Padres starter Joe Musgrove is in his final season of arbitration-eligibility, setting him up to reach free agency for the first time this winter. Despite being just six months from the open market, the right-hander remains open to discussing an extension with the Friars.
Speaking with Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Musgrove indicated he told the Padres in Spring Training he’d be willing to negotiate a long-term deal during the season. “I was like, ‘I prefer to not do it (during the season),” Musgrove said. “But if you guys have an enticing offer and it’s something you think I’d be interested in, send it to my agent and we’ll talk about it. We’ll find the right time to do it.’”
It’s common for players to set Opening Day as a hard deadline for extension talks, whether because they believe a self-imposed cutoff maximizes negotiating leverage or merely believe that in-season discussions could divert attention away from their performance. Musgrove, though, is a San Diego-area native who has spoken about his affinity for the city. Given those geographic ties, it’s not surprising he’d be willing to buck the common trend and consider extension figures from the Padres
Acee writes the Padres were not in touch with Musgrove’s camp about a long-term deal over the offseason. Of course, the three-plus month lockout could’ve played a role in that lack of communication, as teams were barred from interacting with players between the start of December and the second week of March. On either end of the lockout, clubs were faced with a frenzy of other activity. That didn’t completely kill the Spring Training extension market, but it’s conceivable it could’ve delayed some talks which might have taken place during a normal winter.
Musgrove is lined up as one of the top pitchers in the upcoming free agent class. Jacob deGrom has maintained he’ll trigger an opt-out clause at the end of the year. Carlos Rodón will have an opt-out opportunity if he pitches 110 innings, while Noah Syndergaard, Justin Verlander and Mike Clevinger will be in-demand arms if they perform this year as they did before undergoing 2020 Tommy John surgeries. Nathan Eovaldi and Sean Manaea are reliable mid-rotation types. Musgrove, though, offers as strong a combination of performance and relative youth as any starter who’d be on the market, as he’ll enter his age-30 campaign in 2023.
Indeed, Musgrove holds his own in comparison to Kevin Gausman and Robbie Ray, two of the top free agent arms of this past offseason. Between 2019-21, Musgrove posted a 3.79 ERA that tied Gausman’s mark and checked in a bit better than Ray’s 3.93. Musgrove has the lowest strikeout rate of that trio (25.4%, compared to 31.1% for Ray and 28.6% for Gausman), but he posted the highest ground-ball rate of the group and tied Gausman for the lowest walk percentage.
If one looks only at 2020-21, Gausman takes a slight edge over the other two hurlers. Ray had the most impressive 2021 campaign. In each window, though, Musgrove’s performance isn’t too dissimilar than that of either Gausman or Ray. The Padres righty will also be a year younger next winter than Gausman is now. It stands to reason Musgrove’s reps at Full Circle Sports Management will look at the respective terms Gausman (five years, $110MM) and Ray (five years, $115MM with an opt-out clause) landed as comparison points in any extension talks.
Of course, there’s some risk that Musgrove gets injured or underperforms in the next few months. To his credit, he hasn’t shown any worrisome signs early in the season. Musgrove has tossed 19 innings over his first three starts, allowing just four runs with 21 strikeouts and a single walk to go along with a 44.7% grounder rate that falls right in line with his career mark.