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What would a Michael Wacha extension look like?

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The Cardinals and Michael Wacha each have reasons to be interested in a long term extension. If they were to work out an extension at this point in time, what would such a deal look like?

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, Craig wrote an excellent piece about how the Cardinals should focus on extending young pitchers Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez. His rationale was pretty straightforward: the price of good pitching is skyrocketing (particularly in light of the recent Rick Porcello extension) and Wacha and Martinez have the talent to command hefty salaries in the future, especially if they can put together a full season in the rotation. I find these type of extensions to be particularly interesting, because while they carry some risk, especially with pitchers, there is the potential for high reward as well. The Cardinals have seen both ends of the spectrum on these types of deals, with Adam Wainwright's first extension being incredibly successful for the team and Jaime Garcia's extension being considerably less so. I happen to agree with Craig that the Cardinals would be smart to extend Wacha and Martinez now, so I thought I'd take a look at what an extension could look like for one of those pitchers.

While Michael Wacha is only 23, he has already had his share of ups and downs at the major league level. While he pitched like an ace in late 2013 and early 2014, he also dealt with a concerning shoulder injury which seriously limited his effectiveness at the end of the 2014 season. There are some indications that he may back to his pre-injury level of performance, but pitcher health is far from a guarantee. As we know, previous injury history is one of the biggest predictors of future injuries, so it would be unrealistic to assume that Wacha will have a clean bill of health for the rest of his career.

For this reason, a long-term extension would be very beneficial for Wacha at the moment. At the very least, he would be set for life with several million dollars, which is certainly more than he would make if he didn't sign an extension and happened to experience a career-ending injury. Of course, the flip side of this is that the Cardinals would be taking the risk of having another Jaime Garcia situation (or worse).

But how much risk is the team actually taking on in this situation? Jaime Garcia has been worth $25.2 million (according to Fangraph's dollar-WAR tool) during the first three years of his deal, and he could match or even exceed the total contract value of $27.5 million if he pitches this year. While these numbers don't factor in adjustments for arbitration, it is telling that one of the worst possible outcomes for the team in a pre-arbitration starting pitcher extension didn't end up hurting the team all that much. If I were the Cardinals, I would certainly be willing to risk having another Jaime Garcia situation in exchange for the possibility of having Wacha's peak years at a bargain rate.

Using the extension tracker tool from MLB Trade Rumors, I was able to find extensions given to players comparable to Wacha, namely, starting pitchers with between one and two years of service time. I only included extensions signed in the last three calendar years.

Date Player Team Years Amount (in millions) Options Service Time
4/4/2015 Yordano Ventura"]" style="padding: 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; text-align: center;">Yordano Ventura KCR 5 $23.0 2 1.013
3/24/2014 Jose Quintana"]" style="padding:2px 3px 2px 3px;vertical-align:bottom;text-align:center;">Jose Quintana CWS"]" style="padding:2px 3px 2px 3px;vertical-align:bottom;text-align:center;">CWS 5 $21.0 2 1.133
2/14/2014 Julio Teheran"]" style="padding:2px 3px 2px 3px;vertical-align:bottom;text-align:center;">Julio Teheran ATL 6 $32.4 1 1.062
11/7/2013 Martin Perez"]" style="padding:2px 3px 2px 3px;vertical-align:bottom;text-align:center;">Martin Perez TEX 4 $12.0 3 1.038

While there are some differences between these contracts, they are actually more similar than they initially appear. If I make the option years guaranteed, the table would actually look something like this.

Date Player Team Years Amount (in millions) Service Time
4/4/2015 Yordano Ventura KCR 7 $47.0 1.013
3/24/2014 Jose Quintana CWS 7 $43.0 1.133
2/14/2014 Julio Teheran ATL 7 $44.4 1.062
11/7/2013 Martin Perez TEX 7 $32.6 1.038

As you can see, all four pitchers were given contracts that could go as long as seven years, with between $35 and $47 million paid over the course of the contract. While there are slight differences between these contracts, most of which can be attributed to differences in performance as well as the increasing cost of pitching, it is easy to see that there is a general framework for these types of extensions throughout the baseball industry.

Now, let's compare Wacha's performance so far to the performance of these pitchers at the time they signed their contracts.

Player IP K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP WAR
Michael Wacha 185.0 8.03 2.63 2.92 3.18 3.2
Yordano Ventura 213.1 7.64 3.38 3.33 3.86 2.2
Jose Quintana 336.1 6.56 2.62 3.61 3.99 4.8
Julio Teheran 192.0 8.20 2.16 3.28 3.64 2.9
Martin Perez 162.1 6.04 2.88 4.05 4.21 1.6

A good argument can be made that Wacha's performance so far tops that of all of the other pitchers at the time they signed their extensions, and that's without factoring in his incredible 2013 postseason performance. While the Cardinals should perhaps get a slight discount on a potential extension due to Wacha's injury last season, it's hard to imagine Wacha's extension being worth less money than the any of the extensions listed above. If we follow the same structure of these contracts, it appears that Wacha would get around five years guaranteed with a couple options added onto the end of the deal. For the first five years of the deal, I could see Wacha making a total around $30 million guaranteed, with a couple team options in the $15 million range, raising the potential seven year total to around $60 million. And if the situation turned full Jaime Garcia on the Cardinals, they could simply decline the options.

If the Cardinals have a decent level of confidence in Michael Wacha's health going forward (and they certainly know more on the issue than I do), then I think it would be wise for them to sign him to a contract along these lines. I also think this type of deal would be pretty fair from Wacha's perspective. While it is true that he could potentially earn more by going year to year in arbitration if he stays healthy and pitches like he's capable of, I think it makes sense for him to take the guaranteed money at this point in his career. Even if the contract goes all seven years, Wacha would still get a shot at free agency at age 30.

Overall, this type of deal seems like a win-win situation for both sides, so let's hope it becomes a reality in the near future.