Free agency is dead. We are in the Extension Era. More and more clubs are locking up key contributors with extensions that buy out arbitration-eligible and free-agent seasons. The latest evolution in baseball contract extensions has seen their reach extend to minor-leaguers.
Earlier this year, news broke that the Houston Astros offered prospect George Springer a seven-year contract extension worth a reported $23 million. Springer turned down the offer and the Astros optioned him to Triple-A to start the season. Houston promoted Springer to the majors early in the year, but only after it was mathematically impossible for him to qualify for free agency until after his seventh season as a big-leaguer.
On Wednesday, news broke that the Pirates had also offered a prospect with no MLB service time a multi-year contract extension before the season started. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo!, Pittsburgh reportedly offered Gregory Polanco a seven-year deal worth a bit less than $25 million. The deal would've bought out all of Polanco's team-controlled seasons and potentially one year of free agency (if he started opening day on the MLB 25-man roster, which he presumably would've had he signed). The contract offer also had three club option years tacked on that would've pushed the total value of the contract to between $50 and $60 million.
The St. Louis Cardinals have utilized extensions with cost-controlled MLB players to mixed results. Lefty Jaime Garcia has battled shoulder injuries throughout much of the contract extension he signed before becoming arbitration eligible. The Allen Craig extension looked like a good deal after its first season, but an ice-cold start to the 2013 season for Craig has that deal looking a bit less rosy today. The Matt Carpenter extension, which was signed during spring training, is so young that it doesn't look too much different than it did the day it was signed.
Should the Cardinals join the ranks of the Astros and Pirates and attempt to extend one of their top prospects? It should be noted that both the Spring and Polanco extension offers were made during spring training, so perhaps the better question is: Should the Cards have made an extension offer to Oscar Taveras this spring in the hopes they could lock him in at a low salary for six or more years of club control?
Admittedly, Taveras was in a far different place during spring training than either Springer or Polanco. The Cardinals' top prospect was coming off a 2013 that was cut short by season-ending ankle surgery. While Springer and Polanco appeared worthy of MLB roster spots on merit alone this spring, everything had to break perfectly for Taveras to secure a spot on the Cardinals roster.
So let's say that Taveras' ankle injury lowers his value a bit compared to Springer and Polanco, who were healthy at the time their clubs made extension offers to them. If you were general manager John Mozeliak and you were going to make a spring-training contract extension offer to Taveras, what would the value be? I'm going to say around six years for about $18.6 million.
Why would the Cardinals do this? Spring 2014 very well might have been the lowest point for Tavaeras' value. With Taveras coming off ankle surgery, he was likely keenly aware of his own fragility and perhaps more open to ensuring financial security for the rest of his life regardless of whether his body again betrayed him. The Cards could've low-balled him due to his injury. At six years, the club could maintain another year of arbitration control depending on the other terms of the contract (i.e., they didn't give that year up) and when they promoted Taveras. It also might have worked as a carrot to help him focus on getting back on the field. Such a contract also would have wiped away any Super Two concerns (if they exist).
If you were Mozeliak, would you have offered Taveras a contract this spring? If not, why not? If yes, why and what would the terms have been? Please discuss in the comments.