Ranking the 10 Most Team-Friendly Deals in MLB
As Bleacher Report MLB Lead Writer Joe Giglio wrote March 7, big-market clubs that have commonly relied on the free-agent market to fill holes could be at a disadvantage if teams continue to lock up their best young players to long-term contracts.
In a matter of three weeks, the Atlanta Braves recently signed four of their core players—Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons and Julio Teheran—to contract extensions that will push their free agency back at least one season.
Clayton Kershaw and Homer Bailey could've very likely been the top two starting pitchers on next offseason's free-agent market. Instead, each signed long-term contract extensions this offseason to keep them in Los Angeles and Cincinnati, respectively, for the next several years.
The St. Louis Cardinals have locked up All-Star Matt Carpenter to a six-year contract extension that pushes his free agency back two seasons, as reported by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. Despite contrary accounts, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports recently reported that the Los Angeles Angels and superstar Mike Trout were discussing a six-year contract extension that would pay him in the neighborhood of $150 million.
While the aforementioned contracts don't necessarily appear to be the most team-friendly deals when compared to others around the league, they can quickly turn "team-friendly" as long as player contracts continue to rise and these players continue to live up to expectations.
That is already the case for several players around the league who signed contract extensions well before becoming eligible for free agency or, in some cases, who signed a major league free-agent deal after coming over from Cuba, Japan or Korea.
Here are the 10 most team-friendly MLB deals.
10. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers
Contract: Six years, $36 million (2013-18)
As is the case with Yu Darvish, factoring in the $25.7 million posting fee it cost the Los Angeles Dodgers to win exclusive negotiation rights with left-hander Hyun-jin Ryu, who was considered the best pitcher in Korea, would push him down this list. And just like Darvish, it might still be a team-friendly deal at just over $10 million per season.
In reality, Ryu is making an average of $6 million per season for his age-26 to age-31 seasons and, if his rookie season of 2013 is any indication, he's worth at least double that amount. The Dodgers were taking a gamble, however, on a pitcher who was relatively unknown.
"Everybody says you don't know, but you have to invest, you have to take a chance," minority owner Magic Johnson said at the time of the deal. "Scouts tell us he's the real deal, we have to believe that ... we have to go for it."
The Dodgers are probably overpaying more than a handful of players, but their international investments—Yasiel Puig and Ryu—are helping to make up for it.
9. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays
Contract: Five years, $14 million (2012-16), plus 2017-2019 club options ($7M; $9M; $10M)
Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria was once considered to have one of, if not the most team-friendly contract in the game after he signed a six-year, $17.5 million extension with three club options less than a week after he made his major league debut during the 2008 season.
But a new contract extension, which begins after the 2016 season and runs through the 2022 season, will guarantee him $43 million during his age-35 and age-36 seasons. That's still team-friendly, but not enough to keep him from dropping off this list.
His teammate, left-handed starter Matt Moore, who also signed the rare contract extension after playing in only a few big league games, could be the Rays' next ace once David Price is traded or departs as a free agent after the 2014 season. And he'd be one of the lowest-paid No. 1 starters in the league with salaries of $1.1 million, $3.1 million and $5.1 million over the next three seasons.
After going 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA and 8.6 K/9 in 2013, Moore's well on his way to having his $26 million in club options exercised for his age-28 to age-30 seasons, which would keep him in Tampa Bay through the 2019 season. He will have earned $40 million over eight year, which is exactly $7 million more than Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw will make in 2017 alone.
8. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
Contract: Five years, $32.5 million (2013-17), plus 2018-2019 club options ($12.5M; $13.5M)
Chris Sale's breakout season in 2012 nearly didn't happen. After five terrific starts to begin the campaign, the 6'6" lefty experienced elbow soreness that caused the Chicago White Sox to move him to the bullpen as a precaution. But after one relief appearance, he talked his way back into the rotation.
He hasn't looked back since. He won 17 games while posting a 3.05 ERA with a 2.4 BB/9 ratio and a 9.0 K/9 mark in 192 innings pitched, resulting in the five-year contract extension prior to the 2013 season and the team buying out the remaining four years of club control. Chicago also has the option of keeping him through his first three years of free agency. Any concerns over his elbow were in the past.
"A pitcher, regardless of his mechanics, there is a risk involved and a concern of potential breakdown," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said, per Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago. "We are confident in Chris' durability and obviously very optimistic about his future."
If Year 1 of the deal was any indication, Hahn was right. Sale proved to be even more durable, finishing the season with 214.1 innings while posting a 3.07 ERA and improving his walk and strikeout rate from the previous season (1.9 BB/9; 9.5 K/9).
By the time he can reach free agency after his age-30 season, Sale will have earned just over $8 million per year throughout the span of his contract.
7. Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers
Contract: Seven years, $42 million (2012-2018)
At the time, $42 million over seven seasons seemed a bit excessive for a 21-year-old kid who was expected to spend the first two years of his contract in the minors and wasn't being nearly as hyped up as fellow Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who had signed a four-year, $36 million deal just months earlier.
But Yasiel Puig made sure the Los Angeles Dodgers were going to get plenty of bang for their buck—and much more.
Not only did he make it to the big leagues last June, he was one of the best hitters in baseball during his four-month stint. He even finished 15th in NL MVP voting despite playing in only 104 games.
And now the Dodgers, who have several of the biggest contracts in baseball included in their league-high $230 million-plus payroll, also have one of the biggest bargains in the game at approximately $7 million per season for Puig's age-23 through age-27 seasons.
6. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
Contract: Five years, $35 million (2012-2017), plus 2018-2019 club options ($12M; $12M)
When the San Francisco Giants signed Madison Bumgarner to his current deal, he was still well short of two full years of big league service and only 22 years old. He had already put together quite a resume, though.
In his lone full big league season, the left-hander finished 11th in NL Cy Young voting after he posted a 3.21 ERA with a 2.0 BB/9 ratio and an 8.4 K/9 rate in 204.2 innings pitched. He made 18 impressive regular-season starts the previous campaign before finishing with an exclamation point by shutting out the Texas Rangers over eight innings in a Game 4 World Series win.
Still, the Giants had plenty of leverage with a young pitcher who was at least one season away from reaching arbitration and five years from free agency. With the risk of injury to pitchers, Bumgarner made a decision based on future security.
"It comes down to what's best for you and your family," Bumgarner said after signing the deal in 2012. "I felt this was the right decision for us to make. I'm excited to be here and not have to worry about that [contractual] stuff now, just go out there and pitch. That's all I need to focus on. It kind of took a weight off my shoulders."
For a total of $1.31 million since the deal was signed, Bumgarner has continued to put up terrific numbers (3.08 ERA, 2.4 BB/9, 8.6 K/9) and has already been named the team's Opening Day starter for 2014. Assuming the two option years are exercised, the Giants will have paid less than $60 million for Bumgarner's age-22 through age-28 seasons.
5. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
Contract: Five years, $32.05 million (2014-18), plus 2019 club option ($14.5M)
It's doubtful that the Arizona Diamondbacks realized that Paul Goldschmidt's "breakout" season of 2012 was just the tip of the iceberg.
After posting an .850 OPS with 20 homers, 43 doubles and 18 stolen bases during his age-24 season, the former eighth-round draft pick looked to be a solid mid-level first baseman who had already come close to reaching his ceiling as a major league hitter. Just prior to the 2013 season, the D'backs bought out his final five years of club control with an option of buying out his first year of free agency.
At the time, it seemed like a good deal for both sides, especially Goldschmidt, who was never considered to be much of a prospect.
"Probably a lot of people didn't give him much of a shot based on where he was drafted," Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers said during a press conference last year, "and all he did was prove people wrong all the way through the minor leagues. They said he couldn't play defense and he ended up being, I think, one of the better defenders at first base in our league."
A year later, we can now say the same thing about his bat. He wasn't only pretty good. He was one of the best hitters in the game last season, posting a .952 OPS with 32 homers, 125 runs batted, 15 stolen bases and garnering an All-Star selection. He also won a Gold Glove and finished second in the NL MVP voting.
At the time of the deal, Goldschmidt said he "couldn't be happier." He'll make over $56 million by the time he hits free agency again entering his age-32 season. He should've been extremely happy. But if he waited one more offseason, he really would've been much, much happier.
4. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
Contract: Six years, $56 million (2012-17)
If you factor in the $51.7 million bid it took for the Texas Rangers to win exclusive negotiating rights from the Nippon-Ham Fighters of the Japan Pacific League, Yu Darvish might not make this list. But the way he's going, he might not be that far off even with a near $20 million per-season commitment.
When just factoring in the 27-year-old's contract, however, it was a no-brainer to be included. In his first two big league seasons, the right-hander has compiled a 29-18 record with a 3.34 ERA, 3.8 BB/9 and 11.2 K/9. He was an All-Star in each season while finishing ninth and second, respectively, in AL Cy Young Award voting.
And the belief is he's only getting better. He also wants to be the best in baseball, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today recently wrote.
His pitching coach certainly seems to be a believer.
"This is a whole different dude now," said Mike Maddux, per Nightengale, who has worked closely with Darvish since. "He gets the program. The first year he got acclimated. The second year was easier. He's motivated."
When Darvish reaches free agency after his age-30 season, it won't be a surprise if he triples the amount of his first team-friendly deal with the Rangers.
3. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays
Contract: Three years, $29 million (2013-15), plus 2016 club option ($10 million)
Edwin Encarnacion's career was at a crossroads during the 2010-2011 offseason. While he was coming off a solid season, posting a .787 OPS with 21 homers in only 96 games, the Blue Jays were unwilling to give him a raise through arbitration on his $5.175 million salary. He was claimed off waivers by the Oakland A's, who were also unwilling to offer him arbitration, and he was let go shortly after.
Just over a month after losing him on waivers, the Blue Jays were able to ultimately able to win the staredown and get their man at a reduced rate by signing Encarnacion to a one-year, $3.25 million deal.
They also came up aces halfway through the season when they signed Encarnacion, who was in the midst of a breakout season, to a contract extension that has turned into one of the most team-friendly contracts in the game.
While it's not uncommon for a player to have one amazing MVP-caliber half in their career—Encarnacion had a .947 OPS with 23 homers in 83 games at the time of the deal—and it's not always the best decision to guarantee $29 million to a player closing in on 30 years of age who hadn't had the kind of track record to indicate that this was the kind of player he would turn into, the Blue Jays had the wherewithal to see it all coming together.
"We've really seen him grow as a player, grow as someone who quietly leads in the clubhouse as well that's very well-respected," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "The ability's always been there. I think it finally started to show at the end of last year and currently now."
For a total of $37 million, the Jays appear likely to get Encarnacion's best years (ages 30-33) as a big leaguer.
2. Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers
Contract: Three years, $24 million (2014-16)
If you weren't sold after Carlos Gomez's terrific second-half performance of 2012, in which he posted an .809 OPS with 14 homers and 26 stolen bases, you weren't alone. He had teased for years and years, and even entering his age-27 season, it was hard to believe he was going to keep it up.
After all, he had 11 walks and 58 strikeouts during that 69-game stint.
The Brewers may have not been sold either, but they knew that his plus defense in center field and spurts of offensive production were enough to merit a $24 million guarantee for his age-28 through age-30 seasons. As it turns out, it may be one of the biggest bargains in baseball, considering what he would've gotten on the open market had he reached free agency.
While he would've still probably would've ranked behind Jacoby Ellsbury, who signed a seven-year, $153 million pact with the New York Yankees, Gomez couldn't have been that far behind after posting an .843 OPS with 24 homers, 27 doubles, 10 triples and 40 stolen bases while winning the NL Gold Glove award for his work in the outfield.
Some may have even preferred Gomez to Ellsbury, who has only showed power in one big league season and was injured in a few others. And yet, the Brewers will pay him an annual average salary of $8 million while Ellsbury will get $21.8 million for his age-30 through age-36 seasons.
1. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Contract: Six years, $51.5 million (2012-2017), plus 2018 club option ($14.75M)
All Andrew McCutchen did in the first two years of a six-year contract extension he signed prior to the 2012 season is post a .932 OPS with an average of 26 homers, 34 doubles, 90 runs batted in and 24 stolen bases. He's been named to the NL All-Star team in each season and has added a Gold Glove and an NL MVP award to what will likely be an impressive trophy case by the time his season ends.
And all the Pittsburgh Pirates have paid their "Face of the Franchise" over those two years is a grand total of $5 million. While his salary will rise in each of the next four seasons, he'll earn less than $67 million for his age-25 through age-31 seasons.
Consider that Mike Trout, who might already be the best player in the game at age 22, could make at least three times that amount by the time he's finished with his age-31 season. And McCutchen probably isn't that far behind in terms of talent and overall impact.