One week ago, Rick Porcello signed a contract extension paying him $95 million over the next five years amounting to an extension of roughly $83 million over four seasons after this one. More than $20 million per year for a non-ace pitcher is steep price to pay, and there were a few immediate comparisons to Lance Lynn. The Cardinals signed Lynn, entering his first year of arbitration to three-year deal for $22 million covering his three years of arbitration but buying no free agent seasons. After the Porcello contract Ben wondered if the Cardinals might regret not getting more years out of Lynn.
When Lynn hits free agency in three years, what will a pitcher of his talent (in between Lester and Scherzer on the one hand and Porcello on the other) be able to command for a salary? Pondering this question poses another. It makes one wonder if the asking price Lynn and his team established during last winter's negotiations might very well wind up a bargain in comparison to the offers the righty might field as a free agent.
Bernie Miklasz at the Post-Dispatch weighed in on the effect of Porcello's deal on Lynn as well.
Lynn has been one of the better bargains in the majors.
But if Lynn keeps this up, he'll score a huge pay day as a free agent in 2018. And even if the Cardinals make a pitch for Lynn to stay beyond '17, they'll have to pay up.
Derrick Goold added a little bit more information to Lynn's situation on Twitter:
@buffa82 Lynn and his agent had no interest in signing over free agent years. Cardinals wanted to get a couple before paying big money.— Derrick Goold (@dgoold) April 10, 2015
Lance Lynn, still three years from free agency, had no interest in signing over free agent years. Given the cost of pitching, the decision looks to be a good one for him. If he his injured or his value goes down over the next few years, he already has security, but if he stay healthy he is in line to receive a monster payday.
If the Cardinals had to do things over again, I doubt they go back to this winter and try to get more years from Lynn at a very high price. They might go back one year, though, maybe two, and try to sign Lynn to a team-friendly contract that buys out a few free agent seasons. That type of deal likely would have been possible. One year ago, I wrote about the Cardinals' lack of long term extensions with many of its young ptichers and said that Lynn was likely to play his way out of an extension by season's end. He did just that, and the player most suited for an extension before last season began, Shelby Miller, has since been traded to Atlanta for Jason Heyward.
The Cardinals missed the boat with Lynn and had enough questions about Shelby Miller to send him to the Braves, but the team is now faced with the opportunity to sign two of its young pitchers before they play their way out of extensions. Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha have both shown incredible promise and at the same time raised questions about their ability to be a starter long-term. Both are just 23 years old and have between one and two years of service time. The Cardinals already have them for the next five seasons, and a lot could happen in those five seasons, but if either one, or both, pitch well as a starter, they will hit free agency at Age-28 and earn massive contracts.
The closer players get to free agency, the less likely they are to sign contract extensions and the more money it costs to prevent players from leaving for free agency. The Cardinals have a window right now where they might be able to sign the two players for considerably less money than they would if the players continue to develop. Yordano Ventura, also 23 years old, also with over one year of service time, also a pitcher with great promise but some question marks as well, just signed a contract extension with the Royals guaranteeing him $23 million over the next five years with two team options that could potentially buy two free agent seasons. Other pitchers with similar service time who have signed contracts over the last few years are Jose Quintana, Julio Teheran, and Madison Bumgarner for guarantees of $21 million, $32.4 million, and $35 million, respectively. Each contract bought out potentially two seasons of free agency and all of those deals look like bargains at the moment.
Contracts do not always end well, and the Jaime Garcia contract has not provided the benefit that both the team and player thought it might when the deal was signed. The Cardinals guaranteed $27 million that included one free agent year (this season), and potentially two more in options worth $11.5 million and $12 million. Those options are not likely to be exercised, but if Garcia had managed to stay even a little bit healthy those options would have tremendous value. Despite the commitment made to Garcia, the Cardinals had little trouble remaining in contention.
Consider another similar deal that the Cardinals made before Garcia's: Adam Wainwright's. The final year of Adam Wainwright's contract extension was 2011 and he missed the entire season. Without the extension, Wainwright would have been a free agent. Coming off Tommy John surgery, he might have signed with the Cardinals on a make-good one year deal or perhaps an incentive-laden two year deal, but after that first season, when Wainwright pitched 200 innings and his peripherals suggested he was back to normal, the contract to keep him would have been very expensive in the same offseason that Zach Greinke received close to $150 million. The team options the Cardinals had that allowed Wainwright to stay with the Cardinals in 2012 and 2013 were two very good seasons including perhaps the best season of Wainwright's career in 2013. Those options allowed the Cardinals to sign Wainwright to an extension before 2013 and even the $97.5 million paid in that extension looks to be a good value now.
Focusing on the downside of locking up young pitchers when the total commitment is close to the yearly salary in Rick Porcello's extension is a mistake. Neither El Gallo nor Michael Wacha has started a full season in the majors, but Michael Wacha pitched like an ace at the beginning of 2014 and both he and Martinez are off to good starts this season. The upside of controlling their Age-28 and Age-29 seasons at half to one-third the going market rate without a major future commitment far outweighs the downside of losing $20 million to $30 million dollars spread out over five years. The Cardinals could potentially mitigate risk by signing both players. There might be an opportunity to extend these players in another year when we have more information, but as we saw with Lance Lynn, the time for an extension comes quickly and can disappear just as quickly. The Cardinals have an opportunity now, and if the players are willing, it is an opportunity the team should not pass up.