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Stephen Piscotty extension another small win for the Cardinals

The off-season is finally over, but we get some bonus transactional news on the first off-day of 2017

MLB: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that kind of came out of nowhere. After extending Yadier Molina just days before Opening Day, news has broke that they’ve come to an agreement with Stephen Piscotty on an extension, guaranteeing him $33.5M over the next six years. Piscotty has just over one year of service time, so this deal guarantees his five remaining team control years as well as his first free agent-eligible season. It’ll come with an option, so this could delay Piscotty getting to free agency by two years. Here’s how the deal is structured:

-this doesn’t include a $2M signing bonus

I considered writing about a possible extension for Piscotty over the off-season. The reason I didn’t was because there just didn’t seem to be enough motivation on the Cardinals’ side of things. Piscotty is 26, so the team was already set to control him through his age 30 season. While he’s been productive as a major leaguer thus far and was a former first round pick, he’s not exactly seen as the type of elite talent that makes you want to lock him up early before he gets expensive.

This deal was presumably about two things for the Cardinals: (1) cost control, which was probably the more minor concern, and (2) gaining control of Piscotty’s age 31 and 32 seasons, 2022 and 2023. Those years come immediately after when Dexter Fowler’s deal is set to end, which is a year after Grichuk is currently set for free agency. Assuming Harrison Bader isn’t promoted within the next week or so, he should still be under control in 2022. That will be the case with Magneuris Sierra as well, though he’s far from a finished product at this point.

Looking at the Aggregate Cardinals Top Prospects list, behind Bader (5th) and Sierra (6th), the minors aren’t exactly teeming with exciting outfielders. There’s Dylan Carlson (16th), Randy Arozarena (18th), Nick Plummer (19th), Bryce Denton (26th), and Jonathon Machado (30th). Of course, a lot can happen between now and 2022, and a lot of these players have interesting upside. Still, there’s not exactly anyone you want to depend on.

I’m guessing that’s the motivation for this deal. It’s not that hard to imagine the outfield being a weakness in that distant future. Of course the team can add through free agency, but these deals tend to be better ways for a team to spend money than on free agents.

Let’s look at deals similar to Piscotty. Specifically, we’ll look at extensions for position players with more than one but less than two years of service time, from 2012 to present:

Extensions, 1+ years service time

player date age team pos years Guarantee options Service time career WAR
player date age team pos years Guarantee options Service time career WAR
Jonathan Lucroy 03/26/2012 26 MIL C 4 $11.0 1 1.136 2.2
Jose Altuve 07/13/2013 24 HOU 2B 4 $12.5 2 1.072 1.2
Carlos Santana 04/10/2012 26 CLE C 5 $21.0 1 1.115 5.1
Juan Lagares 04/01/2015 27 NYM CF 4 $23.0 1 1.16 6.8
Yan Gomes 03/29/2014 26 CLE C 6 $23.0 2 1.083 3.1
Starling Marte 03/26/2014 25 PIT LF 6 $31.0 2 1.07 5.8
Paul Goldschmidt 03/29/2013 26 ARZ 1B 5 $32.0 1 1.059 3.7
Stephen Piscotty 04/03/2017 26 STL RF 6 $33.5 1 1.076 3.9
Gregory Polanco 04/03/2016 25 PIT RF 5 $35.0 2 1.103 2.6
Jedd Gyorko 04/14/2014 25 SDG 2B / 3B 5 $35.0 1 1.016 2.3
Anthony Rizzo 05/13/2013 24 CHC 1B 7 $41.0 2 1.04 1.3
Christian Yelich 03/18/2015 23 MIA LF 7 $49.6 1 1.069 5.8
Andrelton Simmons 02/20/2014 24 ATL SS 7 $58.0 0 1.125 6.6

I made this table sortable so you can play around with it a bit. Sorting by career WAR before signing, there is a clear top tier, with Andrelton Simmons and Christian Yelich signing 7 year deals for the two highest guarantees in their service class. Starling Marte and Carlos Santana’s deals then stick out as being team-friendly, though Santana’s deal was the earliest. Juan Lagares doesn’t fit very well here, as he likely to be a Super 2 at the time, and the deal doesn’t buy out any free agent years.

That’s where Piscotty comes in, heading the second tier. His deal compares favorably to Paul Goldschmidt and Gregory Polanco, who were similarly productive and received similar total guarantees, but end one year earlier. It also compares well to Jedd Gyorko. There’s a lot more 26 year olds than I expected to see here. My hypothesis that 26 is a little too old to worry about buying out future years was definitely wrong, but there’s also only one extension for 27 year old, and none for anyone older than that.

Of these 13 players, Piscotty got the 6th biggest guarantee and was the 6th most productive. That seems fair, but it rates a little better than that when you notice that two of the players that received higher guarantees over five years rather than six. Starling Marte and Yan Gomes also received seven years. Gomes signed for $10.5M less and had accumulated 3/4th a win less. Marte had two more wins on his resume and signed for a similar deal. Jeez, that deal was a steal.

So, Piscotty’s deal looks a little better than the average deal for a player in his service time class, and these deals are generally team-friendly. So it would seem to rate out as a win for the team. Another way we could look at is by looking at what Piscotty likely could have earned through arbitration. The problem is, there isn’t very many players like Piscotty, so it’s hard to come up with arbitration comps.

Kole Calhoun is one such comp. Like Piscotty, he has around average walk, strikeout, and power numbers, and a track record of above-average BABIP skills. However, Calhoun also just had his first double-digit walk rate in 2016, while also cutting down on strikeouts. This winter the Angels guaranteed him $26M for his last three years before arbitration. BUT, he was a Super 2, so he would stand to make more than Piscotty, all else being equal.

Super 2 rules also screw up things for another Piscotty comp in Hunter Pence. He made $34.5M over his four turns through the arbitration system. Same goes for Hosmer. Though he plays a different position, he profiles similarly offensively. He made $30M over his four years in arbitration. Todd Frazier plays on a higher spot of the defensive spectrum, and made $24M through the arbitration system. He has shown a lot more power than Piscotty, but he also plays in a bandbox.

With inflation, we can guesstimate that Piscotty probably would have made something around $21M-$24M through arbitration. Perhaps others can make arguments for more or less than that, but we’re only talking about a few million outside of that range on either side.

For $9.5M to $12.5M more, the Cardinals get Piscotty’s age 31 season (2022), and the option to pay $14M more for his age 32 season (2023). A few weeks ago, I found the price of a win in the latest offseason to be $9M. Inflating that by 5% (which is standard) puts the price of a win at $11.5M in 2022, and $12.1M in 2023.

The Cardinals guaranteed Piscotty’s salary the next six years. In exchange, they get his production at a cost of about a win in his first free agent year, and the option to do so again the year after.

This leads us to the same conclusion that looking at other similar extensions did: this is a good deal for the team, but it’s not some huge discount. It’s not something that massively changes how you think of the Cardinals future, but it’s a plus nonetheless. Good move for the Cardinals, and also a good move for Piscotty, whose family now will enjoy generational wealth no matter how his career pans out (unless he tears an ACL playing basketball in his spare time or something). The Cardinals’ far out future just became a little more defined.