4 Arbitration Players Who Could Get Contract Extensions
This is becoming quite the week for signings.
In the last week we've seen the Cleveland Indians lock up two starting pitchers: last year's Cy Young Award winner Cory Kluber and their number-two starter Carlos Carrasco. And we saw the Boston Red Sox extend their number-two starter, Rick Porcello. And at the beginning of spring training, the White Sox locked up their lead-off man and center Adam Eaton to an extension as well.
So Pittsburgh decided they wanted to get in on the action and locked up third baseman Josh Harrison to a four-year, $27.3 million deal that also includes two club options that could make the contract worth a little over $50 million.
Not bad for a guy who going into last season had accumulated just 575 plate appearances over parts of three seasons with a slash line of .250/.282/.367, 7 home runs, 23 doubles, and an OPS+ of just 80. Last year, Harrison was an All-Star, hitting .315/.347/.490 with 13 home runs, 18 stolen bases, 38 doubles, 7 triples, an OPS+ of 134, and a 5.3 rWAR and 5.0 fWAR. He finished ninth in the MVP voting as well.
Last season Harrison played second base, shortstop, third base, left field, and right field, truly earning "super-sub" status. And while he did benefit from a .355 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) last season, Pittsburgh was smart to lock him up to a deal that takes him through his arbitration years and first three years of free agency.
Both sides clearly were working off the contract signed by Indians outfielder Michael Brantley last year, a similar player to Harrison who inked a four-year, $25 million contract with one club option at the end. Our projections see Harrison hitting .292/.335/.470 with 13 home runs, 18 stolen bases, 77 runs, and 55 RBs, all of which would, provided his defense continues to be above average, make it a very reasonable contract for the Pirates.
Looking ahead, here are four young, arbitration-eligible players who could be next up for a contract extension with their teams.
Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
Although he has started the season on the disabled list, the Nationals would be smart to lock up their star infielder after his outstanding 2014 season. Probably the best all-around player on the team at the moment (Bryce Harper could pass him for that honor if he can stay healthy), Rendon hit .287/.351/.473 with 21 home runs, 83 RBI, and an fWAR of 6.5 that was tied for fourth-best in all of baseball.
This is Rendon's third season, and he isn't eligible to become a free agent until after the 2020 season. But there are a few hurdles here.
First, Washington needs to decide what they're going to do with pending free agents Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, and Doug Fister, as well as Stephen Strasburg, whose contract is up after 2016. Second, Rendon is represented by Scott Boras (which Nats player isn't?), and Boras isn't usually one to give up a player's free agent years. If they do agree on an extension, it'll likely be one that buys out the arbitration years and leaves Rendon's free agent status unchanged.
A.J. Pollock, Arizona Diamondbacks
The roadmap has been set for Pollock with the Eaton deal. Both players had similar numbers last year as lead-off hitters, with Pollock hitting .302/.353/.498 with 7 homers, 19 doubles, and 14 stolen bases in 287 plate appearances. The year before, he put up an fWAR of 3.6 and was worth 3.3 fWAR last year in just those 287 plate appearances.
Pollock is arbitration eligible after next year and cannot become a free agent until 2019. There is still time to wait with him, but the player could opt for some guaranteed money now, while the team gets perhaps a year or two of free agency out of the deal as well. Good lead-off hitters are hard to find, and Pollock is one of them.
Kole Calhoun, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
First of all, Kole should get a contract extension for his name alone. He sounds like one of Wyatt Earp's running buddies. Second of all, Calhoun has emerged as a solid young player around whom the Angels should consider building.
In 537 plate appearances last year, Calhoun hit .272/.325/.450 with 17 home runs, 31 doubles, and a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 125, with an fWAR of 3.7 and an rWAR of 4.1. The Angels don't have a lot of youth on that team, so among the gargantuan contracts being paid to aging veterans Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, they should try and find some cash to buy out one or two years of Calhoun's free agency.
Lucas Duda, New York Mets
The Mets and Duda were discussing a contract extension this spring but have decided to table that discussion further until after the season. And while Duda, at 29, is one of the older players listed here, locking him in for his remaining arbitration years (he's under team control through 2017) and perhaps one of his free agent years would likely take him through the tail end of his prime.
And Duda's prime has been a little later coming than the others listed above. He burst onto the scene last year after the Mets dismissed Ike Davis, and Duda rewarded them by hitting .253/.349/.481 with 30 homers, 92 RBI, and a 3.2 fWAR. And while he hit a measly .180/.264/.252 against lefties, he still was one of just 11 players last year to hit at least 30 dingers. In this day and age, that kind of power is rare and valuable.
Of course, in any negotiation, both sides have to want to make a deal. But more and more, teams and players are finding these types of situations mutually beneficial, providing guaranteed money for the player and financial certainty through a player's prime years for the club.
It's simply smart baseball economics.