2012 MLB Spring Training: Ranking and Grading Extensions Handed out This Winter

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst IMarch 6, 2012

2012 MLB Spring Training: Ranking and Grading Extensions Handed out This Winter

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    Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates agreed to a huge six-year contract extension Sunday, according to Michael Sanserino of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Pirates also have an option for McCutchen's services in 2018, at $14.75 million. 

    The deal buys out the final four seasons during which the Pirates would have controlled McCutchen as it was and secures two years of what would have been free agency for McCutchen—three, assuming the team scoops up its option.

    It was a major move, a show of good faith by the Pirates and a big step in their slow trudge back to relevance. As important was it was, though, it was roughly a third the value of the biggest extension handed out to a centerfielder this offseason. The Dodgers got Matt Kemp on a very different sort of extension, buying his final controlled year and seven free-agent seasons for $160 million.

    One of the major themes of the past winter in MLB has been that teams are more eager than ever to commit to extensions that cover multiple seasons for their best players, whether to obtain a discount on arbitration-eligible players or to lock them up without letting them hit the free-agent market.

    Sometimes, those moves are great ones. To speak generally, the earlier a player signs a deal, the better that deal turns out to be for the team. Other deals make little sense or are simply massive overpays.

    Here are rankings and grades for the 26 multi-year extensions signed so far this winter, from one end of the spectrum to the other.

26. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals

1 of 26

    Base: Six years, $100 million

    Option: Team, one year, $24 million

    Distance From Free Agency: Two years

    Notes: Does not replace current deal, which runs through 2013. Begins in 2014.

    Analysis: Zimmerman is a great player, but health is a constant question for him. Third basemen have had a hard time staying healthy league-wide over the last half-decade, and Zimmerman is no exception. He might move to first base in a year or two, but at that point, his bat only potentially supports the kind of money Washington gave him.

    This feels like a team getting ahead of itself, as Zimmerman was two years from free agency and should have had to first prove his good health for a season before getting a deal this rich.

    Grade: D

25. Yadier Molina, Cardinals

2 of 26

    Base: Five years, $75 million

    Option: Team, one year, $15 million

    Distance From Free Agency: One year

    Notes: Does not replace 2012 deal. Will begin in 2013.

    Analysis: Molina will turn 30 this summer and begin getting paid at this handsome rate next spring. He is a very good contact hitter, though a big part of his 2012 breakout was a .311 batting average on balls in play. That's thoroughly unsustainable for Molina.

    His defense backslid slightly in 2011, and while that's only a minor concern for now, it leads one to wonder what kind of defender he will be as he moves into his mid-30s. That is the primary source of his value, so the risk here seems unseemly.

    Grade: D

24. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

3 of 26

    Base: Two years, $19 million

    Distance From Free Agency: Three years

    Analysis: This move reeks of Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, the worst executive in sports. With Kershaw coming off a Cy Young-winning, sparkling season at a very young age and entering arbitration eligibility for the first time, Colletti was wise to bring his young southpaw to the table. Once he got there, though, he botched a situation in which he should have had some leverage.

    The Dodgers had a chance to buy out all of Kershaw's arbitration-eligible seasons, avoiding the potentially huge cost of a final trip through the process for Kershaw as something like a two-time Cy Young and three-time strikeout champion. Kershaw would not have given away free-agent seasons this winter anyway, but certainly wanted security beyond 2012.

    In order to get it, he ought to have had to give the Dodgers all three of his arbitration-eligible seasons. Colletti should have flatly rejected any deal that didn't buy him out of the arbitration process for good. Given the extremely heavy workloads Kershaw has borne at a young age, it wouldn't have been so bad if no extension had gotten done and the two sides had shared the risk of Kershaw getting injured. Instead, Colletti gave his ace security without obtaining cost certainty.

    Grade: D+

23. Nick Masset, Reds

4 of 26

    Base: Two years, $5.5 million

    Distance From Free Agency: Two years

    Notes: Masset was a Super Two player, so this deal buys out his third and fourth trips through arbitration.

    Analysis: This deal is about cost certainty. Reds GM Walt Jocketty has engaged in a smart but dangerous gambit, whereby (it seems) he will try to win something meaningful over the next two years with a core he strengthened this winter. To Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce, Jocketty added Mat Latos, Ryan Madson and Sean Marshall.

    Because the Reds operate on a fairly tight budget, though, Jocketty needed to establish a budget for 2013 and ensure he could keep the team together in case the whole thing doesn't work the first time around. To do that, he moved to grab discounts on some incumbent members of his 2013 bullpen by offering them money guaranteed a year ahead of time.

    Masset is not an awful investment, but the move is not strategically sound. Relievers are so fickle and replaceable that giving non-elite bullpen men any multi-year security is a sub-optimal choice.

    Grade: C-

22. Jose Arredondo, Reds

5 of 26

    Base: Two years, $2 million

    Distance From Free Agency: Four years

    Notes: Arredondo qualified as a Super Two player this winter before getting this deal.

    Analysis: All the same principles as those that define Masset's deal apply, but since Arredondo will cost much less, this deal is slightly better. He's a really nice little bullpen sleeper, but this deal would be better if it were bigger and bought more time.

    Grade: C-

21. Kyle Kendrick, Phillies

6 of 26

    Base: Two years, $7.5 million

    Distance From Free Agency: Three years

    Notes: As a Super Two player, Kendrick was due to go through arbitration for the second time this winter.

    Analysis: Of all the trends in the growing extension market, the least intelligent is that whereby teams decide to commit more than a year at a time to a minor role player matriculating through arbitration. At the high end, the arbitration process has become quite lucrative, but in general, it still does a good job of limiting the value and salary of players who offer anything short of elite value at premium spots. 

    This deal doesn't make a ton of sense because Kendrick is fundamentally expendable for the Phillies. He's a fringe starter with a better chance of spending this season in the bullpen. Giving him two years where one would have done just as well only signifies the lack of confidence the organization must have in re-signing Cole Hamels. If that's so, it's entirely their own fault, and that logic does not make Kendrick's signing a sound decision.

    Grade: C-

20. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals

7 of 26

    Base: Five years, $42 million

    Options: One team, $12 million, one player, $12 million

    Distance From Free Agency: Four years

    Notes: Gonzalez would have been first-time arbitration eligible for 2012 as a Super Two player, so all four pre-free agency years in this deal are also arbitration-eligible years.

    Analysis: Having dealt four of their top 10 prospects for Gonzalez, the Nationals had already demonstrated faith and confidence in his abilities. They affirmed their high valuation of him with this extension, which basically allows them control of two free-agent seasons at $24 million (the second year and half the money optional). 

    In so doing, though, they also guaranteed Gonzalez $29 million over the next four years, during which time he would have otherwise been arbitration-eligible. That's no discount. Any guarantee to a pitcher who relies so heavily on power and a curveball is a major risk.

    Grade: C-

19. Tony Gwynn, Dodgers

8 of 26

    Base: Two years, $2 million

    Distance From Free Agency: Two years

    Analysis: This one rates out as average because it's hard to feel passionate about it at all. It's likely Gwynn will earn $2 million over the next two seasons since that's the equivalent of about half a win in the modern market. It's thoroughly unlikely he will do anything more. It's unclear why Los Angeles felt the need to commit a roster spot to Gwynn in 2013, but also clear that they can easily cut bait if they have anything better by then.

    Grade: C

18. Nelson Cruz, Rangers

9 of 26

    Base: Two years, $16 million

    Distance From Free Agency: Two years

    Analysis: Texas didn't really accomplish much here. The goal of the contract was simply to tilt more of the money Cruz would make over the final two years of arbitration from 2012 into 2013, and they did so. He will get $5.5 million this year and $10.5 million next.

    Maybe that was very important to the Rangers; they did spend over $60 million on Yu Darvish this winter. However, it seems like Cruz has tremendous potential, and the Rangers might have been wise to push harder for a deal that bought a free-agent year or two. Their huge TV deal kicks in in 2014, so they could have back-loaded a contract even more and still kept Cruz happy. This solution isn't that bad, though.

    Grade: C

17. Casey Janssen, Blue Jays

10 of 26

    Base: Two years, $5.9 million

    Option: Team, one year, $4 million

    Distance From Free Agency: One year

    Analysis: Quietly, Janssen has developed into a real weapon out of the Toronto bullpen. He throws a much more varied set of pitches than most relievers, and though he doesn't miss a ton of bats with that repertoire, he also can get batters out on both sides of the plate, and his critical skills provide sound support for his quality numbers.

    On the other hand, scarcely one of every 24 fly balls by opponents left the park against Janssen last year. That will be tough to sustain. He's also still a relief pitcher.

    Grade: C+

16. Skip Schumaker, Cardinals

11 of 26

    Base: Two years, $3 million

    Distance From Free Agency: One year

    Analysis: Bargain-basement prices on renewals and extensions for their own players are not new to the Cardinals. Guys love to be there, and get opportunities there as part of the Cardinal philosophy that they would never get elsewhere. The organization is just as loyal, and so, even role players often stick around for years.

    That has happened again in the case of Schumaker. He's not a special player, nor even a positive contributor to a serious contender, but he does a few things fairly well and fits in on the club.

    He didn't get much money, so although this is a strikingly similar deal to the one Gwynn and the Dodgers struck, the difference in what must be expected of any contract into which those two teams enter makes at least a few spots' difference. 

    Grade: C+

15. Sean Marshall, Reds

12 of 26

    Base: Three years, $16.5 million

    Distance From Free Agency: One year

    Notes: The deal begins in 2013, after the completion of Marshall's current pact.

    Analysis: Elite relievers are different from all others. If a relief pitcher is not one of the 10 best in baseball, he should not get any substantial guaranteed money for years into the future. Marshall, though, is right on the edge of that group, or else is already inside it.

    He does everything well, with solid command and the mentality of a starter. He doesn't have a big fastball or an ideal fail-safe pitch, but he uses his frame well, is not likely to get hurt and has a devastating curve. This deal is markedly better than those to which the Reds signed Masset and Arredondo.

    Grade: C+

14. Elvis Andrus, Rangers

13 of 26

    Base: Three years, $14.40 million

    Distance From Free Agency: Three years

    Analysis: On one hand, Andrus is going to be worth much more than $14.4 million over the next three years. He's a solid defensive shortstop, good on-base guy and speed demon on the base paths. Last year, he also began to discover that he must hit for at least a little bit of power in order to gain pitchers' respect and keep getting on base.

    On the other hand, the Rangers might have been able to get Andrus for roughly what they spent to lock him up on this contract. The arbitration system does not properly reward players for their positional, defensive and base-running value, and those are Andrus' primary skills.

    It's possible the deal is about cost certainty, moving money into the future instead of paying up front, or even goodwill for future negotiations of a longer-term pact. For now, though, it's an undistinguished deal.

    Grade: C+

13. Ryan Vogelsong, Giants

14 of 26

    Base: Two years, $8.3 million

    Option: Team, one year, $6.5 million

    Distance From Free Agency: One year

    Analysis: The Giants found Vogelsong on the scrap heap and helped him turn his career around, so they clearly feel very positively about him. Vogelsong showed his appreciation for the organization giving him that chance by signing what looks like a relatively team-friendly deal. The club option for 2014 really helps.

    Still, there's an element of risk here, as Vogelsong's long saga prior to establishing himself leads to legitimate questions about his long-term viability.

    Grade: B-

12. Sergio Santos, Blue Jays

15 of 26

    Base: Three years, $8.25 million

    Options: Team, three years, $15.5 million

    Distance From Free Agency: Four years

    Analysis: This is a pre-arbitration extension, and those tend to be team-friendly. When Santos signed with the White Sox after the season, Chicago got a great value. The more team options any deal has, the more flexible that deal is for the team, so the Sox had the ideal blend of control and leeway when they inked Santos to this contract. 

    It seems altogether possible that the Blue Jays traded Nestor Molina not so much for Santos, but for the delightful contract on which he will play for the next half-decade.

    Grade: B-

11. Tim Lincecum, Giants

16 of 26

    Base: Two years, $40.5 million

    Distance from Free Agency: Two years

    Notes: The years covered represent the third and fourth times through the arbitration process for Lincecum, a Super Two player.

    Analysis: Lincecum will get $20 million-plus in 2013 under the terms of this deal, which is a lot to commit to any pitcher without asking that pitcher to surrender much of anything. There are no precedents in place for the kind of money Lincecum could make through arbitration, but it's tough to imagine him making much more even if the Giants had let that process play out.

    In return for getting that extra year of security ahead of time, Lincecum ought to have had to give up a free-agent season, too. The Giants did fine by locking him up, because one never knows for how much Lincecum might have been able to file in arbitration in 2013, but they likely saved less than $3 million and made a large commitment to make that small savings.

    Grade: B-

10. Michael Morse, Nationals

17 of 26

    Base: Two years, $10.5 million

    Distance from Free Agency: Two years

    Analysis: After a monstrous breakout season, Morse was in position to get paid in a big way this winter. His stats were excellent in the areas the arbitration process rewards most, and he had already been through the process once, so he had a platform from which to jump.

    The Nationals did well to manage the potential cost of Morse's final seasons of arbitration eligibility. He was a player poised to take advantage of the system's biases, and Washington got him at a truer estimate of his market worth.

    Grade: B

9. Pablo Sandoval, Giants

18 of 26

    Base: Three years, $17.5 million

    Distance from Free Agency: Three years

    Analysis: If one believes Sandoval's excellence is sustainable, San Francisco got a terrific deal with this extension. The skill set in question has belonged to just one truly successful player in the last 20 years, and his name is Vladimir Guerrero. Sandoval has a chance to be as good as Guerrero, but he also has a chance to be as bad as Wilson Betemit. In neither case are the Giants really wrong to enter into this deal, but the difference is palpable.

    Grade: B

8. Matt Kemp, Dodgers

19 of 26

    Base: Eight years, $160 million

    Distance from Free Agency: One year

    Analysis: Kemp's contract pays just $10 million in 2012 in order to make the fiscal year's bottom line attractive to prospective buyers. That means he sold his first seven free-agent seasons for $150 million, or roughly what Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford have recently gotten.

    That's about right. Kemp currently plays a premium position, which neither of the above do, but he may need to move to a corner outfield spot soon. He's a good hitter, but probably not as good as he looked in 2011 (when his .380 batting average on balls in play inflated his average and OBP).

    The X-factor is his durability. He has played at least 155 games four years running. If Kemp can sustain his durability, he should be worth the lucrative deal. 

    Grade: B

7. John Danks, White Sox

20 of 26

    Base: Five years, $65 million

    Distance from Free Agency: One year

    Analysis: Chicago would have been better off trading Danks and reloading its farm system. That's the first thing that must be said. Since they couldn't find a deal palatable to GM Ken Williams, though, they did fairly well when it comes to the terms they eventually found with Danks, their best starter.

    Danks is a sound pitcher, and if he had reached free agency after the season, he would have been in line for something more like what C.J. Wilson got this winter (five years, $77.5 million) than what Mark Buehrle got (four years, $58 million). Yet Danks will get $57 million over the four free-agent years the Sox secured.

    Grade: B

6. Salvador Perez, Royals

21 of 26

    Base: Five years, $7 million

    Options: Team, three years, $14.75 million

    Distance from Free Agency: Six years

    Analysis: The poorer a franchise is, the sooner they need to lock up a player if they want to avoid leading them through arbitration and losing them via free agency. Of the top six extensions signed this winter, four were for pre-arbitration players on small-market teams. Large-market teams need not risk their money so early on, nor commit to players whose careers might yet go off the tracks.

    The Royals, though, did well to lock up Perez without making what constitutes a major commitment in a modern baseball economy. They can pick up his options if it suits them, but have only committed $7 million to him thus far. It could turn out to be as good a deal as the (considerably richer, for a considerably better player) Evan Longoria contract the Rays wrangled in 2008.

    Grade: B+

5. Cameron Maybin, Padres

22 of 26

    Base: Five years, $25 million

    Option: Team, one year, $7.5 million

    Distance from Free Agency: Four years

    Analysis: Maybin is young, sensationally athletic and (thanks to the dampening effect of PETCO Park on offense) much better at the bat than he appears. Locking him up was a minor coup for the Padres.

    They clearly believe he can develop even further offensively and that his defensive value and speed will hold up for the next several years. It's dangerous to assume that, because Maybin is a big young man, but they're probably right. One guaranteed free-agent season and a team option on a contract totaling only $32.5 million is a good bargain.

    Grade: B+

4. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

23 of 26

    Base: Six years, $51.5 million

    Option: Team, one year, $14.75 million

    Distance from Free Agency: Four years

    Analysis: Few players in baseball are more fun to watch than McCutchen. He plays hard, has awesome speed and is learning to thump the baseball authoritatively. He's still getting better, and unlike Kemp, is not likely to need to move off center field at any point. He draws walks and is as well-rounded as perhaps any young position player in baseball.

    This contract breezes through his final pre-arbitration season, all three arbitration seasons and two free-agent years, and gives Pittsburgh optional control of his third free-agent year. It's a statement signing and a landmark moment in the rebuilding of the franchise.

    Grade: A-

3. Howie Kendrick, Angels

24 of 26

    Base: Four years, $33.5 million

    Distance from Free Agency: One year

    Analysis: Kendrick finally put everything together in 2011. He had been promising for years, but struggled to stay healthy and to find his offensive identity. It's now clear who he is: an aggressive batter with good (but not great) power, good (but not great) speed and occasional contact problems.

    He's a tremendous defensive second baseman, though. He's very good at a few positions. He is well-rounded, and after playing an average of 149 games the last two years, he seems to be more durable than he first appeared. This deal is a bargain so long as his breakout was even mostly real.

    Grade: A-

2. Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays

25 of 26

    Base: Three years, $21 million

    Option: Team, one year, $10 million

    Distance from Free Agency: Two years

    Analysis: Morrow has made strides to improve his command. He's gotten more efficient on the mound, allowing him to make longer starts. He's also developing feel for his pitches that makes them even harder to square up than they already were. His stuff is electric.

    As natural as comparisons are between Justin Verlander and Nolan Ryan, if a Ryan or Randy Johnson archetype—a late-blooming superstar with truly enormous strikeout potential—is out there in the game right now, it's Brandon Morrow. The deal to which the Blue Jays inked him to lock up two free-agent years with flexibility on the back end is sensational.

    Grade: A

1. Matt Moore, Rays

26 of 26

    Base: Five years, $14 million

    Options: Team, three years, $26 million

    Distance from Free Agency: Six years

    Analysis: This is the Evan Longoria deal, only from the pitcher's mound. Moore is the game's best pitching prospect, though that's a peculiar characterization for someone who has already dominated the league in both the regular season and the postseason.

    Moore is an awesome talent, but he still may not work out. Because the Rays found him in the later rounds of the amateur draft, though, they were dealing with a player who had not yet had any opportunity to make MLB's mega-bucks.

    Moore was a diamond in the rough, and the Rays easily bought him off on a contract that even Moore surely knows is much less pricey than the ones he could have gotten through trips to arbitration and the open market. If he burns out, Tampa will have lost very little. If he explodes into stardom, they will have saved eight figures within the guaranteed part of the deal alone.

    Moore's comfortable for life, but no one is sleeping better over this deal than Rays GM Andrew Friedman. 

    Grade: A