SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The internal discussions began in the D-backs' baseball operations department at the end of the 2021 season. Then, a couple of weeks ago, the team approached right-hander Merrill Kelly about a contract extension.
The two sides agreed Friday to a two-year deal that runs through 2024 and guarantees Kelly $18 million. Kelly, who was set to be a free agent after this season, will receive a $1 million signing bonus and earn $8 million in 2023 and 2024, with a club option for 2025 at $7 million. If the team declines the option, it will owe Kelly a $1 million buyout.
Kelly, who went 7-11 with a 4.44 ERA in 2021, has been the D-backs' most consistent starter since they signed him out of Korea prior to the 2019 season. He made 32 starts in '19, five in '20 and 27 last season.
The extension comes at the end of a week in which the D-backs also extended the contract of second baseman Ketel Marte, his a five-year deal.
Here are some takeaways from the latest extension.
Kelly will bring stability
Kelly doesn't light up a radar gun and he's not a prototypical No. 1 starter. What he is, though, is someone you can count on to take the ball every fifth day and give you a consistent performance. That's valuable in baseball.
"I think the stability that he provides, the pitch mix, his ability to attack different types of hitters -- he’s shown that consistently," D-backs general manager Mike Hazen said. "We feel like he’s gotten better as he’s gone on. He keeps himself in great shape. He’s a leader by example in the clubhouse. I think, as our rotation continues to grow and evolve -- and it will -- I think that stability and talent and performance is a reason why this was attractive for us."
Stability is key with the future on deck
The D-backs have a bunch of young pitching prospects on the cusp of reaching the big leagues. Guys like Tommy Henry, Corbin Martin, Dre Jameson, Brandon Pfaadt, Ryan Nelson, Bryce Jarvis and Blake Walstrom, just to name a few. As they transition to that group, the D-backs will count on Kelly to provide leadership by example.
"We know, with young pitching coming up, especially starting pitching, it’s not always the smoothest transition in this league," Hazen said. "It’s a tough league to cut your teeth as a starting pitcher, due to the nature of needing command and executing pitches and throwing multiple pitches for strikes. Having more of those guys [like Merrill] in our rotation, I think takes some of the pressure off those [young] guys as they migrate up."
This is where Kelly wanted to be
The D-backs signed Kelly out of South Korea prior to the 2019 season and it was a homecoming for him, having gone to nearby Desert Mountain High School, Yavapai Junior College and Arizona State University.
Kelly and his wife, Bre, just welcomed their first child, Hadley, into the world in February, and the fact that he makes his home here and doesn't have to travel for Spring Training was a huge selling point.
"The fact that [my parents] don’t have to fly across the country to go see me pitch, they just have to drive down the street," Kelly said. "And I think it is pretty special that, you know, high school, junior college, ASU and now back here -- pretty much my whole baseball career has been in Arizona, other than my time with Tampa and the four years I spent in Korea.
"So the fact that I can stay at home and know that my family can come whenever they want, it means a lot. It’s pretty special."
Less to think about
This would have been a contract year for Kelly, with the requisite stress that comes along with that. While the new job security won't change his approach -- his work ethic has never been questioned -- the contact will give him one less thing to have on his mind.
"Obviously, we all know when we’re going into a contract year or a walk year," Kelly said. "So going into this year knowing that I have the extension, obviously,it takes some weight off of what could happen in the future. But I’m happy that I don’t have to think about that, I guess, is the best way to put it."