Although he only has a grand total of 14 days of service time, it sure seems clear that Ezequiel Tovar is the shortstop of both the present and future for the Colorado Rockies. In the past two seasons, Tovar tore through all four levels of the farm system, posting a .300/.348/.501 slash line and 124 wRC+ in 175 games against all degree of competition. His underlying statistics show his damage is being done with modest walk and strikeout rates and his defense has remained the most polished aspect of his game.
This profile makes Tovar a smart bet for the Rockies, even though he is just 21 years-old. Colorado fans got their first look at Tovar with a nine-game stint on the big league squad at the end of the last season and surely came away impressed with his abilities on both sides of the ball. This is just the start, as Tovar likely won’t be eligible for arbitration until after the 2025 season and free agency after 2028.
IT'S TOVAR TIME— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) October 5, 2022
Career HR No. 1 for Ezequiel Tovar! pic.twitter.com/129k5joTNT
But there has been a paradigm shift in baseball in recent seasons. Young, talented players that quickly become core pieces are consistently arriving at the big league level and organizations are rushing to lock them up quicker than ever. The most recent example of this was the 12-year mega-deal between Julio Rodríguez and Seattle Mariners that could earn the star outfielder between $210 million and $470 million.
Rodríguez’s contract came less than two years after the San Diego Padres inked Fernando Tatis Jr. to a 14-year, $340 million contract extension, making him the third-highest paid player in the game after just 143 games played.
Pre-Arb extensions since 2020
|Player||Team||Age||Contract Years||Total Value|
|Player||Team||Age||Contract Years||Total Value|
|Fernando Tatis Jr.||SD||21||14||$340 MM|
|Julio Rodríguez||SEA||22||12||$209.3 MM|
|Wander Franco||TB||20||11||$182 MM|
|Spencer Strider||ATL||24||6||$75 MM|
|Michael Harris II||ATL||21||8||$72 MM|
|Ke'Bryan Hayes||PIT||24||8||$70 MM|
|Luis Robert||CHW||22||6||$43 MM|
|Evan White||SEA||23||6||$24 MM|
Pre-arbitration contract extensions have become commonplace in MLB, with almost half of all deals in this context currently active. There are currently 36 players playing under pre-arb extensions and all have multiple seasons remaining. In total, Spotrac records 80 players all-time signed to pre-arb extensions with Colorado’s 6-year, $31 million deal with Troy Tulowitzki in 2008 as one of the earliest signings.
This data isn’t complete, as it doesn’t indicate service time and also overlooks a small exception of guaranteed entry-level contracts like Evan Longoria’s first contract with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008. But, when paired with Matt Kelly’s excellent column The earliest MLB contract extensions, we can piece together the full picture of players signed to long-term deals with minimal MLB experience.
These contract structures generally fit into two categories; controllable seasons and free agent seasons.
As previously mentioned, Ezequiel Tovar will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2028 season at the earliest. So, a six-year extension like the Chicago White Sox signed with Luis Robert prior to the 2020 season would lock-in the earnings between Tovar and the Rockies during that time.
However, if Tovar and the front office desired they could extend the contract beyond his initial duration of team control. This is the territory of Rodríguez and Tatis Jr. but, while Tovar is promising, he’s nowhere near commanding the high-end contracts that those west-coast stars recently signed.
However, recent 8-year agreements between Ke’Bryan Hayes and the Pittsburgh Pirates and Michael Harris II and the Atlanta Braves that hovered around the $70 million mark could represent a much more realistic sector of value.
The Harris II contract in particular is interesting as it is the latest in a growing trend for the Atlanta Braves. The Braves not only locked up the 2022 NL Rookie of the Year winner during the season, but also agreed to a 6-year pact with runner-up Spencer Strider around the same time. They join All-Stars Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies to form a core locked-up on pre-arbitration contract extensions.
This secured investment model is a path the Colorado Rockies could choose to pursue for their future, too. The organization is no stranger to signing players to contracts prior to arbitration – Germán Márquez current deal is an example of that – and the organization’s intentions of truly competing are largely tied to players that have yet to reach the major league level. But Tovar is arguably the first major piece to arrive, and so far has been touted as nothing less than a signficant part of that next core.
Of course, if an extension did come to fruition there would be risk on both sides. Not all pre-arb extensions pan out for the team, as indicated by Scott Kingery of the Philadelphia Phillies and Jon Singleton with the Houston Astros. But the deals that do prove successful for the club often come at the cost of the player earning significantly less than he would otherwise have made.
Would Tovar be willing to forgo his arbitration years and possible free agent seasons? That, we don’t know. All we know about his financial situation is he signed for an $800k bonus in 2017, the largest for any Colorado international signing that year. So, without being privy to negotiation desires, it’s hard to say how open his side is to discussing a deal.
But we do know that the Rockies are banking on Ezequiel Tovar being a fixture of the organization moving forward. And there has been a growing emphasis in the industry on securing those players to long-term deals as soon as possible. On the surface, it sure could make a lot of sense for the Rockies to push to do the same with their young shortstop in the near future.
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Experts make their 2023 Rookie of the Year picks | mlb.com
Jim Callis and Jonathon Mayo discussed potential 2023 Rookie of the Year candidates for both leagues in their latest episodes of the MLB Pipeline Podcast. In a draft format, the two prospect gurus made the case for ten different players around the league. Mayo selected Tovar, citing his numbers in Double-A before expressing optimism from his 2021 AFL performance and Gold Glove-caliber defensive tools.
White Sox To Sign Mike Clevinger | MLB Trade Rumors
The Chicago White Sox agreed to a one-year, $8 million deal with free agent SP Mike Clevinger. Clevinger started his career with the Cleveland organization before being traded to the San Diego Padres in 2020. He missed the 2021 season due to Tommy John surgery and posted a 4.33 ERA in 114 1⁄3 innings in 2022.
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