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Who Can the Mariners Extend?

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Or who WILL they extend?

this is Tee’s fault
Tee Miller

The recent spree of extensions in MLB has left Mariners fans out in the cold so far, wondering if and when they can see someone locked up long-term. Extensions aren’t an amazing fix—see Mike Trout, who, while signing one of the richest deals ever, was pretty clearly underpaid which was in part fueled by his unwillingness to test the open market—but in the current CBA environment, it’s not surprising to see the floodgates open a little bit on extensions as players who are caught between the megacontract era and the next CBA try to make sure they “get theirs.” So: who in the organization right now is a good extension candidate?

The Too Old Or Already Extended

Felix Hernandez, Mike Leake, Wade LeBlanc, Anthony Swarzak, Dee Gordon, Yusei Kikuchi, Kyle Seager, Jay Bruce, Edwin Encarnacion: thank u, next

The Not Good Enough

Ryon Healy, David Freitas, Dylan Moore, Daniel Vogelbach: These are four very pleasant people, it seems like. Unfortunately for their guaranteed earnings potential, they are also eminently replaceable people baseball-wise. But not off the field. Everyone is unique and amazing off the field. That just doesn’t merit multiple years of team control. Sorry, Ryon.

The Relievers

Just… all of them. Every single one. Don’t extend relievers. I will bop you with a newspaper, Jerry.

The Candidates

Braden Bishop: Without a major league test to his name (Japan doesn’t count), and frankly without a single AAA plate appearance to his name, it’s too soon to know what we have in Bishop. Frankly, given the range of likely outcomes for Braden and his age (he turns 26 in August), there just isn’t enough here to justify buying out any free agency years—not when the absolute earliest he could reach free agency is after the 2024 season.

VERDICT: No Teal.

Shed Long: Shed Long is exciting, personable, and makes the most of his size, with a thunderous swing spraying hard balls to all parts of the field. Unfortunately for him, while he’s just 23, he’s far enough from the majors and with a low enough apparent ceiling that there isn’t a significant reason to offer him an extension.

VERDICT: No Teal.

Domingo Santana: Showmingo is only a year older than Braden Bishop, but is embarking on his first arbitration year and fourth year of service time. That status, combined with a 3 WAR season at the age of 24, makes him a much more intriguing extension prospect. The issues here are still age—Santana will hit free agency at 29—and overall value. Unlike other extension candidates, Santana may still lack the elite ceiling to make him someone who’s really appealing to keep around, instead of replenishing from within. 3 WAR outfielders aren’t easy to find, but they’re a lot easier to find than 6 WAR outfielders. On the other hand, a move a short distance down the defensive spectrum (from RF to LF) and the stability of a full-time role could help Santana push Mitch Haniger for the title of best Mariner outfielder, if a few things break his way. If the Mariners think that will happen, buying out some years of free agency could give them quite the talented veteran OF at about the time their young OF guns should be MLB-ready.

PROPOSED CONTRACT: Most extensions only make sense if you can buy out a free agent year or two, and that would certainly be the case here. Santana is making $1.95 million in 2019; if he finishes this season closer to his 2017 campaign (127 wRC+ and 30 dingers) than to his 2018 campaign (97 wRC+ and just five homers in 85 games), he feels like a good bet for closer to $6 million in 2020 and $10 million in 2021.

The M’s would be risking a decent amount, however, given how much Santana struggled in 2018 and given the lack of a strong market for players roughly his caliber. I think they’d choose to protect themselves by adding two club options at the end of the deal.

One other thing to consider in this deal, both for this one specifically but also for other deals too, is how to structure the guaranteed money. It’s reasonable to say that the M’s should frontload these deals rather than the more traditional backloading so that they’ll have some flexibility in the 2021 & beyond free agent market. In a situation like that, you could flip 2020 & 2021, or simply spread the money out so it’s evenly distributed among 2020-2022.

So let’s predict: 3 years, $30 million guaranteed with two additional club options. Here’s a rough breakdown:

2020: $6 million (year 2 of arb)
2021: $10 million (year 3 of arb)
2022: $12 million (FA year 1)
2023*: $14 million with a $2 million club buyout (FA year 2)
2024*: $16 million with no club buyout

Mallex Smith: There’s a compelling argument that Mallex Smith’s value will never be higher. Coming off a 3.5 WAR season, playing half his games on the Trop’s speedy artificial turf, it’s easy to think he’s hit his ceiling. That combined with his four remaining years of service time make him a weaker candidate. On the other side of the ledger, you have basically the same arguments as you have for Domingo: buying out a couple of years at the tail end of a borderline all-star’s free agency is a good way to shore up the outfield. On balance, Domingo likely boasts the better profile for an extension given the overall player profile and likely ceiling, but if the club can’t get him, Mallex is a passable option.

PROPOSED CONTRACT: These extensions really only make sense for the team if they can lock up some free agent years. That’s a tall task in this case, since you’ll need to get all three arb years plus more, and all this for a guy who potentially just put up his best season. Signing Mallex would be a bit risky for that reason, and I’m not sure I’d be on board with extending him. And while we don’t want to plan ahead around guys who have never taken an at-bat above Rookie ball, the outfield does seem to be a position of strength for the Mariners farm system, and signing multiple outfielders to long-term deals (Santana, Mallex, and one other notable name that’s coming up later) could wind up creating quite a logjam.

Because Mallex’s skill set is one that rarely ages well, it’s extra important for him (compared to other players, such as Santana) to hit free agency at a young age. we could see a four-year, $32 million guaranteed deal with a club option:

2020: $4.5 million (year 1 of arb)
2021: $6.5 million (year 2 of arb)
2022: $9 million (year 3 of arb)
2023: $10 million (FA year 1)
2024*: $11 million with $2 million club buyout (FA year 2)

JP Crawford: Crawford is an interesting—and hard—case. His debut left significant questions in many, many minds across baseball as to his future viability. Those minds did not, apparently, include any in the M’s front office, as given the opportunity in an offseason survey of employees, he was the most popular target to add. If the M’s are that confident in his ability to become a star, they have maybe their best opportunity in the entire organization right here to lock up an elite young talent. Crawford is still just 24 and very likely has his best years in front of him—if those are elite, and the Mariners sign him now, they’re looking at a minimum of 7 years total at a premium position, all with a lot of cost certainty. The obvious, humongous downside is if they get it wrong. That’s a lot of money to commit to a guy with a 91 wRC+ and a reputation for a shaky arm thus far.

PROPOSED CONTRACT: The Mariners are keeping Crawford down in AAA right now partially to help him rebuild his value (and improve at the plate), and partially to obtain an extra year of team control. As such, any contract for Crawford would be a LONG one, buying out two years of pre-arbitration and (most likely) four years of arb.

The best comparison for such a deal is the recent extension between the Phillies and Scott Kingery. The two inked this six-year, $24 million deal just before last season, when Kingery had zero MLB games under his belt. Kingery was the #35 prospect in MLB at the time, according to MLB Pipeline, and this deal spurred the Phils to put him on the Opening Day roster. This likely serves as a cautionary tale to the Mariners, as Kingery struggled mightily last season (.226/.267/.338 and -0.1 fWAR despite posting 484 plate appearances). Crawford reached higher heights as a prospect (peaking at #5 per MLB.com) but has lost that prospect sheen.

We’re proposing a five-year, $26 million guaranteed deal that could potentially take Crawford through his age-32 season. There are also three club options that can be bought out for a $1 million club option (which is included in that $26 million guaranteed figure above). The options could push this deal as high as $65 million:

2019: $1 million signing bonus
2020: $1 million (year 3 of pre-arb)
2021: $3 million (year 1 of arb)
2022: $5 million (year 2 of arb)
2023: $7 million (year 3 of arb)
2024: $8 million (year 4 of arb)
2025*: $12 million with a $1 million club buyout (FA year 1)
2026*: $13 million with a club option (FA year 2)
2027*: $15 million with a club option (FA year 3)

Omar Narvaez: Narvaez to some extent goes in the Crawford bin. As-is, a hitting catcher with a bad defensive reputation is really not good enough to merit an extension, even with the paucity of options for catchers of the future in the organization [stares at Cal-Raleigh-shaped basket full of eggs]. THAT SAID, the Mariners are apparently confident Narvaez’ defensive issues are something that can be negated or mitigated even while in the big leagues. If they’re right—and if they do it soon—they could, again, lock up a high-end talent at a premium position (there are so few good catchers, you guys.) If they’re wrong, they’ve got a dead weight catcher taking plate appearances away from, uh, someone.

PROPOSED CONTRACT: At the end of the 2017 season, Tucker Barnhart of the Reds signed a four-year, $16 million extension. Barnhart isn’t much of a hitter, but this deal bought out his three arbitration years, a free agent year, and added an option for a second FA year — which is the exact kind of deal that the Mariners would want with Narvaez. Would the M’s be comfortable locking up a catcher who’s struggled behind the dish and who’s never handled a full season’s workload in the bigs? If so, look to Barnhart’s deal as a comp. That’s why we’re going with a four-year deal with $20 million in guarantees, including a $1 million buyout in 2024:

2020: $3 million (year 1 of arb)
2021: $4 million (year 2 of arb)
2022: $6 million (year 3 of arb)
2023: $6 million (FA year 1)
2024*: $7.5 million with a $1 million club buyout (FA year 2)

Tim Beckham: Tim Beckham is another tricky case. If he does indeed break out, he’s an very valuable, extension-worthy player, as we saw in 2017. He also is something of a man without a position in the Mariners organization. Obviously, if he produces, they’re going to find places to play him, but between JP (presumably) at shortstop, Kyle at third, and Dee at second, for the next few years the Mariners are pretty set across the infield. Again: you can make a spot for someone who produces, but it makes coming up with extension terms that make sense for the Mariners and for Beckham difficult. With another arbitration year available to the Mariners, Beckham is set to enter FA at age 31, an unkind time for any player.

PROPOSED CONTRACT: If you guys can figure this out, let us know. Two more years? A year and a team option? Given that Beckham would have to sustain his star performance for at the absolute minimum half a year, we’d kind of have to see what that looked like to figure out what the team should do.

Justus Sheffield: Sheffield has, technically, debuted. His 2.2 innings were, uh, rough. He’ll look to have another solid year in Tacoma, but this is essentially an extension for a player who hasn’t reached the majors, and Sheffield does not have the high-end star prospect power to justify the sort of deal Fernando Tatis Jr. or Eloy Jimenez were able to command. The better case for an extension is if he performs in the majors for a year or two, at which point you could look to buy out some number of his 29-30-31 seasons. Right now, there just isn’t a tremendously compelling reason to offer him guaranteed money through his team control years, let alone years beyond that. The only scenario where you can really make it work is if he’s willing to take a pretty low guaranteed figure that gives him some financial security, but has relatively low downside for the team if he becomes a reliever.

Proposed Contract: You’re playing with fire here, given the uncertainty as to Sheffield even remaining a starter. One great comparison is a deal universally lauded as team-friendly (and a deal that made our dear friend John Trupin dream about a potential trade to the PNW): Chris Archer. The Pirates righty, then with the Rays, was pegged as the #46 prospect in baseball per MLB.com before the 2013 season, and all he did was post a 3.22 ERA across 23 starts. He then signed a six-year, $25.5 million contract with two club options worth $9m and $11m.

Given that Sheffield has such a small body of work right now, you’ll likely need to extend him at the end of this season if he performs reasonably well, and any time before then counts as unnecessary risk. But from a pedigree standpoint, Young Shef and Archer are in a similar spot: Sheffield is currently the #43 prospect in MLB, and this is his age-23 season — a year younger than Archer when he broke out. Prospects fall through all the time, so this deal is predicated on some SERIOUS if statements: IF Sheffield performs well, IF the M’s are convinced he can handle a role as a starter, and IF they aren’t especially worried about any potential injuries.

With all that context, let’s propose a similar deal to Archer. It’s safe to assume that Sheffield will be in the minors until he can gain an extra year of club control (so basically through the end of April, at least). This deal assumes the Mariners wouldn’t keep him in AAA until July to avoid him hitting Super Two status. The structure gives Justus $28 million in guarantees, buys out all his arb years and two FA years (with options that would push the whole deal to eight years and $52.5 million).

2020: $1 million (pre-arb)
2021: $1 million (pre-arb)
2022: $2.5 million (year 1 of arb)
2023: $5 million (year 2 of arb)
2024: $7.5 million (year 3 of arb)
2025: $8.5 million (year 4 of arb)
2026*: $12 million with a $1.5 million club buyout (FA year 1)
2027*: $15 million with a $1 million club buyout (FA year 2)

Marco Gonzales: Hometown hero Marco Gonzales is functionally the staff ace at this point, and if you want a Mariner pitcher to sign to a deal of decent length (who isn’t already signed, Yusei, sit down) then he’s pretty much got to be your man. There’s just one teeny tiny huge problem: He will be 32 when he hits free agency. Yes, he has rebounded from Tommy John with St. Louis to post a 3.5 fWAR season and claim the mantle of best Mariners starter, post-Paxton era. Yes, he buzzsawed through an Angels lineup last night that included Mike Trout and... uh... hey look at that cool bird! But still. 32 is (1) a bad time to be a free agent pitcher under the current CBA (It’s worth noting that we’ll have a new CBA in some form in 2022 and later, and we have no idea what that will look like) and (2) is pretty old for a pitcher, which directly relates to 1. Yes, Marco is a crafty lefty, but any extension is (likely!) not going to be all that large purely because of age. That said, if the team thinks he’ll keep being a 3.5+ win pitcher, there’s a lot of value to lock up there.

PROPOSED CONTRACT: Last night’s gem notwithstanding, Marco still doesn’t have a huge body of work behind him, and his Tommy John surgery in spring 2016 looms large as well. He’s also under an unusual contract at the moment; while with the Cardinals, Marco was demoted to the minor leagues just before he underwent TJ surgery, thus costing him a year of major league service time. Gonzales filed a grievance with the team, but was then traded away, and this past offseason reached a deal with the Mariners to guarantee him $1.9 million for 2019 and 2020 combined even though he would not be arb-eligible until 2021.

So any contract will be for his three remaining arb years (2021, 2022, 2023) and some free agent years as well. Recent players who signed a deal at a similar point to Marco include last year’s AL Cy Young winner, Blake Snell. Snellzilla’s deal is $7m/$10.5m/$12.5m/$16m for that same timeframe, and nobody is saying that Marco Gonzales is as good as Blake Snell. A more reasonable comp might be Chase Anderson, who signed an extension with the Brewers just after his 3.58 FIP, 3.2 fWAR season in 2017. Though Anderson was eligible for arbitration for a second time that offseason as a Super Two player, making him perhaps a touch more expensive than Marco would be, his deal feels about right at $4.25m/$6m/$8.5m option/$9.5m option. So let’s try this three-year deal worth $20 million guaranteed that could swell to a five-year, $40 million deal if both options are exercised:

2021: $4 million (year 1 of arb)
2022: $6 million (year 2 of arb)
2023: $8 million (year 3 of arb)
2024*: $10 million with a $2 million club buyout (FA year 1)
2025*: $12 million club option (FA year 2)

Mitch Haniger: At last—the gold standard of extension candidates. Five-tool, six-win Mitch Haniger. If you were going to pick one Mariner as the odds-on favorite to be the 2019 WAR leader, it would be hard to pick someone other than Mitch. Ever the consistent one, Mitch has jumped right back into things in 2019, and there is no reason to think he’ll do anything other than hit, field, run, throw, and so on for as long as he’s a Mariner. Like with Marco—and with so many Mariners, elite talents or otherwise—the issue is the age. Building a team of late-20s breakout guys has upsides and downsides, and one upside (for the team) and downside (for the players) is by the time they exhaust their club control they’ll be on the downslope of their career. So, any extension is going to have to account for that and factor in that while they’ll still be underpaid (by value) through their club control years, the buyout years aren’t going to be as flush with cash as they would if they were the 27-28-29 seasons we’ve watched other clubs buy out.

PROPOSED CONTRACT: There’s no way around it. Mitch Haniger is a very good player, and an extension for him will be a significant one. The advantage for the Mariners is that, because of his delayed ascent to the big leagues, he still has three years left of arbitration. One comparable player, Anthony Rendon, made $5.8m, $12.3m, and $18.8m in his final three years of club control, although Rendon is likely a better player.

Like Marco, Haniger will also be hitting free agency at an advanced age—he’s 28 right now, so his first FA year will be his age-32 season. I think any deal would seek to add two years of additional control, and I’m including one club option in here too. That results in a five year, $70 million contract with an additional $5 million guaranteed as part of the buyout in 2025. With the option, the deal could get as high as six years and $92 million:

2020: $5 million (year 1 of arb)
2021: $10 million (year 2 of arb)
2022: $15 million (year 3 of arb)
2023: $20 million (FA year 1)
2024: $20 million (FA year 2)
2025*: $22 million with a $5 million club buyout (FA year 3)

The Dark Horses

The problem the Mariners have compared to most recent extensions [stares at Randal Grichuk] is their candidates are the sort of elite talents that are hard to find in free agency and thus are better go grow at home, then lock up at a discount. There are, however, two possibilities on the horizon...

Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez have the sort of ceiling that you would look for in a 9-figure extension candidate. Unfortunately, it’s just a ceiling for now. As the Mariners look to open their window of contention fully in 2021, it’s entirely possible that one or both of these players realizing their potential will give the M’s a place to spend some of that gobs of payroll space, even as potential free agents drop off the market.

If either/both maintain their current trajectory, the Mariners might try to ink them to a deal similar to Eloy Jimenez’s recent deal with the White Sox. In this scenario, both Kelenic and Rodriguez would be tippy-top level prospects, so a contract like that would be fairly reasonable and would incentivize the then-hopefully-contending Mariners to keep one or both of them on the Opening Day roster.

Poll

Which of these proposed deals is your favorite?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Domingo Santana
    (139 votes)
  • 0%
    Mallex Smith
    (8 votes)
  • 0%
    JP Crawford
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    Omar Narvaez
    (12 votes)
  • 2%
    Tim Beckham
    (20 votes)
  • 0%
    Justus Sheffield
    (7 votes)
  • 10%
    Marco Gonzales
    (85 votes)
  • 51%
    Mitch Haniger
    (420 votes)
  • 11%
    Wait for Julio or Jarred (or both!)
    (97 votes)
  • 1%
    These aren’t good candidates. I would... (explain below!)
    (15 votes)
810 votes total Vote Now