Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals made huge national news last week when the two announced a seven-year, $175 million contract extension. The deal, which is very similar to the pact that the Mariners and Felix Hernandez agreed to in 2013, will keep the former No. 1 overall selection from hitting free agency.
This news surprised many, given that Strasburg is represented by notorious super-agent Scott Boras, who has a reputation for squeezing every last dollar out of teams.
But the contract actually isn't too far out of the norm, and it only reiterates why the M's' offseason trade for Wade Miley was such a good idea.
Let's backtrack a bit and look at the Miley deal. The Mariners received Miley and minor league reliever Jonathan Aro in exchange for last year's shutdown reliever, Carson Smith, and Cuban lefty Roenis Elias, who will always be remembered in my mind for his shutout of the Tigers in 2014.
The initial reaction did not especially favor the Mariners. Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs said the deal "very well might end up looking like [...] the Carson Smith trade." He continued on to say the trade was neither "insane" nor "unjustifiable," but rather just "questionable." Not exactly words of encouragement.
So far, of course, Smith has thrown just 2.2 innings for the Red Sox and appears like he could be heading to the DL soon for the second time. Elias, meanwhile, has allowed 3 runs in 1.2 innings. It's early yet, but two months into the 2016 season, the Mariners are the clear winners of the deal, even though Miley has been just around average, with a 4.56 FIP.
Okay, you say. I get it. But where's the connection to Stephen Strasburg?
Well, trading for Miley (and, of course, re-signing Hisashi Iwakuma) meant that Seattle didn't have to dive into the free agent market to get an arm for the starting rotation. Miley is signed for $8.9 million next year and a club option for $12 million - prices that, though exorbitant to this soon-to-be college grad with student loans, are very much in line, if not below, what a free agent would get.
Yet the most shocking part is that, were Miley to be a free agent this winter, you could make a case that he'd be the best hurler on the market.
Feast your eyes, or rather avert them, on the 2016 starting pitcher FA class:
|Name||Age (in 2017)||2016 FIP||2015 fWAR|
There's a problem with basically every name on the list. Rich Hill has been phenomenal this season, but can he keep it up all year? Would you feel comfortable giving him eight figures in his age-37 season? Buchholz and Kazmir were good last year but have struggled thus far - and of course, Kazmir might not choose to opt out since he has two more years left. Anderson hasn't thrown a pitch in 2016.
Of the above options, Cashner and Volquez are somewhat appealing. But there are always a multitude of teams searching for starters, and the top free agent pitchers tend to get paid like aces.
The price of a win on last year's free agent market was in the neighborhood of $8 million. Mike Leake, a decent pitcher who was worth an average of 2.0 fWAR over the past three years, signed a five-year, $80 million contract - and that's with other star pitchers like David Price also available.
Sure, Leake is younger - he's 28 this year, while Miley would be 30 next season. But even accounting for that, when you consider the ever-spiraling costs of players, he's likely to get a contract of five years and $90 million. If a big-market team like the Yankees or Red Sox decided they needed him, moreover, that deal could be even pricier.
(The lesson, as always: Teach your kids to be a left-handed starting pitcher who doesn't have arm troubles.)
Instead, the Mariners are on the hook for about $9 million and change, due to a half-million dollar buyout if they opt out in 2018. Even if they keep that year, they owe him roughly $20 million, a far cry from the $90+ million they'd be guaranteeing him as a free agent.
Instead of paying a #4 guy like a #2, the Mariners can keep that $70 million and go after someone else on the market.
In addition, by maintaining that payroll flexibility, the trade market (especially in July) remains very open. Instead of just looking at rental players, the Mariners can now consider guys making serious money, paying more of their contracts in order to trade less away. And given the state of the farm system, the last thing we want to do is give up legit prospects for two months of an outfielder.
So, yes, it's entirely possible that Carson Smith stays healthy and becomes a dominant reliever. Perhaps Roenis Elias finds that form from his incredible shutout of the Tigers and turns into the next Cuban sensation.
But the SoDo Sage himself, Jerry Dipoto, wasn't just looking at overall production when he made this deal. And his trading acumen just keeps looking better and better.