The White Sox just made some major headlines this week, giving a five-year deal plus two additional team option years to Chris Sale to lock him up long-term.
It’s a situation that is not uncommon with young players and their teams, as often times, players exceed their expectations in their first few big league seasons. Naturally, the player believes he is worth more than his entry-level contract, and the team wants to lock the player up long-term to avoid arbitration and keep the player under their control for as long as possible.
The players face this situation: do I sign a long-term deal and get my financial security now, or bet on myself in hopes of getting a larger payday a few years down the line?
The White Sox faced this scenario a few years back with three different guys as well: Gavin Floyd, John Danks, and the current San Diego Padre Carlos Quentin. All of them had breakout 2008 seasons and the contract question came up that off-season. We’ll take a look at their situations compared to Chris Sale, and how the decisions worked for the player and the team long-term ...
After struggling in the Phillies organization and being traded to the White Sox for Freddy Garcia after the 2006 season, Gavin Floyd had a breakout 2008 campaign, winning 17 games and pitching over 200 innings. Because of this and his talent, the White Sox reached out to Floyd in the off-season and wanted to lock him up long-term. He accepted the offer, a four-year, $15.5 million contract extension, with a $9.5 million club option for 2013 (which, as you probably know, was picked up for this year).
While Floyd has yet to have a dominant season like he did in 2008 and has regularly been an easy, yet undeserving, target of angry Sox fans (I am a prime example of that class, as Zach will tell you), he’s still been productive. Even though he seems inconsistent on the mound, his numbers actually show remarkable consistency. He’s won between 10-12 games, thrown between 160-200 innings, and had an ERA between 4.00 and 4.40 in all four seasons under the contract.
Really, he’s pitched at about the level one would expect someone with his contract should pitch at. That means for both sides, the decision to offer and sign the extension was spot-on. The White Sox obviously gave him a fair number based on his performance over the contract’s duration, and Floyd made the right choice because if he tried to hold out for a bigger deal, he would not have received one bigger than the one he signed.
John Danks didn’t have as good of a statistical season in 2008 as Floyd, but his campaign is probably more memorable given his performances in the biggest games of the year. He won one of the most memorable games in franchise history, “The Blackout Game,” shutting out the Twins 1-0 and putting the Sox into the playoffs. He also was the only Sox pitcher to win a playoff game that year, defeating current Cub Matt Garza and the Tampa Bay Rays in game three of the ALDS.
Already proven that he could win big games, Danks too was approached by the White Sox about signing an extension. However, he did the opposite of Floyd, as Danks elected to bet on himself to try and land a bigger contract a few years later. After a few seasons of taking one-year deals to avoid arbitration, Danks broke the bank before the 2012 season, signing a five-year, $65 million deal.
From Danks’ standpoint, it could not have worked out any better. Even though he struggled in 2011 after having strong 2009 and 2010 seasons, he still received the big deal he was hoping for. For the White Sox, while Danks gave them three strong seasons, they were unable to negotiate a cheaper long-term deal during that time frame, and ended up giving him probably more than he’s worth after the bad season.
While it remains to be seen how Danks will respond this season after coming back from shoulder surgery and a shortened 2012 campaign, he’s going to have to pitch pretty well for the White Sox to feel like they made the right move.
Ah, yes, our old friend Carlos Quentin. The man who infamously broke his wrist by pounding his bat in Cleveland, blowing his chance at what looked like a shoe-in MVP season. Even though he had an injury history in the Diamondbacks system before he came to Chicago, the White Sox offered him an extension after his 36 home run, 100 RBI season in 2008.
Like Danks, he declined the offer, likely thinking that he could repeat those numbers for a few years and get paid like a premier middle-of-the-order hitter later on. Unfortunately for Carlos, the injury problems (the non- freak accident ones, at least) returned over the next three seasons, and he never got close to matching is 2008 production. After the 2011 season, the Sox traded him to San Diego, who signed him to a three year, $27 million deal through 2015, with a 2016 mutual option on $10 million.
While Carlos ended up with somewhat of a payday, it was nowhere near what he was probably expecting he’d end up with after the 2008 season.
It probably would have served him better to accept the extension from the Sox, as he probably would have ended up making more than he did from the one-year deals he signed to avoid arbitration. As for the White Sox, they lucked out to a degree, as Quentin turning down the deal worked out for them given his decline over the next few seasons.
So ... What about Chris Sale?
Sale’s situation is exactly like the other three. While I said earlier on this site that I didn’t believe it was the right time to extend him, I didn’t anticipate Rick Hahn and his team constructing the amazing contract terms they did.
The most Chris Sale will make in any year of his five-year extension is $12 million in 2017 (the club options after that are worth $12.5 and $13 million). Based on market value, Chris Sale pitched far better than a $12 million starter last season, so if he continues at that rate, the Sox look like they have a bargain. If he doesn’t, then he likely descends more toward what his contract suggests he should be doing anyway. The only way this is a failure for the White Sox is if Sale, God forbid/knock-on-wood, has a serious injury that never allows him to return to form, which obviously is not a win for either side.
So, major props need to go to Rick Hahn. When you look at the three case studies from the 2008 off-season, maybe Rick Hahn learned a bit from them. With the way it looks right now, this could be a bigger win for the White Sox than any of the 2008 contracts if Sale pitches anywhere near his potential.