Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Young MLB Stars Next in Line for Contract ExtensionsDecember 13, 2021
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Young MLB Stars Next in Line for Contract Extensions
As easy as it is to get distracted by the free-agent megadeals procured by Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Javier Baez and Max Scherzer, perhaps the most important contract signed this winter was an extension.
Namely, the 11-year, $182 million deal that the Tampa Bay Rays did with wunderkind shortstop Wander Franco. That nearly doubled the previous record for a player with less than a year of service time, which pretty much confirms that young talent is still the most valuable currency in MLB today.
And so we ask: Who's next?
We've rounded up eight young stars—i.e., stars who won't be older than 25 for most of the 2022 season—who are next in line for contract extensions. We also ranked them according to how much pressure their teams should be feeling to get something done.
But first, some honorable mentions who all happen to be pitchers.
RHP Ian Anderson, Atlanta
He boasts a 3.25 ERA through his first 30 career starts, which isn't even counting his 1.25 ERA in eight postseason outings. All he really needs to do is prove he can handle a full season's worth of starting assignments.
RHP Casey Mize, Detroit Tigers
The No. 1 pick from the 2018 draft probably hasn't broken all the way out yet, but he took a good first step with a 3.71 ERA this season. Once he does show proper ace-caliber upside, the Tigers shouldn't wait long to lock him atop their rotation for the long haul.
LHP Trevor Rogers, Miami Marlins
The Marlins just extended Sandy Alcantara, so Rogers is next in line for his own deal. After posting a 2.64 ERA and finishing second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2021, he's another guy who just needs to pass the workload test.
LHP Julio Urias, Los Angeles Dodgers
Inasmuch as a guy can ever rack up a 20-3 record in quiet fashion, Urias sure did this year. Yet the Dodgers are strangely averse to long-term extensions, and it's hard to imagine them breaking from that habit unless Urias takes still another step toward proper acehood in 2022.
RHP Logan Webb, San Francisco Giants
He was a delightful surprise during the regular season, and even more so in the playoffs as he fired 14.2 innings of one-run ball in two outings. If he stays on this track into 2022, an extension will go from a good idea to a must-have for the Giants.
8. 2B Jonathan India, Cincinnati Reds
Service Time: 1.000 Years
Free Agent: 2027
Even before Jonathan India captured the NL Rookie of the Year for 2021 in November, one of his former teammates was calling on the Cincinnati Reds to lock him up.
"The Reds better shape up and extend this man very quickly, or he's going to become too expensive," said Nick Castellanos, per Adam Baum of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Jonathan India is a very, very good baseball player, and he's going to get better."
Clearly, Castellanos saw what everyone else saw this year. Especially after India moved into the leadoff spot on June 5, after which he posted a .382 OBP with 17 home runs in 105 games. Even if this is his ceiling and not his floor, that's still a guy to build a lineup around.
The most relevant precedent for a possible extension for India is the seven-year, $35 million deal that Ozzie Albies signed with Atlanta in 2019. Maybe the Reds like the sound of that, but India would be justified if he doesn't want to sell himself short.
It is, of course, possible that the Reds will pay him his proper market value. It's just unlikely while the team is in the middle of a payroll crunch.
7. 3B Austin Riley, Atlanta
Service Time: 2.138 Years
Free Agent: 2026
In spite of the vaguely icky quality of Ozzie Albies' well-below-market contract, it's to Atlanta's credit that it's not shy about locking up players under its control.
To wit, Albies' contract came mere days after Ronald Acuna Jr. set what was then a record for a player with less than a year of service time by signing a $100 million deal. More recently, Atlanta locked up Travis d'Arnaud and Charlie Morton before they could reach free agency.
Might Austin Riley be next?
After experiencing growing pains in 2019 and 2020, he busted out by hitting .303/.367/.531 with 33 home runs this season. He also made substantial defensive strides throughout the year, ultimately co-leading third basemen with five outs above average in September.
On paper, Yoan Moncada's five-year, $70 million extension with the Chicago White Sox and Alex Bregman's five-year, $100 million pact with the Houston Astros are targets for Riley. But at least while Freddie Freeman remains unsigned, whether Atlanta is willing to go to either height is a big question.
6. RF Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros
Service Time: 2.079 Years
Free Agent: 2026
A fun fact about Kyle Tucker is that he was the best hitter in the American League for most of 2021.
He was cold in April, but he then ripped off a .320/.387/.600 slash line and an AL-best 166 wRC+ after May. He stayed hot into the postseason, where he all but punched the Houston Astros' ticket to the World Series with a home run in Game 6 of the ALCS.
A 24-year-old with a rising profile as a star? That's what the Astros had in Alex Bregman after 2018, and they reacted accordingly by inking him to a nine-figure contract.
There would seem to be a decent chance of the Astros pulling off the same play with Tucker in the near future. It would, after all, be a way to achieve significant cost control over a player whose trendline may not be finished going up.
The man himself, though, might benefit from waiting a year. Once he's eligible for arbitration in 2023, he'll have more negotiating leverage by virtue of being that much closer to free agency and due for a significant raise regardless.
5. DH Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros
Service Time: 2.113 Years
Free Agent: 2026
Though Kyle Tucker is the better overall player, the Astros might see Yordan Alvarez as a more pressing extension candidate because he's the more established star.
Indeed, Alvarez has been one of the best hitters in baseball on either side of a 2020 season cut short by dual knee surgeries. He won the AL Rookie of the Year in 2019 on the heels of a .313/.412/.655 batting line and was plenty good again in 2021 as he racked up an .877 OPS and 33 homers.
It's likewise encouraging that last year's knee trouble didn't stop Alvarez from playing in 144 games this season. And he was still going strong in the playoffs, notably winning the ALCS MVP on the strength of a 1.408 OPS.
Regarding a possible extension for Alvarez, the hard part is how few precedents there are for players like him. Maybe the only recent one is the six-year, $83 million deal that Wil Myers, himself a former Rookie of the Year with an offense-heavy skill set, signed with the San Diego Padres in 2017.
Since Alvarez is a year younger now than Myers was then, he might aim for at least that much once he and the Astros come to the negotiating table.
4. SS Bo Bichette, Toronto Blue Jays
Service Time: 2.063 Years
Free Agent: 2026
Suffice it to say, now is a very good time to be a talented young shortstop in MLB.
This year alone, five 20-something shortstops have signed deals worth a combined $1.3 billion over 51 years. What's more, only two of those deals went to free agents. The other three were extensions.
Meanwhile in Toronto, the Blue Jays actually approached Bo Bichette about an extension after Fernando Tatis Jr. inked his whopping 14-year, $340 million deal with the Padres back in February. It's good for Bichette, though, that he didn't sign anything then and there.
After showing signs of star potential in 2019 and 2020, he fully realized it in 2021, hitting .298 with 29 home runs and 25 stolen bases. His defense was suspect, yet the Blue Jays nonetheless say they're committed to him as their shortstop of the future.
If so, perhaps they'll be willing to prove it by locking up Bichette for the long haul. From his perspective, it should cost them somewhere between Wander Franco and Tatis money to do so.
3. 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
Service Time: 2.157 Years
Free Agent: 2026
In addition to Bo Bichette, the Blue Jays also have a certain AL MVP runner-up who needs extending.
Frankly, too much was made of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s "disappointing" first two seasons. Did he immediately live up to his status as baseball's No. 1 prospect? No. But nor did he fall flat, as a 109 OPS+ and 24 homers are perfectly acceptable numbers for a 183-game sample.
After turning 22 in March of this year, Guerrero promptly made the leap to superstardom by hitting .311 and leading the AL in home runs, runs, OBP, slugging, OPS and total bases. He was never going to beat Shohei Ohtani for the AL MVP, yet he would have been a deserving winner in most other seasons.
To find a relevant extension for Guerrero, we have to go back to when Atlanta extended Freddie Freeman for eight years and $135 million in 2014. Freeman was more established then than Guerrero is now, but the latter is younger and has teased an even higher offensive ceiling.
Something in the neighborhood of a $200 million guarantee seems fair for Guerrero. If not before next season, then maybe after it with his first year of arbitration-eligibility looming.
2. 3B Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox
Service Time: 4.070 Years
Free Agent: 2024
If we were making a list of the most purely entertaining hitters in baseball today, Rafael Devers would have to be near the top.
The Boston Red Sox slugger isn't the most refined master of the strike zone, but he has a gift for making sure that his hard swings don't come up empty. He owns more hard-hit balls than anyone since 2019 and, unsurprisingly, the most extra-base hits and total bases as well.
Among third basemen, the seven-year, $234 million extension that Nolan Arenado signed with the Colorado Rockies in February 2019 is the pie in the sky. Devers is further away from free agency now than Arenado was then, but he's also three years younger.
The catch, of course, is that Devers isn't Arenado in the field. Quite the opposite, in fact, as his routinely poor metrics keep a possible move to first base within the realm of possibility.
Regardless, the Red Sox probably won't get anything done with Devers unless they offer him a nine-figure deal that at least starts with a 2.
1. RF Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
Service Time: 3.134 Years
Free Agent: 2025
Here's a complete list of players who've ever logged 2,000 plate appearances and a 160 OPS+ by their age-22 season:
- Ty Cobb
- Mike Trout
- Juan Soto
That's it. That's the whole list. And of these three players, Soto is the only one who has these numbers and a World Series ring.
It therefore should go without saying that the Washington Nationals should want to build around Soto for as long as they can. Ideally, they would at least match the record-setting length of Fernando Tatis Jr.'s 14-year pact with the Padres.
The $340 million that Tatis secured, however, probably won't cut it for Soto. That's not even $25 million per year, which in itself is only about half of what Soto was hypothetically worth as he hit 29 homers and led MLB with a .465 OBP in 2021.
Which is to say that if ever there was a candidate for baseball's first $400 million contract, it's Soto.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.