Last month, reports emerged that the Marlins had exchanged offers on a potential contract extension with Sandy Alcantara’s representatives at CAA Baseball. Alcantara recently reiterated his desire to work out a long-term deal with the Fish, but Barry Jackson and Craig Mish of the Miami Herald now report that Alcantara’s reps never presented him with specific terms. That seems to indicate the Marlins’ initial proposal wasn’t especially close to what Alcantara’s agents would consider a sufficient price.
It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise if the sides reengage in talks over the upcoming offseason given Alcantara’s seeming amenability to doing so. With that in mind, we’ll take a look at his situation in an attempt to gauge a potential mutually-agreeable price point.
The biggest difficulty in finding that number might be the lack of recent comparable deals. Over the past five years, only two starting pitchers with between three and four years of MLB service (as Alcantara will have this offseason) have signed extensions. In February 2017, the Cardinals and Carlos Martínez reached agreement on a five-year, $51MM guarantee with a pair of club options (valued at $17MM and $18MM, respectively) thereafter. That deal extended St. Louis’ window of control over Martínez an additional four seasons, but the Phillies only picked up an extra two seasons of control over Aaron Nola in their February 2019 extension. Nola was guaranteed $45MM for that briefer term, with his option year valued at $16MM.
Of those two hurlers, Martínez seems a more appropriate reference point for Alcantara. Both pitchers are hard-throwing sinkerballers who specialize in keeping the ball on the ground while generating whiffs at a rate closer to league average. While it might be easy to forget given his struggles in recent years, Martínez was one of the best young arms in the majors at the time he signed his deal. Between 2014-16, the Cardinals righty worked to a 3.22 ERA over 464 1/3 innings with a 22.7% strikeout rate and a massive 54.7% grounder rate. Opposing hitters batted .246/.320/.353 against Martínez during that three-year stretch.
Since the start of the 2019 campaign, Alcantara has posted a 3.59 ERA over 390 2/3 frames. He’s punched out hitters at a 19.9% clip with a 48.2% groundball percentage and a .233/.307/.378 slash line allowed. Alcantara’s platform season (3.39 ERA, 21.7% strikeout rate, 53% groundball percentage) is similar to Martínez’s 2016 campaign, albeit a tad less impressive (3.04 ERA, 21.5% strikeout rate, 56.4% grounder rate). Martínez, who was also a year younger at the time than Alcantara is now, arguably had a slightly more impressive body of work but looks like a fairly straightforward reference point.
It’s at least worth examining Nola’s pre-extension performance, but it’s clear he’s a less obvious precedent. The Phillies righty had a 3.32 ERA over his three prior seasons — right in line with those of Martínez and Alcantara — but the comparison becomes less apt from there. Nola was a far better strikeout pitcher (26.4%) and had held opposing hitters to a stifling .228/.286/.356 line between 2016-18.
More importantly, Nola’s extension came on the heels of a platform season in which he posted a 2.37 ERA over 212 1/3 frames, earning a third-place finish in NL Cy Young Award voting. Nola’s performance over his first three-plus seasons quite clearly surpasses that of Alcantara — who has been very good but hasn’t had an elite, Cy Young-caliber campaign to this point.
Martínez’s deal paid him $4.5MM for the first of his would-be arbitration seasons, followed by successive $11.5MM salaries for the remaining four years of the guarantee (plus $500K buyouts on the aforementioned pair of options). It’s possible the Marlins would prefer a more gradual escalation of salaries in any Alcantara deal, but the $10.2MM average annual value of the guaranteed years in Martínez’s contract seems a worthwhile goal for Alcantara’s reps.
Since Alcantara’s a year older than Martínez was, he may be more reluctant to sign away a fourth potential free agent year. That said, he probably doesn’t have the track record to sway the Marlins to guarantee him over $10MM per season for the right to buy out only two free agent years — as Nola did with Philadelphia. Splitting the difference, a deal that buys out three free agent seasons seems like the best fit for both parties.
Because Alcantara already has three years of team control via arbitration remaining, buying out three free agent seasons would mean a deal that extends the Marlins’ window through 2027. Miami would likely require the final two seasons to be club option years in such a scenario, given that they’re guaranteeing Alcantara more money up front than they would if they proceeded year-by-year through arbitration.
In that case, we’d wind up with four guaranteed seasons. Using the $10.2MM AAV of Martínez’s deal, that comes out to a guarantee in the $41MM range between 2022-25 with a pair of club options (likely valued around $15-18MM, as those in Martínez’s and Nola’s deals were) covering the 2026 and 2027 campaigns. That’d set Alcantara’s earning potential around $70-75MM over six seasons while positioning him to reach free agency entering his age-32 season if Miami were to exercise the options.
This is, of course, an entirely theoretical exercise. Perhaps Alcantara’s more amenable to signing away additional free agent years for immediate financial certainty. On the other hand, the Martínez extension is almost five years old, so there’s an argument Alcantara’s reps should set their sights higher in an attempt to push the market forward.
It’s also possible the team’s efforts to broker an Alcantara extension would be contingent on him signing for less than that precedent might suggest, both in light of Miami’s generally low payrolls and their enviable stockpile of other controllable starting pitchers. That said, given the seeming probability the two sides will reengage at some point, it’s worth considering a speculative framework of a potential deal to keep one of the Marlins’ All-Star starters in South Florida for the long haul.