By: Noah Wright
This past month, we have seen so many extensions. Max Kepler, Aaron Nola, Luis Severino, and Jorge Polanco were extended in the beginning of February. The past few weeks, we’ve seen the Yankees extend 4.7 bWAR CF Aaron Hicks on the 25th, the Cardinals extend 2018 breakout starting pitcher Miles Mikolas on the same day as the Rockies extended one of the brightest stars in the game, third baseman Nolan Arenado. Today, the Rangers extended 25 year old right hander Jose LeClerc. Throughout the off season, the Indians decided to give a very team friendly deal to starter Carlos Carrasco, and the Royals gave a valuable extension to second baseman Whit Merrifield.
On the free agent side, teams are getting smarter and smarter. Teams no longer are very willing to give guys like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado $300 million, 10 year deals. While Machado got the 10 years, $300 million, it wasn’t without a long and tedious trip through free agency. Harper just signed the largest free agent contract in the history of baseball, but that was after a week into Spring Training. However these 2 aren’t the worst cases this year in free agency. Barley any teams have been connected to all-star closer Craig Kimbrel. Dallas Keuchel’s free agency trip has been as slow as trying to trudge through mud while dragging cinder blocks behind you. Even then, there are guys like Neil Walker and Greg Holland last year whose season was affected because they were signed at the end of spring training. But like I said earlier, teams are becoming wiser. They’ve seen the ripple effects of contracts like Albert Pujols, Chris Davis, and Zack Greinke, where the player might have a good year or two during their 8 to 10 year contract, then completely drop off, but are still getting paid like their former selves. Even contracts like Greinke’s are hurting the team in the drop that will eventually happen. Plus, the large contracts are immovable. No way the Padres will ever be able to trade Manny Machado unless he’s still a top 10 mlb player by the time he’s 35-36. Another example is the Yankees will never be able to move Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees only took Stanton’s contract because they were able to move some payroll around, and he was willing to waive his no trade clause for them. Even then it’s going to be negatively impactful in the long run. Eventually, they’ll probably want to look into extensions with Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez if he bounces back, Gleyber Torres, and likely look into a contract with soon to be free agent shortstop Didi Gregorius.
So if you couldn’t tell by now, all these extensions are very impactful to future free agency. Players are likely becoming more tepid about free agency. They see stars like Bryce Harper not signing until like spring training. With the slow down of free agency, we’re going to see star players trying to avoid free agency more and more.
However, with more extensions to star players, that’s going to decrease the amount of players entering free agency every season. But this isn’t the end of free agency. Sure, there will be less MVP caliber players on the market, but let’s look at all of the most recent signings. Aaron Hicks and Luis Severino signed extensions with a stacked Yankee team. Arenado’s extension comes off the heels of the Rockies second straight playoff berth. Aaron Nola’s extension came after an off season where the Phillies signed Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson, and acquired J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, James Pazos, and Jose Alvarez through trade. Carlos Carrasco’s extension from the Indians helps load up on a pitching rotation that doesn’t need a deep pen to carry them. Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco’s Twins are looking to return to the postseason during 2019. Except for Jose Leclerc, and Whit Merrifield, most extensions are with very good teams. Even then, both signed extensions, further increasing their value if they were to be traded.
Free agency will still happen. Bad teams will still have good players who want to leave. If the Angles don’t do something fast, Mike Trout could be one of those players. Machado was one of those players this past offseason after multiple seasons with the Orioles. Even then, not all good players on good teams will reach extensions. Red Sox’ ace Chris Sale, while extension talks haven’t really went further than both parties have shown mutual interest in an extension, nothing has really came to fruition yet. The Red Sox also haven’t really talked extensions with Mookie Betts either. The Cardinals haven’t really gotten talks for an extension with Paul Goldschmidt. While very talented players will probably see extensions more often in today’s game, it doesn’t completely eliminate stars in free agency.
Though, now teams might be able to retain players easier now. Think about it. If a player really doesn’t want to go through a slow and grudging process through the winter, they might be willing to take lesser deals from teams in forms of extensions. This should help smaller market teams retain decent players. This may also work in free agency too. A player might not want to wait until mid-to-late February to sign the deal they think their worth, but rather sign a lesser deal in late November or early December so they don’t have to undergo a long and stressful free agent process.