The back stretch of spring training is generally a fruitful time for contract extensions, trying to get business done before having such thoughts and/or possible distractions hang over the regular season.
Old friend Keibert Ruiz, the Nationals catcher, and D-backs outfielder Corbin Carroll signed eight-year deals in the last week, the latter setting a record for highest guarantee ($111 million) for someone with fewer than 100 days of major league service time.
If we go a little further back this spring, Manny Machado inked an 11-year, $350-million extension with the Padres, rather than have his opt-out decision at the end of the season loom over 2023.
With those big contracts at the back drop, The Athletic devoted a series of articles this week on various potential extensions, and the likelihood therein.
Tim Britton on Friday outlined what a contract extension might look like for various potential young pre-free-agency players across baseball, including three Dodgers.
He ranked them in tiers, with Will Smith (six years, $88 million) deemed as making more sense for the player, Julio Urías (seven years, $185 million) and Walker Buehler (four years, $72 million) as better for both sides to wait. Let’s take a back-of-the-napkin look at each hypothetical deal.
Urías is the most urgent of the group, as he’s a free agent after this season, and will likely be the top pitching prize on the market, turning only 27 in August. Assuming Britton’s proposed extension includes 2023, during which Urías is currently under contract for $14.25 million. That leaves $170.75 million for six free agent years, which is a little more than what Carlos Rodón got from the Yankees (six years, $162 million) this offseason. Considering that Urías will be two years, eight months younger than Rodón was entering free agency, that’s far too low a number for Urías.
Smith is making $5.25 million this season, in his first time eligible for salary arbitration. Giving him $25 million through his three arbitration years is roughly a 50-percent increase each year, and leaves $63 million for the three free agency years the contract purchases, an average of $21 million for those final three seasons.
Smith is at the same level of service time and five months younger than Sean Murphy, who after getting traded by the A’s this offseason signed an extension with the Braves worth $73 million over six years. Or Smith could wait for two years to hit the open market, trying to get something around the $23.1 million per year J.T. Realmuto got as a free agent signing his five-year deal with the Phillies entering 2021.
Buehler’s case is interesting because he’s expected to miss most if not all of 2023 after Tommy John surgery and flexor tendon repair last August. He’s making $8.025 million this year, and will likely make something close to that again in 2024, his final year of arbitration eligibility. That would leave around $55 million to buy out two years of free agency for Buehler, which actually makes sense for both sides, to me. Then again, I thought the Dodgers should have signed Buehler to a two-year deal to get through the arbitration years, too.
Thus far under the Andrew Friedman-led front office, the Dodgers haven’t really signed many pre-free-agency players into what would have been free agent seasons, Mookie Betts is the big exception, with his 12-year, $365-million extension before 2020.
They’ve signed shorter multi-year deals to cover a few arbitration years with Buehler, Max Muncy, Austin Barnes, Chris Taylor, and, this year, Tony Gonsolin. Barnes last year signed a two-year deal for what would have been free agent season. With Muncy, they did sign him for 2023 before he would have reached free agency, but even that was just guaranteeing his club option year.
The last such long-term contract for a pre-free-agency player by the Dodgers was a big one. Clayton Kershaw in January 2014, before his final season ahead of free agency, signed a seven-year, $215-million pact that set a record for pitchers at the time. The lesson here is, if you want a long-term deal before reaching free agency from the Dodgers, it’s best to be on a Hall of Fame track.
Had Kershaw gone to market, teams would have bid on an all-world pitcher heading into his age-27 season, which is what awaits Urías at the end of this year. It’s not a perfect comparison, as Kershaw had already won two Cy Young Awards before signing his extension, but it’s close enough to see that Urías is going to cash in this coming offseason. Unless the Dodgers somehow change course and lock up the left-hander now. But the next contract Urías signs will start with a two instead of a one.