Hot Stove could cook up more extensions for stars
New deals may be on deck for several players as Marlins, Stanton talking mega contract
Hey, we enjoy the rumors and reverie often associated with the Hot Stove season. But the truth of the matter is that external investments are useless without proper infrastructure. That's why the free-agent market has become a watered-down version of what it once was. Teams have done a good job of locking down their core young pieces for the long haul.
Of course, the locking-down process is more costly in some situations than it is in others. The Marlins are trying to serenade Giancarlo Stanton to the sweet tune of a contract that might reach as high as $325 million -- the richest deal in sports -- to ensure the power provider will be the long, long-term face of their franchise.
Here are some other guys who might be extension-worthy this winter. Obviously not a $325 million extension, but an extension all the same. Let's go through each case and determine which guys are most likely to actually end up signing the dotted line before Opening Day.
Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and Doug Fister, Nationals:
The Nats are fairly stable, on the whole, for this Hot Stove season, but they definitely have work to do in advance of next winter, when all three of these guys are eligible for free agency. Some groundwork has already been laid with respect to a long-term deal for all three guys, as talks were consummated before the 2014 season (ultimately netting a two-year agreement with Zimmermann and nothing more).
Pulling off a deal with all members of this trio will be tricky. The Nats have just shy of $48 million committed to Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez for 2016, and there will also be requisite raises to Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper among others.
The Washington Post reported that Desmond turned down a seven-year, $107 million proposal last winter, which would have been below market value for a shortstop who provides Desmond's level of production. Zimmermann has been the subject of some trade speculation, but it doesn't seem likely that they'd move him, given their World Series contention hopes for 2015 and a flooded market that limits his trade value. Fister would be the most affordable of the three to lock up, but don't equate "affordable" to "cheap," as guys capable of providing 200 innings with effectiveness well above that of the league average are valued commodities.
It says here that the Nats, recognizing the thinness of the productive shortstop situation around baseball, make Desmond their primary target once again. Perhaps this time they'll get it across the finish line.
Corey Kluber, Indians:
It's generally considered bad business to negotiate with a guy coming off a career year. Kluber's not just coming off a career year; he'll be picking up his Cy Young trophy in January.
That said, Kluber is 28, and, because of his late big-league bloom, he won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season. So for both sides, an extension now might be a worthwhile risk -- Kluber gets guaranteed financial security, while the Indians get a clear picture of what it's going to cost to keep Kluber through his arbitration years.
However it shakes out, know this: Kluber's 2014 was no fluke. It was, on the contrary, an extension of the strides he made in 2013. This is a guy whose repertoire has been basically reinvented in recent years (he didn't throw his two-seamer until 2012, and he first incorporated his cutter the year prior). That explains his "out of nowhere" emergence. And Kluber is obviously still young enough to give the Tribe plenty of 200-inning seasons.
Knowing the Indians' strive toward stability (they've extended Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis and manager Terry Francona this year), a Kluber contract would not be a shock in the slightest.
Josh Harrison, Pirates:
I have this distinct memory of standing outside the Buccos' clubhouse one day in the midst of the 2013 season and watching a sullen Harrison walk out with his packed bags, one of multiple times he was optioned to Triple-A that year. At that moment, it would have been difficult to believe he'd nearly win an NL batting title in '14.
Credit to Harrison for his perseverance, jumping in standing from role player to All-Star. And now he's entering his first round of arbitration-eligibility. Good timing.
But for player and team alike, an extension would be a difficult equation. Because the 27-year-old Harrison had very little Major League track record to speak of before his '14 breakout (an adjusted OPS+ 20 percent below league average), it's hard to assess his value going forward. Best guess is the Buccos, who have to be cost-conscious as a function of their market, let '15 play out and see if Harrison can repeat his feats now that he's entrusted with a full-time job from the get-go.
Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, Royals:
Let's just state the obvious, right off the bat: These guys are represented by Scott Boras, who generally likes to get his players to free agency as quickly as possible. So I'm going to label an extension for either guy as "doubtful."
Still, the Royals' run to the World Series, with Hosmer and Moustakas making a big impact on the proceedings, creates a fascinating financial dynamic here. Maybe this is the Royals' last chance to buy (relatively) low on their infield cornerstones. Or maybe this is a time when the values of Moustakas and Hosmer are at their perceived peak.
It seems like ages ago, but Moustakas had a .632 OPS this season and spent time in Triple-A. He hit .172 against lefties.
Hosmer was more productive -- a .716 OPS and adjusted OPS+ two points below league average -- but not to the level he displayed in the first three postseason rounds and not to the level prescribed for him when he tore up the league in his first September in the big leagues.
Again, though, it's all probably a moot point, given the representation factor. The Royals have contractual control of both guys through at least 2017.
Garrett Richards, Angels:
This would be aggressive on the part of the Angels, as Richards has logged less than 400 Major League innings (over four seasons) and suffered that awful knee injury in August. But we saw what he meant to the Halos' rotation this season, and he's a first-time arb-eligible via Super Two status this winter, so it's not totally inconceivable.
Richards went 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA in 26 starts. His 0.3 home runs allowed per nine innings was the best such rate in the league.
I'll file this one under "plausible but unlikely" for now.
Josh Donaldson, A's
You never know with Billy Beane's A's. They might just as soon trade Donaldson at a time when his value is so high. That, though, seems doubtful, because Donaldson is such a focal point of the club's offensive and defensive identity.
He's also a first-time arbitration-eligible (another Super Two) who is entering his age-29 season. So while Donaldson might, in some ways, be the face of the A's at the moment, the A's can go year-to-year with him through his age-32 season, if they prefer. If they're comfortable with the requisite leaps that arrangement would require (Donaldson made $500,000 in 2014 and could make more than eight times that much in arbitration for '15), they seem more likely to go that route.