MLB Free Agency 2012: Grading Matt Cain and 10 Biggest Player Extensions

Kyle BrownCorrespondent IIIMay 4, 2012

MLB Free Agency 2012: Grading Matt Cain and 10 Biggest Player Extensions

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    There have been quite a few baseball players who have signed contract extensions with their respective teams in the past couple of months. Some of them will turn out to be solid investments for the team, and others will keep owners and general managers up all night in regret.

    Handing out extensions is risky business.

    Sure, it sends a heartwarming message to the player that the club truly values them and that they don't want to risk losing him via free agency. However, it's very difficult to gauge what the market value will be for a specific player unless they actually hit the open market, so there always runs the risk of overpaying.

    But that is where the hometown discount comes into play, which organizations undoubtedly desire every one of their players to take when signing an extension.

    Players like Jered Weaver, who signed a five-year, $85 million contract last year, is the epitome of a player willing to take a hometown discount. Weaver could've made upwards of $120 million if he wished to test the free-agent market when the time came.

    So while some players elected to take a discount, others held out for what the potential market value could've been had they became a free agent.

    With that in mind, here's a grade for the 10 biggest contract extensions that were handed out recently.

Alcides Escobar: 4 Years, $21 Million

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    With the shortstop position being dry of true superstar talent—Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes are the only two stars at the position—handing out a $21 million contract to an up-and-coming shortstop doesn't seem like that bad of an investment.

    Alcides Escobar, along with Lorenzo Cain, was the main piece in the trade that sent Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers. And while Escobar hasn't quite panned out how the Royals had initially hoped—he's hitting .254 in his career—the Royals certainly see some potential in him.

    It could be that the Royals didn't want to give up on Escobar yet because of his age and potential, but he still hasn't proven that he can hit major-league level pitching yet.

    Grade: C

Erick Aybar: 4 Years, $35 Million

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    Even though Erick Aybar has yet to figure things out at the plate this year, this was still a good extension for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

    Paying a shortstop $8.75 million per year is a lot of money, but Aybar is on the cusp of being considered a top-10 shortstop in the league. He's got the glove, the speed and even showed that he has some pop last season by hitting 10 home runs.

    And when he starts to sort things out that the plate, this guy named Albert Pujols will be knocking him in on a regular basis.

    The Angels got great value by locking up Aybar for four more years.

    Grade: B-

Carlos Santana: 5 Years, $21 Million

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    Paying only $4 million dollars per year for a player who has the potential to become a perennial 30-homer-a-year player sounds like a deal to me.

    Couple that with the fact that Carlos Santana is a catcher and very well could become the face of franchise in a year or two, and I'd say that's a steal.

    There are some concerns when it comes to Santana, however.

    Many thought this collision back in August of 2010 might've been career-threatening, but Santana came back strong in 2011 and smacked 27 home runs. He has also caught 18 games this year, so it looks like he's put the leg injury behind him.

    But how long will he be able to catch for? Will the Cleveland Indians want to move him to first base permanently in the near future to preserve his bat?

    Regardless, Santana has All-Star potential, so paying him $4 million per year is a great deal.

    Grade: A

Madison Bumgarner: 5 Years, $35 Million

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    On the outside, Madison Bumgarner's five-year extension worth $35 million looks like highway robbery.

    However, Bumgarner has the ability to drastically increase his annual salary towards the end of his contract. Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News explains:

    The 2018 option can be picked up by the Giants or vest if Bumgarner hits innings marks, and the 2019 option is team-controlled. Both options are worth $12 million but can escalate to $14 million if Bumgarner finishes in the top three in Cy Young Award voting or $16 million if he wins one.

    Bumgarner, 22, has already proven that he can pitch, and pitch well, at the major league level.

    He had a K/9 ratio of 8.40 and a BB/9 ratio of 2.02 last year, which means he possesses the ability to strike batters out and limit his walk totals at the same time. In fact, Madison Bumgarner was only one of five pitchers who placed in the top 20 of both K/9 and BB/9 in 2011.

    Who were the other four?

    Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander and Cliff Lee.

    Impressive company, I'd say.

    Grade: A+

Andrew McCutchen: 6 Years, $51 Million

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    Andrew McCutchen is the face of the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization, so locking him up was a must. McCutchen is largely the only reason why fans are going to the ballpark anyways, and the Pirates needed to recognize this.

    The Pirates' young center fielder also possess all of the tools to become one of the better all-around players in the game. In other words, he is a five-tool player, and those don't come around too often.

    Now let's just hope that the Pirates surround McCutchen with some talent.

    Grade: A-

Brandon Phillips: 6 Years, $72.5 Million

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    If you want consistency, Brandon Phillips is your guy.

    Phillips has been one of the best all-around second baseman in baseball for the past six years and hasn't really taken a year off.

    He has averaged over 20 home runs per season since 2006, which is a incredible feat coming from a second baseman—a position that isn't necessarily known for its power.

    Phillips also has everything you want in a baseball player, and that was made evident after he was able to place new Gold Glove and Silver Slugger trophies on his mantle from 2011, along with another All-Star appearance.

    Phillips also seems like a great guy; you can see so for yourself by following him on Twitter @DatDudeBP.

    Grade: A-

Ian Kinsler: 5 Years, $75 Million

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    There is no doubting that Ian Kinsler is an intricate part of the Texas Rangers' success. He is an excellent defensive second baseman and is widely regarded as one of the best power-hitting middle infielders in the game.

    Kinsler, 29, is also in the middle of his prime, which makes it an excellent signing for the Rangers.

    Paying him $75 million over five years is a lot of money, but he is one of three second baseman worth that type of money—Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia being the others.

    Grade: B+

Pablo Sandoval: 3 Years, $17 Million

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    Pablo Sandoval is the San Francisco Giants offense. Buster Posey has been great, but nine RBI for a cleanup hitter 25 games into the season just isn't going to cut it.

    When the Giants gave Sandoval the three-year extension, it was predominantly to buy out the remaining years of his arbitration eligibility. Nonetheless, paying the Kung Fu Panda roughly $5.5 million dollars per year is quite a bargain, especially considering he has emerged as a top-five third baseman in the league.

    He even had a 20-game hit streak to start the season, which pretty much sums up what Sandoval has done offensively this year.

    However, Sandoval did fracture the hamate bone in his left wrist a couple of days ago, so now he is expected to miss four to six weeks.

    It was only last year when Sandoval broke the hamate bone in his right wrist. And considering there are so many bones in the human hand and wrist, it's quite a coincidence that the same exact bone on the other wrist was broken only a year prior.

    But regardless of his recent injury, Sandoval is still a magnificent player and well worthy of the contract extension he received.

    Grade: A

Joey Votto: 10 Years, $225 Million

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    The Cincinnati Reds dished out a lot of money to make Joey Votto a Red for life.

    While the $22.5 million per year figure doesn't bother me, the 10 years does. Votto is already 28 years old, and will be 39 by the time his contract his up. And in today's age when steroids in baseball aren't as prevalent, the typical baseball player's productivity will start to decline when they're around 35 years old.

    However, when looking at the contract today, the Reds are paying over $20 million a year for a top-10 offensive player in baseball. And in today's age, that's what you need to pay to keep those players around.

    Grade: B

Matt Cain: 5 Years, $112 Million

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    The San Francisco Giants made Matt Cain the richest right-handed pitcher in baseball history, and he is certainly worthy of such a contract.

    First of all, when looking outside of just the win-loss column, Cain has quietly been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball.

    He had a 2.88 ERA in 2011 and had the third-most quality starts in baseball with 26. Only Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver had more, which makes it quite a telling statistic.

    But most importantly, Cain is making a case to become the ace of the staff in the midst of Tim Lincecum's recent struggles. Whether or not he'll be considered as such during his tenure with the Giants remains to be seen because as long as Lincecum is on the team, he'll likely remain the ace regardless of what transpires. Two Cy Young awards will do that.

    However, Cain already has two nine-inning shutout performances this season and a dominant ERA of 2.35.

    And with no history of injury problems, Cain is worth every penny that the Giants will pay him over the next six years.

    Grade: A-