Big-money contracts are the fashionable thing in baseball this spring, it seems.
In addition to the 12-year, $330 million deal signed by Bryce Harper with the Phillies and the 10-year, $300 million contract Manny Machado signed with the Padres, there have been several lucrative long-term contract extensions recently for players to stay with their current teams.
The most notable was signed Wednesday, Mike Trout’s 12-year, $430 million extension that will keep him an Angel for the rest of his career. But also of note:
- Nolan Arenado signed what amounts to an eight-year, $260 million extension with the Rockies (the $26 million he agreed to in order to avoid arbitration this year, then a seven-year, $234 million extension).
- Alex Bregman signed a six-year, $100 million deal Tuesday that hardly anyone noticed because everyone was talking about Trout’s deal.
So, Kris Bryant. That’s the most obvious next step in this process that seems to be taking over baseball — long-term deals that keep players in one place for most, if not all, of their careers.
In the Trout aftermath Tuesday, I found this tweet that I think sums up the current process:
No opt-out for Harper in Philly. No opt-out for Trout in Anaheim. More and more, you have to wonder if star players are now thinking: "I don't ever want to have to go through this process again."— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) March 19, 2019
I think there’s something to that. And then there’s this quote from Bryant in the wake of the Trout signing:
“Anytime you can show a loyalty to the team that drafted you and you came up with and established relationships with those people, any human being would want to do that,” Bryant said. “It’s no secret that everyone in this clubhouse loves playing in Chicago. We love everything about this organization.
“Everyone in this clubhouse would want to finish his career with this team, myself included.”
Now, there’s a hint to Theo Epstein and Tom Ricketts, I think. It should be noted that the focus of that article was Bryant’s statement that he wasn’t focused on his contract at this time:
“I’ve been really good at focusing on the season at hand and not getting too ahead of myself,” Bryant said Tuesday. “When you get too ahead of yourself, it affects your performance and thoughts.
“I don’t want to get there. It would be a disservice to everybody here and the fans if I’m starting to think about my whole future. I want to focus on winning this year because last year didn’t go the way we wanted to. I want to do everything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“I’m 100 percent here this season, and that’s all that matters to me.”
And that’s where Bryant’s agent comes in. It has been said that Scott Boras might push Bryant to go to free agency after 2021, and in part because of the Cubs doing what pretty much every team has done with top prospects like Bryant was in 2015: Keep them in the minor leagues for a couple of weeks to gain an extra year of team control. It’s a loophole in the CBA that’s been exploited by many teams. Maikel Franco, Ronald Acuna Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Eloy Jimenez are just a few of the top young players who had to or are going to have to “work on” a part of their game for a short extra time in the minor leagues before suddenly that happens and they’re in the big leagues just after the time that gives their team an extra year of control. This is a topic that will certainly be addressed during the next labor negotiation.
For now, though, let’s make the assumption that KB is telling the truth and he really does want to stay with the Cubs for his entire career, and that he, not his agent, drives the process. You might recall that only the top players among Scott Boras clients (Harper, in particular) have actually gotten market value in the last year or two. Others, such as Mike Moustakas, have cost themselves a lot of money by staying with Boras, and in the case of Martin Maldonado this year, a two-year deal for a lot more money offered by the Astros was turned down by Boras. Maldonado actually fired Boras and hired a new agent (Dan Lozano), who quickly got Maldonado a deal with the Royals, though for a lot less money than he could have had.
What would be a fair extension offer for Bryant, starting with the 2020 season? Let’s assume that KB returns to his previous level of performance after having his 2018 season ruined by injury. He’s got two arbitration years left, 2020 and 2021, before becoming eligible for free agency.
He’s probably in line for an arbitration deal along the lines of what Arenado signed this year, for 2020, in the $25 million range. It would be somewhat higher for 2021. KB will make $12.9 million in 2019, a relatively small increase over his first arb salary, $10.85 million in 2018.
Bryant will turn 30 in 2022. So in offering him a long-term extension beginning with the 2020 season, the Cubs would be buying out (for example) his age 28 through 35 seasons, if an eight-year deal, or 28 through 37 if a 10-year deal.
Based on the Arenado and Trout extensions, I’d say something along the lines of eight years, $250 million would probably be in the right ballpark for Bryant. Or if 10 years, then $325 million.
Tom Ricketts famously said, “We don’t have any more money,” when asked about more player payroll dollars for the 2019 season. Presumably, after the Marquee Network launches for 2020, those dollars will be there. Some of those dollars should be used to lock up Kris Bryant.
And while they’re at it, make Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez lifetime Cubs, too.