own list (through unnamed sources that spoke with reporters). Younger big leaguers Bryan Reynolds, Kevin Newman, and Joe Musgrove are all said to be of interest, as is top prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes. Now that we know talks have been initiated, it’s a matter of seeing if anything gets done.
Notably absent from that group? Slugging first baseman Josh Bell. The 27-year-old is in his first season of arbitration eligibility after a big 2019 season. The absence of reporting doesn’t necessarily mean that Bell isn’t of interest, though he may be a bit spendy for the Bucs to commit to.
Beyond that, it gets pretty speculative. The Pirates have big hopes for high-upside youngsters Mitch Keller and Oneil Cruz, but probably want to see them develop more before thinking about a long-term contract.
The Cincinnati ballclub has made a host of interesting moves of late. But there’s still potential for greater contractual action with regard to a few in-house players.
Excellent right-hander Luis Castillo is easily the top target. He’s in classic starting pitcher extension territory as a 2+ service-class player with two full seasons of increasingly productive moundwork. The team can surely envision quite a lot of upside and he has some real incentive to dodge the risk of another MLB campaign before getting paid.
Perhaps there’s also an argument for considering talks with lefty Amir Garrett or reliever/pinch-hitter/CF Michael Lorenzen. If teams can strike deals with pitchers like Peralta and Aaron Bummer, then these guys can’t be ruled out.
It’s awfully intriguing to think about a deal for everywhere-but-nowhere man Nick Senzel. But his precise place in this organization has yet to be determined. While the team would probably buy in at the right price, he’s probably not going to sell himself short and buy into an uncertain situation. There are a few other conceivable candidates on this roster — outfielder Jesse Winker; starter Anthony DeSclafani — but it’s quite a bit harder to see a path to a mutually agreeable deal in those cases.