2023 SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards: Voting Open Now!

1. Cole Hamels
Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels didn't want to go there last week when I asked for his reaction to the six-year, $126-million contract right-hander Matt Cain signed with the Giants. Said Hamels, "I owe it to my teammates and our fans to concentrate on pitching. It just wouldn't be right to talk about my personal situation now." Hamels can become a free agent at the end of the season, just like Cain could have been. With contract prices rising by the week, the Phillies would be wise to get Hamels locked up now. The Phillies are an aging team—the age is showing with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley out of the lineup while recovering from major injuries—and the 28-year-old Hamels is someone they can retool around, perhaps as soon as the upcoming offseason. Hamels has proven to be durable, averaging 230 innings per year (including postseason) over the past four seasons and recovering quickly from the minor elbow surgery he underwent last winter. Hamels has also been worth an average of 3.6 WARP in the last five seasons; PECOTA pegs him for that total this season, a sign of his consistency. Barring a major injury, Hamels' price will be higher than Cain's by the time he reaches the open market in November. That is why the Phillies need to get a deal done now. —John Perrotto

2. Eric Hosmer
Hands off, big markets. I can see you salivating over Eric Hosmer’s impending (as in six years from now) free agency. We Royals fans haven’t even had our feel-good seasons yet. What would it take to lock up Hosmer through his prime? A Joey Votto contract? Ten years of Hos and Moose? Oh yes, Hosmer’s best friend and fellow Boras subject, Mike Moustakas, would be much more inclined to stick around if the Royals can convince Hosmer to commit for the long term. Even though Moustakas is a year older, he very much seems like Hosmer’s little brother, and in more ways than the difference in their respective statures. Locking up Billy Butler, Sal Perez, Alcides Escobar, and Alex Gordon was nice, but only Hosmer can be the next George Brett in Kansas City—the iconic player of the next great era of Royals baseball. Give him a barbeque restaurant, a pass to park in any handicap spot in KC, or make him the permanent Grand Marshal of the Plaza Lights opening ceremony. Lock him down, whatever it takes, whatever he wants. —Bradford Doolittle

3. Madison Bumgarner
On June 26, 2002, the Giants signed top draft pick Matt Cain. The next day, as I recall, the rumors about a Prince Fielder-for-Matt Cain trade began. Like I said, this is what I recall. It might have been the day after, or a few weeks after, but for what seems like as long as I've known Matt Cain I've known Matt Cain trade rumors. That's because the Giants have a bunch of pitching and no hitting and because Brian Sabean has been known to troll his own fan base. He never did trade Cain, but for many years he also didn't sign Cain to an extension, and until that extension was finally signed last month it seemed that Cain was going to be the guy too good to trade and too expensive to keep. All of which brings us to Madison Bumgarner, who is getting to be kind of old: He's getting hair in funny places, his pop took him out to the barn to see a cow give birth, and he's about 14 months from his first crazy trade rumor. What'll it be? Madison Bumgarner for David Freese is my guess. Then Madison Bumgarner for Scott Sizemore. Then Madison Bumgarner for Kyle Seager. Until finally, on the cusp of free agency, he signs an extension that's expensive enough to not quiiiiiiiite feel like much of a great idea. Giants fans can't take it, is what I'm saying. Lock him down now, Sabes. Lock him down now. —Sam Miller

4. Clayton Kershaw
Before he finally sold the team and promised Dodger fans a way out of their long Chavez Ravine nightmare, Frank McCourt got one pressing item of business done this winter by signing Matt Kemp to an eight-year, $160 million extension. The deal seemed huge when it was signed in November, but the price tag looks like a bargain relative to the $200 million-plus megadeals that Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and Joey Votto have since signed.

Left unfinished was a long-term extension for Kershaw, who at the ripe old age of 24 is coming off his first Cy Young award, a season in which he won the pitchers' Triple Crown by leading the league in wins (21), ERA (2.28) and strikeouts (248) as well as WARP (6.0). The southpaw is in the first year of a two-year, $19 million deal that buys out his first two years of arbitration eligibility, so there's no tremendous sense of urgency. But for a new ownership looking to reassure downtrodden Dodgers fans—and perhaps free agents—that both of the team's two best players are here to stay, an extension beyond 2013 is high on the to-do list. —Jay Jaffe

5. Anibal Sanchez
Injuries may have sullied his reputation, but Anibal Sanchez has quietly established himself as one of baseball's best young pitchers over the last two seasons. Since 2010, Sanchez's 6.26 WARP ranks 16th among starting pitchers, ahead of purported Marlins ace Josh Johnson and rotation-mates Mark Buehrle, Ricky Nolasco, and Carlos Zambrano. Sanchez is scheduled to hit the free-agent market after the season, and the Marlins would be wise to aggressively pursue a contract extension with their unheralded star. —Bradley Ankrom

6. Giancarlo Stanton
Stanton is 80 power personified. The Marlins outfielder arrived in the majors with a fully formed home run stroke, and he’s used it to put himself in the same class as some of the earliest achievers in baseball history. Only eight players have hit more home runs through age 21 than Stanton. Seven of them are in the Hall of Fame, and the eighth, Tony Conigliaro, might well have been had his career not been cut short by a pitched ball. Almost all players, no matter how talented, are still projects at Stanton’s age, but he’s already surpassed most major leaguers who’ve reached their primes. PECOTA projects him to lead the National League in home runs this season at age 22. Bryce Harper might be the only player with the talent to displace him as the favorite for that title in the next decade.

Stanton won’t come as cheap as some players who’ve been locked up with less experience, since he’s already demonstrated what he can do. Still, the Fish can save some money—if they have any left to save after their off-season spending—and help secure their future by buying up a few of his free agent years. The Marlins gave Hanley Ramirez a long-term deal, so there is some precedent for their springing for an extension, though there’s also plenty of precedent for the team’s homegrown stars to be traded away.

As Michael Jong has pointed out elsewhere, Ryan Braun’s first extension could be the baseline, though Miami might have to make it a bit richer given recent inflation on the salary front. Stanton isn’t eligible for arbitration until after next season and for free agency until after 2016, but it’s in the Marlins’ best interest to act quickly; with every homer he hits, the likelihood that he’ll want to give Miami a discount in exchange for financial security decreases. And with every homer he loses to the big outfield at Marlins Park, the greener the grass will appear at other ballparks. —Ben Lindbergh

7. Buster Posey
Let's just get this over with: The Giants don't have many hitters. Hitters that can do more than stand in place in the American History Museum as relics of baseball's past, anyway. And the Giants have a kinda hard time with scoring runs. And not getting overly excited when an aging veteran posts a fluke season, leading to multi-year extensions.

Though manager Bruce Bochy has an apparent phobia for position players younger than 30, he seems to trust the 25-year-old Posey. So why not seize the opportunity to sign a young, impact hitter who plays a premium position long-term? The Giants could at least throw five years Posey's way; at the end of the deal, he could be a True GiantTM, on the wrong side of 30, and ready for another contract extension to fit in with the newest set of Giant Geezers. —Stephani Bee

8. Ryan Lavarnway
On April 12, 2008 Evan Longoria made his major-league debut. Six days later, the Rays signed him to a six-year contract with three option years. If all options are picked up, the contract is worth $44 million. The Rays were clearly confident Longoria would become an above-average player at the major-league level. Obviously they were right. Since that contract, Longoria has developed into one of the premier players in the game, and his contract has become one of the premier jokes. He left millions of dollars on the table by signing the deal, so the thinking goes. While that may be true in a strict sense, there are other variables. Ultimately, players sign extensions buying out free-agent years because they're willing to lose dollars off their total earning potential to gain the insurance of knowing that they're guaranteed to make some portion of it in the event of injury or a downturn in performance.

This all brings me to Ryan Lavarnway. Lavarnway is, depending on whom you talk to, a catcher or a DH in catcher's clothing. It's unclear where his team, the Red Sox, stands on that issue, but it is known that he can hit. He hit .290/.376/.563 last season in equal time at Double-A and Triple-A. What's more, in 264 PAs in Triple-A he slugged .612. He could become anything in between an All-Star catcher and an average DH, but even if he becomes the latter, he's still worth locking up. The Rays locked up Longoria because they thought the risk of throwing $28 million down the commode was minimal. Lavarnway doesn’t have Longoria’s ceiling, but the chances of his not becoming a useful major leaguer are small, and the potential that he becomes very valuable exists. The money saved from a long-term extension could be ample, and the cost to do it now would be minimal, as the player has yet to become a major-league regular. If Lavarnway somehow turns into nothing, the amount of money lost will be small. The Red Sox have catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but he'll be a free agent in two seasons and isn't likely to develop into the next great Red Sox catcher or DH. There is a significant chance that Lavarnway can do one or both. For the Red Sox, that's a chance worth betting on. —Matthew Kory

9. Devin Mesoraco
Maybe it’s just the shimmering attraction of talented young catchers. I guess for every Buster Posey there’s a Matt Wieters or five. But in any case, there’s reason to think about throwing some guaranteed money and years at the 23-year-old Mesoraco, even though he’s only had 56 major-league plate appearances to date (and hit .189/.232/.358). After building an early reputation as lazy and/or poorly conditioned, the former first-round draft pick (2007) from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania got into shape in 2010 and mashed across three minor-league levels, earning Minor League Player of the Year honors from the Reds organization. Mesoraco saw some time with the Reds late last season and moved into the pole position for the 2012 job when the Reds sent Yasmani Grandal to San Diego in the Mat Latos deal.

Unsurprisingly, Dusty Baker wasn’t ready to hand the keys over to a rookie, and anyway, Ryan Hanigan is a perfectly acceptable, cheap option through 2013 (he is also the unexpected answer to this trivia question: Other than Albert Pujols, who is the only major-leaguer to have totaled more walks than strikeouts in each of the last three seasons?). Baker can afford to let Mesoraco learn the job for a while as Hanigan’s backup. Mesoraco struggled early with the bat in spring training, but after working with Brook Jacoby on his hitting mechanics he ended March on an upsurge. He has a good throwing arm and seems to have acquired the discipline and determination to learn the advanced art of catching as he matures; he can already hit. I can see no harm, and potentially much good, in locking him up for a few years with a team-friendly deal—with the admittedly fond hope that, if he can’t master big-league backstopping, his bat might suit him for a move to third base once Scott Rolen calls it quits. —Adam Sobsey

10. Dustin Ackley
Dustin Ackley actually signed a major-league contract a couple months after he was drafted by the Mariners as the second overall pick in the amateur draft that carries him through 2014. However, it contains a clause allowing him to opt out once he hits his arbitration years and negotiate new salaries based on that system. So the M's would do well to lock Ackley into a long-term deal that controls his costs and delays his free agency as long as possible. Ackley posted the 14th-best OPS+ (117) of any second baseman 23 years old or younger since 1900, beaten out by the likes of Rod Carew, Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor, and Tony Lazzeri (OK, in addition to immortals like Jorge Orta, Cass Michaels, Tony Cuccinello, and Ron Hunt). With potential replacements Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips signing big extensions in the last two days, it'd behoove the M's to strike now, before it becomes abundantly clear that Ackley is going to be better than either of them. —Michael Bates

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"I guess for every Buster Posey there’s a Matt Wieters or five."

Matt Wieters, age 23-25 (2009-2011), 1438 PA, 5.7 WARP (2.57 WARP/650PA). Tough division, still has significant upside.
Buster Posey, age 22-24 (2009-2011), 644 PA, 4.4 WARP (4.44WARP/650PA). Freak injury, bad player management. Serious upside coming.

(I think I did my math correctly on those WARP/650 PA, but no guarantees.)

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it seems strange to use Matt Wieters as an example of a bust at this point in time. I think Mesoraco is worth signing even if he produced 2.1+ WARP/season at C in the few years leading up to his prime.
Indeed, when I saw that line I thought "for every Buster Posey there's a Ryan Lavernaway or five."

The notion that a club should lock up a guy with 43 MLB PA who hasn't hit .300 at any level is laughable, made ludicrous when you realize they're talking about a player with little or no defensive value.

I suppose if he took a 6-year $10 million deal or something, why not, but given that the Sox won't have paid him $1 million total by the end of 2014, waiting to see if he's more than a quad-A player might make more sense.
Admittedly, locking Lavarnway up is going out on a limb. Signing guys in Lavarnway's position (or close to it) to long term deals will yield more contracts like Evan Longoria's. In effect it's like the draft, but with better information. You'll hit on some guys and miss on others but the overall effect, if done correctly, will be a positive for the team's bottom line. One way or the other, I think it's an interesting discussion, which is why I wrote it.
I appreciate the response. I guess the question is whether teams need to gamble like this on long-term deals for average players. It's one thing when we're talking about franchise players, or at least players who have created expectations (either at the minor or major league level) that they will be all-stars. To my mind, occasional all-star is Lavarnaway's upside.

The risks involved in any long-term deal (primarily injury, though in young players' cases, also simply not meeting production expectations) are offset by the cost-savings a team realizes by providing a player some income certainty. For a player like Longoria, if he stays healthy and productive, it's going to be an eight-figure win for the Rays, justifying the non-trivial risks of a collapse in production. For a player of Lavarnaway's caliber, the savings would be at best a few million, with a higher downside.

Put another way, it seems like the risks involved in locking up a player only justify doing so when the players are good enough to likely generate so much surplus value that it overwhelms the risk.
Two things:

1) I think we clearly value Lavarnway differently. I may be higher on him than most. He may never be a great defensive catcher, but I think he can play the position at the major league level. I also think his bat will play at DH even if he can't catch. So if you have a catcher who can hit .266/.341/.430 (that was what DHs hit collectively last year) or better like I think Lavarnway can, that's a valuable player.

2) Yes, there is risk. But because the cost is so low the risk is comparatively minimal. If Evan Longoria had turned into nothing or gotten seriously hurt in his rookie year, the Rays would have been on the hook for $17.5M. That's not nothing but teams make far more expensive mistakes than that all the time. Not to mention that money would have been spread out over six seasons so it wouldn't have handcuffed even the Rays. And because the Rays took that chance, they've now got a 6-8 win player locked up for 1-2 win player money long term. Lavarnway may or may not be the player you want to take that risk with, but I think it's something teams are going to look at more and more.

Thanks for writing back. I appreciate the conversation.
Perhaps I'm not the only person who gets irked that Matt Wieters is the go-to example of a prospect bust.

I feel sorry for Bryce Harper if he doesn't have an MVP award by his 22nd birthday.
Agreed- Wieters is one of the best defensive and offensive catchers in the league. He hasn't lived up to the hype YET but he's only 26 this may so still has plenty of time. I never knew turning into one of the best players at your position=bust like it gets thrown around. On top of that, I still strongly believe he has a better career then Posey.
In truth, the blame for Wieters' bustiness rests squarely with BP, which predicted he'd win four MVPs by his third year and make Baltimorons forget homegrown Babe Whatsisname.

Had Wieters simply entered the majors like an ordinary, uncaped crusader, we'd be comparing him favorably to Jonathan Lucroy.
Locking up Kershaw, Hosmer, and Stanton seem to make the most sense to me of any of these (not as though they don't ALL make sense). Of all the players on the list, those three have the rare blend of youth and established success that would warrant these types of extensions (Hosmer being the lightest track record but still successful).

The only reason I would rank Hosmer ahead of Stanton is because of his position. Given the recent Pujols and Fielder contracts, I can't imagine what the Royals would have to pay Hosmer six years from now to match a big market squad.
First basemen are generally less valuable defensively than outfielders. If your argument for Hosmer > Stanton is that Hosmer plays a more valuable position, you have a radically different understanding of position value than most.

Fielder and Pujols weren't paid as they were because they are first basemen, they were paid for their bats, and they are first basement because that's where (especially in Fielder's case) that's where their glove does the least damage.
We're both saying the same thing (I think?) albeit I should have been more clear with regards to my comment on "value" for Hosmer. I would imagine that paying Hosmer now would cost substantially less if one were to project his bat to be in the same ballpark as a Fielder or Pujols. Though I don't think his hit tool will has the ceiling of a Pujols or Fielder, I think his other tools will add a ton of value.

I just think that down the road (6 years), Hosmer's agent will have an easier time asking for money closer to that of Pujols and Fielder than he possibly could right now should Hosmer come close to their numbers.
I'll take the five Matt Wieters and you can have one Buster Posey. I guess BP just can't over its fixation with Wieters being a bust after he didn't post the Lou Gehrig-like stats they projected for him right off the bat.

Yep, Matthew helped me out, explaining what I meant after I neglected to do so myself. Wieters is indeed not anything like a bust (and so far this year he sports a 1.215 OPS); it's just that it has taken him longer to develop than most people predicted. In any case, I probably should have zeroed in on an older example, such as Kelly Shoppach. As I recall, he was the prospect the Red Sox wouldn't trade for a good long while, as they fended off interest from plenty of other teams. To be fair, injuries have played a large part in muting Shoppach's career. He has had over 400 plate appearances in only one season (with a 128 OPS+ for Cleveland in 2008), and has turned into a Mendoza-line hitter over the last three years. Now back in Boston, he's a reserve catcher at age 31.
I'm pretty sure Adam was referring to how quickly Posey delivered on his promise versus Wieters' relatively slow development in the major leagues. Wieters has come around, but everyone (not just BP) was expecting much more much sooner.
And, in the spirit of naming the wrong guy, it would have been swell had I written "Bradley" instead of "Matt."
Robinson Cano? The Yankees have an option for 2013. After that season he'll be 31. Brandon Phillips just got signed until he's 36. I honestly have no idea what the Yankees will do with Cano. He's been durable, he's probably their best hitter, but do you want to pay $20mil for his age 36 season?
How about Brian McCann? He's the future face of the Braves, if not already, once Chipper retires?
It doesn't matter if they want to do it, they will either do it or he'll leave.
Meant to respond to the Cano comment, above. Dangit.
It seems to me that perhaps the most extension-worthy player is Starlin Castro (well, possible criminal charges aside).

Castro led the league in hits at age 22, is at the very least a playable shortstop, and has earned the love of scouts and stats-mavens for a few years now. In the midst of a sure-to-be-losing season, why not sign the centerpiece of the FutureCubs* (TM) and garner slightly below-market value from a good-to-great player for years to come?

* FutureCubs includes Rizzo and Jackson. All other prospects are provisional, at best.
If you're Cole Hamels and you look around the clubhouse at an aging manager, an aging expensive slugger at 1B who is still healing from a ruptured Achilles, an aging second baseman who can't get on the field, a soon-to-be free agent centerfielder, an aging catcher, third baseman, and shortstop and a farm system ranked near the bottom of all of the teams out there... why the hell would you want to sign with Philly?

By the way, I'm a Phillies fan. But, when I look at this roster and the farm system I don't think "yeah, locking up another starting pitcher to a long term deal solves everything" and I can't see Hamels wanting to stay here. Will he sign? Maybe. But, I think he's taking his time because the future ain't all that bright in Philly right now.
I think those are all reasonable comments on signing in Philly. But if the Phillies offer him crazy money (defined as whatever his market value is at the moment) and they might and Hamels likes living in Philadelphia (he may or may not, I don't know) and he feels comfortable there, why leave?

My point is I think it's hard to say from here what the right thing to do is. I'm sure Hamels knows about the Phils farm system, but I don't think it's going to make or break his decision to re-sign with the Phillies for $100+ million.
If the Phillies' fortunes were to collapse, and Hamels had signed an extension, they'd probably deal him for prospects, and he'd be out of there anyway.