Extensions are all the rage these days, and I'm not talking about hair or certain spam emails. Baseball teams are getting more and more aggressive about buying out their young core's arbitration and initial free-agent years. The Atlanta Braves have been the most conspicuous this offseason, working out deals with Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, and Julio Teheran. They've locked down a young, talented core group of guys through arbitration and their early free agent years -- and none of the contracts extend into their harshest decline years.
It's a model that is spread throughout the game; virtually every team has made efforts to lock down their homegrown studs long before the arbitration process is completed. The Rockies hitched their wagons to Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez in the 2011 off season. The Diamondbacks nailed down Paul Goldschmidt before his big breakout, likely saving them tens of millions. The Giants got to Posey after his MVP season, but they still made the extension work. There are many more examples: Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen, Ryan Braun, Joey Votto, etc.
These extensions are an interesting risk for both sides. The team hopes that the player will continue to improve, making the years they lock up look like a discount. But they lose the opportunity to go year-to-year with the player, so if the player gets seriously hurt, or just plain loses his talent, the team is still on the hook. Imagine if the Rockies had given Ian Stewart a five-year extension (shudder).
The player is taking the certainty of a big payday early, mitigating the aforementioned risks. If he does develop into a better player, then he'll be taking less money than he could have earned. It all depends on his risk aversion. What if Mike Trout got into a freak garbage disposal accident and chopped off all the fingers on his right hand? Then the best player of the past two seasons would be out of baseball having earned the minimum wage for two years; he'd have a relatively scant $1 million. He'd have to actually get another job. Total bummer.
These extensions are also cool because it keeps superstars from reaching free agency during their primes. That means big spenders (read: Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox) won't have primo targets at whom to throw their largesse. Small market teams benefit from this setup.
Anyway, I was wondering whom the Rockies should target for their next round of extensions.
Chacin is quietly turning into one of the best pitchers in franchise history. He has the lowest career ERA of any Colorado starter at 3.61 (yes, besting Ubaldo's 3.66 and ... Steve Reed's 3.63?). He's 8th in fWAR at 10.5, and after a solid season this year (say, 3 WAR) he'll jump to 5th. If he has two years as good as his 2013, he'll essentially equal Ubaldo.
Problem is, these next two seasons are the only remaining ones Colorado controls. Chacin will take one more trip through arbitration after 2014, then he hits the free agent market. I'd love for the Rockies to push that date further over the horizon.
Chacin has shown an ability to tame Coors Field, holding a career 4.18 home ERA (he's downright lethal on the road, with a 2.86 career ERA. That's almost Kershaw-like). It's true he had an injury-plagued 2012, but he sandwiched it with two 190 inning campaigns, displaying solid durability. He's still young at 26. Pitchers that succeed at 20th and Blake are a rare breed, and Colorado should make every effort to see he stays.
The question, though, is price. If he keeps pitching effectively these next two years, he'll hit the market as a prime target. I bet he'll command a nine-figure deal. Homer Bailey of the Reds just scored $105 million over six years (including an arbitration year), and he's a pretty good comp for Chacin. If the Rockies get serious about Chacin next off season, he'll be in exactly the same situation as Bailey, staring down one more year before free agency.
I don't know if Chacin will be worth that kind of price tag, especially given the tendency of Colorado starters to break down. Honestly, the performance of Eddie Butler and Jon Gray might also affect this calculation; if they become what we hope they can become, Chacin might not be necessary to the long term plan. It's an interesting discussion.
Nolan Arenado is basically Andrelton Simmons, except a third baseman, not a shortstop. They are both coming off their first full season in the big leagues. They both demonstrated fantastic defensive ability, while not hitting all that great. But they both look primed to take a step forward at the plate, making them potential superstars. Simmons just signed a seven-year, $58 million dollar extension.
Simmons is probably a better player than Nolan (better defender at a harder position and he hit better last year, though Nolan is two years younger). I'd sign Nolan to a similar deal right now, for perhaps $10-15 million less. Seven years would take him to his 29-year-old season; I think there's a real good chance he outperforms that deal by a serious margin. And it would be nice to lock him up before his breakout season, which 2014 might be.
Some notes from the Denver Post. They include more eye-rolling Tulo-to-Yankees speculation, funny Brett Anderson quotes, and notes on how the Rockies farm system fared in Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects List.
A nice profile on Nolan Arenado, also from the DP. Nolan wants to take a step forward with the bat, and he indicates that greater pitch selectivity is how he'll do it.
The Rockies are on Dave Cameron's list of worst transactions of the off season. Might as well pack it in.