There’s no baseball in the present, which has many fans turning to the past, as broadcasters are helping us addicts get our fix by filling the air with classic games from days gone by. But what about the future? Which players are logical fits for contract extensions for the days yet to come?
The youth movement is in full effect north of the border, as Toronto currently has no position players on the 40-man roster who have reached their 30th birthday. That means there are extension candidates up and down the line. From the Blue Jays' perspective, they would surely love to lock up their young core players of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio, all of whom have less than a year of service time and are therefore at least two years away from arbitration. However, since all three are the sons of retired big leaguers who made millions during their playing days, they might not be as motivated as some other players to sign away years of free agency in exchange for the security of having guaranteed money in the bank.
One promising youngster without a famous lineage is catcher Danny Jansen. The Blue Jays could have some desire to lock him up if they think he’s their catcher of the future. But does Toronto still believe that after his lackluster offensive numbers in 2019?
On the pitching side, the most promising young arm is prospect Nate Pearson, who hasn’t even made it onto the roster yet. We’ve seen some recent extensions given to players before their MLB debuts, such as Luis Robert, Evan White and Eloy Jimenez, but none for pitchers just yet. One wild card is Ken Giles. The 29-year-old has been lights out since leaving Houston and is one year away from free agency. But because of injury concerns, perhaps the right deal could give him enough peace of mind to forgo the open market.
The Orioles are about as full into rebuild as a team can be. And the path out of the AL East basement seems to be long and arduous. But one way to brighten the light at the end of the tunnel would be to lock in some quality players for the happier days down the road. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of guys who currently meet that description.
Baltimore had four players produce more than 2.0 fWAR in 2019. Two of them are now on different teams (Dylan Bundy and Jonathan Villar). And another, Trey Mancini, is suddenly in an uncertain position after recently undergoing surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his colon.
That leaves only hurler John Means, who had a fantastic breakout season in 2019. And since he’s about to turn 27 and is two years away from arbitration, he might want to lock up some cash while he can. But from the O's perspective, Means might not be worth betting on at this stage. His 2019 ERA of 3.60 was nice, but his FIP and xFIP are less bullish, pegging him at 4.41 and 5.48, respectively. It would be prudent for the Orioles to be patient and see if he has the ability to find repeat success.
The cash-strapped Rays are big fans of the extension, having signed 11 of them in the decade that just ended. Since they almost never reel in big fish in free agency, Charlie Morton notwithstanding, extensions are the best way for them to get bang for their buck and keep talent on the roster. Just a few weeks ago, they reportedly had discussions extensions with Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows.
As for Glasnow, he finally had his long-awaited breakout in 2019. He just reached arbitration as a Super Two and could conceivably make some decent money with four trips through arbitration. The Rays would surely prefer to put a cap on his earnings ceiling if they could. And since Glasnow struggled through his first few years in Pittsburgh, he might welcome the security of guaranteed cash to insure himself against those struggles returning. But because of injuries, he pitched only 60 2/3 innings last year. He still hasn’t proven he can maintain his abilities over a full season. Until he does, that limits his leverage in negotiations.
As for Meadows, he had a tremendous season in 2019, putting up the kind of classic power numbers that should reward him well in arbitration -- as long as he can stay healthy and repeat them. But since arbitration is still two years away for Meadows, perhaps a compromise could be worked out wherein he gets more money now but sacrifices the top end of his earning power.
In terms of other guys, there are a whole whack of them whom the Rays could try to nail down before they start getting paid real money. The list includes Joey Wendle, Willy Adames, Ryan Yarbrough, Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe and a big batch of relievers. But of course, with the Rays, there’s always a decent chance they’ll just trade a guy as soon as they get uncomfortable with his cost.
After trading away Mookie Betts and David Price and then losing Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox might feel like a hollowed-out husk. But there’s still a lot of talent on the roster that they should want to keep around. And now that they’ve accomplished their goal of getting under the luxury-tax barrier, they should have some room on the payroll to actually do it.
Andrew Benintendi recently signed a two-year deal. But he will still have one arbitration year remaining after that. That means he would hit the free agent market as a 28-year-old, potentially lining himself up for a nice payday, unless the Sox pay him first. Eduardo Rodriguez just had his best season and could also reach free agency at 28. He’s making $8.3 million in 2020 and still has one more pass through arbitration remaining. With Price and Sale gone, and Nate Eovaldi’s injury history, it could make sense to keep Rodriguez around for a few more years for some rotation stability.
Rafael Devers won’t even get into arbitration until after this season. And since he’s only 23, he could bank some cash, give away a few free agent years and still reach the open market before he turns 30. Alex Verdugo is just a bit older but has one more year of team control than Devers does. If Boston believed in him enough to make him the centerpiece of their return for giving up a franchise player such as Betts, they must believe he’s capable of helping them down the road.
The big-spending Yankees of old seem to have returned, after they blew way past the luxury tax for 2020. But you can never rule out another dump truck of money coming around the corner. They’re the Yankees, after all.
They already struck gold with the first time they signed DJ LeMahieu. He somehow managed to have his best offensive output during a season in which he turned 31, and after leaving the friendly confines of Coors Field. Last month, it didn’t seem as if anything was imminent. But that doesn’t mean a deal couldn’t be reached at some point this year to prevent him going on the block. James Paxton is also just one year away from free agency. But considering his persistent injuries, would the Yankees bet on him in a big way?
Of course, the 6-7 elephant in the room is Aaron Judge. The delayed start to the season is giving him a chance to convalesce and approach full health. The slugger will make $8.5 million in 2020 and still has two passes through arbitration remaining before he hits free agency as a 30-year-old. Will the Yankees shell out the big bucks to keep the fan favorite around? Or does his injury history give them pause? Gary Sanchez is in a similar position but is just a few months younger than Judge and with a slightly smaller salary at $5 million.
In the pre-arb department, Gleyber Torres is the shining star. He is sure to reach arbitration after 2020 as a Super Two, meaning he’ll have four chances to get a raise through arbitration unless the Yanks can fork over enough to get him not to. Since he’s on pace to reach the open market at 27, he could give up a few free agent years and still become a free agent at a relatively young age.
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