Who's Next to Cash in on MLB's Extension Craze?
Given baseball’s recent rate of contract extensions, it might feel reasonable to assume that there are no longer any players left to extend. (This feeling likely settled in at some point between the extensions of Randal Grichuk and David Bote, though your mileage may vary—Max Kepler, perhaps?) But, never fear, there are still some players available to get in on the game’s latest transaction trend. Here are five prime candidates:
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
The Astros have used the two years since their championship to extend players like José Altuve, Alex Bregman and Justin Verlander; Springer would be a logical next step. The 29-year-old right fielder is set to become a free agent for 2021, and given his track record—so far, his lowest OPS+ is 116, last season, when he missed time with a sprained thumb and struggled upon his return, yet still finished with a perfectly respectable 2.7 Baseball-Reference WAR—he’d be a smart choice to lock into place. No, he’s probably never going to steal bases like he did a few seasons ago, and yes, age is probably soon going to begin to catch up to him in other ways, too. For Houston to guarantee the first several years of his 30s, though? It only makes sense for the team to be interested.
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
Okay, this one doesn’t seem particularly likely. But let’s consider it for a moment. Recently, a few teams have been willing to try the previously unthinkable—extending a prospect before his first game in the major leagues. (Hello, Eloy Jiménez… and Scott Kingery…. and Jon Singleton, but, uh, let’s not dwell on that one.) Vladito’s first game is TBA, as he’s currently recovering from an oblique injury, but he’s more hyped up than any prospect has been in recent memory.
If he lives up to just a fraction of the buzz, he could easily still look like a generational talent; a hefty extension, well into the nine figures, could still be a bargain for Toronto. It would be pretty uncharacteristic for this front office, and given the service time shenanigans that have already taken place here, Guerrero Jr. might not have any interest. If the Blue Jays could pull it off, though, it could be a remarkably successful move in the long run.
Austin Hedges or Francisco Mejia, C, San Diego Padres
The Padres—looking at a competitive run in the next few seasons, anchored by baseball’s best farm system—have two talented young catchers. Either one might be a smart pick for an extension. Hedges, 26, is currently getting slightly more playing time thanks to his remarkably strong defense. He’s struggled at the plate for most of his career so far, but over the last two seasons, he did hit a combined 32 HR—even if that pop hasn’t been backed up by much else. Meanwhile, Mejia, 23, has the inverse profile. The defense hasn’t come through (there’s been talk of moving him to third base), but the offense looks like it could be truly fearsome. As a developing pair, they can do plenty to balance out each other’s flaws… but if San Diego wanted to extend one and make a trade chip of the other, it could stand to gain quite a bit.
Andrelton Simmons, SS, Los Angeles Angels
Simmons has already received a contract extension once—a seven-year deal inked in 2014, when he was a 24-year-old with the Atlanta Braves. The 2020 expiration date there is now approaching, though, and any new extension would look quite different from his first one. (Simmons said this spring that he wants to be part of the Angels long-term, so it would seem that he’s interested.) His Braves extension was signed back when his defense was his only meaningful skill; while it was just about as sharp as any tool can be, it was still only one tool. The logic behind his initial extension was clear: Extend him through his 20s, while the glove is still good, and create an opportunity to cut ties after that, since his offense wouldn’t be strong enough to carry the potentially diminishing defense after 30. But Simmons, 29, looks like very different now.
After being traded to Los Angeles, he evolved as a hitter, which is to say, he began to look like a hitter. In three full seasons in Atlanta, he was never above average at the plate. In three full seasons in L.A., he’s finished above average twice, and his lowest OPS+ as an Angel was still better than his highest OPS+ as a Brave. His glove is still his signature, but it’s now one piece of a broader skillset, and the fact that he seemingly hasn’t yet lost a step there is a good sign, too. His defense might begin to fall off in a few years, of course, but even so—defensively reduced, he’d still likely be better than many other shortstops, and with his developed bat to round out the package, and no significant prospect replacement on the way, an extension for four or so years could make perfect sense.
Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
Cleveland has all but admitted this one isn’t happening. (“Enjoy him,” the team’s owner, Paul Dolan, said when asked last month about Lindor’s future. “We control him for three more years. Enjoy him and then we’ll see what happens.”) But it would make so much sense that we have to include it here. Cleveland’s long had a habit of offering contract extensions to its talented young players, stretching back to way before it was cool—in its successful run during the ‘90s, locking up key guys like Manny Ramírez, Jim Thome, Carlos Baerga and Charles Nagy. It continues today; Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and José Ramírez have all inked extensions in the last few years.
Lindor, 25, would logically round out this competitive core. The shortstop, who’s set to become a free agent for 2022, has only gotten better with each passing season so far and is one of baseball’s best at a loaded position. (His worst full season, by Baseball-Reference WAR, was 2017’s 5.5… above the mark for a statistical All-Star, in a year where he was a Silver Slugger who placed fifth for MVP. His worst.) Given Dolan’s comments, it doesn’t seem probable, but if the team were to offer an extension, there’d very likely be plenty for all to enjoy for the duration of the contract.