Nolan Arenado

What baseball's extension trend — now starring Mike Trout — means for the White Sox rebuild and future free-agent pursuits

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USA TODAY

What baseball's extension trend — now starring Mike Trout — means for the White Sox rebuild and future free-agent pursuits

Baseball's hottest club is "Extension."

With back-to-back winters of free-agency frustration and changes to the collective-bargaining agreement (if not something much worse) looming, some of baseball's biggest names are saying "forget it" to what was once the ultimate goal of every player: reaching free agency and cashing in for big bucks. But you see it now, unless you're Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, that path has become a very risky one. Even a Cy Young winner like Dallas Keuchel can't find a job. Same goes for Craig Kimbrel, one of baseball's best closers and a guy potentially on his way to the Hall of Fame.

And so the extension craze is sweeping the game. If your current team is willing to hand out massive dollars, why risk jumping ship? Take the money. Take the security. Especially when these contracts are of the record-breaking variety.

The latest member of the club is the best player in baseball. Mike Trout reportedly agreed to a 10-year extension with the Los Angeles Angels. Throw in the two years and roughly $70 million remaining on his current contract, and he'll make $430 million over the next 12 years.

Trout's new deal follows the one Nolan Arenado took with the Colorado Rockies last month, the one that will net him $260 million over the next eight years. That came just a few years after Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, $325 million with his then-current team, the Miami Marlins. He was traded to the New York Yankees after the first three years of that contract and will be in pinstripes through the 2027 season.

Those guys are three of the best players in the game, but these kinds of deals aren't limited to only the most elite talents/brands in baseball. This offseason featured "stay with your current club" deals for Aaron Nola (Philadelphia Phillies), Luis Severino (Yankees), Aaron Hicks (Yankees) and Miles Mikolas (St. Louis Cardinals). Next year's free-agent class is set to be absolutely loaded, but Arenado's already taken himself out of it. Hicks won't be a part of it, either. Given this trend, there's speculation Chris Sale might not hit that market and instead sign a new contract with the Boston Red Sox. Same for Anthony Rendon and the Washington Nationals. And here's a thought: Now that Trout has a monster deal in hand, what will that mean for the other guy who was set to break the bank after the 2020 season, Mookie Betts, the reigning AL MVP? Is there a possibility that a free-agent class assumed to star two of baseball's biggest names now might not contain either?

And that's why this all applies to the White Sox.

No, Trout sticking with the Angels doesn't have some dramatic impact on the White Sox ability to compete for championships in the future, nor does any single one of these extensions in isolation. But as part of his ongoing rebuilding project, Rick Hahn wants to add a premium talent from outside the organization. It's been part of the plan all along. There were opportunities to do that this offseason with Machado and Harper, but those two are playing elsewhere. Those weren't the last opportunities. There will be others in offseasons and at trade deadlines to come.

But this trend of extensions could limit those opportunities.

Arenado was at the top of the wishlist for many White Sox fans, but he's not going anywhere until at least after the 2021 season and he might stay in Denver through the length of his contract, through the 2026 season. Rendon, then, looks like a fine alternative, a third baseman who has been excellent in recent seasons, with a .305/.389/.534 slash line, 49 homers and 192 RBIs in the last two years. Well, if he decides to stay in D.C., there goes the opportunity to add him to the mix on the South Side. Sale might have no interest in coming back to the White Sox, but no matter how realistic his return is or isn't, if he takes himself off the market, that dramatically shifts the starting-pitching market in free agency next offseason, a market the White Sox could be looking to be a part of.

So whether these extension signers or extension candidates are White Sox targets or not, their avoidance of the free-agent market will have its consequences for Hahn's front office.

It's worth noting, though, as Stanton and the Marlins showed, these extensions do not mean all these players will remain with the team they sign with. Trades could become an even more common way to acquire the game's best players after they cash in for their big-money deals. In that area, the White Sox could find more opportunities. After all, Hahn has built a talent-packed farm system, and trading from a position of depth — such as the outfield, where seven of their top 11 prospects play — could end up being the way in which the White Sox get their premium talent from outside the organization.

Trout might not have been in the cards for the White Sox two offseasons from now, so news of his high-priced extension might have made no difference to the team on the South Side. But he's joining in a trend — and now setting a new bar with this record deal — that could have big effects on which players the White Sox will even have the opportunity to pursue in the coming years. And because building a contender solely out of homegrown players is just about impossible, that's a big deal.

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Cubs ripple effects after Mike Trout's monster extension

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USA TODAY

Cubs ripple effects after Mike Trout's monster extension

Want the good news or the bad news first?

As Mike Trout inked a ridiculous $430 million deal Tuesday morning that will keep him in Los Angeles for the rest of his career, the baseball world went into an uproar.

That move doesn't directly affect the 2019 Cubs in any meaningful way (though the Cubs host Trout and the Angels during the first homestand of the season), but the fallout will certainly drift over to the North Side of Chicago.

For starters, it obviously means Cubs fans can give up any hope of seeing Trout patrolling center field at Wrigley in blue pinstripes. Sure, trades happen even after these mega-extensions (as Giancarlo Stanton and the Marlins proved), but the odds are pretty low.

Beyond that, what does it mean for the future of the Cubs' homegrown stars like Kris Bryant and Javy Baez? Both are set to hit the free agent market after the 2021 season and will be 30 and 29, respectively, at that time.

If the Cubs had visions of getting either player to sign an extension on a discount, Trout's contract is further proof that any such scenario may be a pipe dream.

Baseball's free agency process is broken...but not for the elite young players, which Bryce Harper and Manny Machado proved earlier this year when they signed for a combined $630 million.

As such, the Colorado Rockies (with Nolan Arenado) and Angels were able to keep their stars from hitting free agency, but they had to shell out a ridiculous amount of money to do so, paying each guy well over $30 million annually.

If Bryant and Baez are both still putting up MVP numbers in a few years, their market figures to be similar — especially while playing a premium position on the diamond.

So yes, the Cubs will have to pay up if they're going to retain Bryant and Baez after 2021. Given these price tags, they also might have to choose to go all-in on only one of Bryant or Baez.

However, the good news for the Cubs in regards to the Trout extension is they won't ever have to worry about facing him more than once every few years in Interleague play. Baseball's best player is likely not coming to the National League throughout his career, meaning he won't ever have much of a direct impact on the Cubs' playoff chances.

It also means Trout and Harper will not be joining forces in Philadelphia in two years, either, which is certainly good news for the Cubs and the entire NL.

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2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Rockies

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USA TODAY

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Rockies

The National League looks as strong as ever, with as many as 12 of the 15 teams planning to contend in 2019.

The Cubs had a quiet winter, transactionally speaking, but almost every other team in the NL bolstered their roster this offseason. 

But expectations haven't changed at the corner of Clark and Addison. After a disappointing finish to 2018, Kris Bryant and Co. once again have their sights set on another World Series.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Colorado Rockies

2018 record: 91-72, 2nd in NL West

Offseason additions: Daniel Murphy, Mark Reynolds 

Offseason departures: D.J. LeMahieu, Adam Ottavino, Gerardo Parra, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Holliday, Drew Butera

X-factor: David Dahl

Once the top prospect in the Rockies organization, Dahl missed almost all of 2017 to injury and didn't play a single game in the big leagues. A foot injury kept him on the shelf for two months last year, but he turned it on at the end of the year, emerging as one of the most important hitters in the lineup.

Dahl is only 24 (he turns 25 April 1) and clubbed 16 homers with 48 RBI in less than half a season's worth of action last year. He was particularly hot in September, smashing 9 dingers with 27 RBI and a .985 OPS in 24 games. 

This is already a very good Rockies team that would only get better if Dahl is healthy and proves his offensive tear was legit. 

Projected lineup

1. Charlie Blackmon - RF
2. Nolan Arenado - 3B
3. Daniel Murphy - 1B
4. Trevor Story - SS
5. David Dahl - LF
6. Ian Desmond - CF
7. Garrett Hampson - 2B
8. Chris Iannetta - C

Projected rotation

1. Kyle Freeland
2. German Marquez
3. Jon Gray
4. Tyler Anderson
5. Antonio Senzatela

Outlook

The Rockies low-key had maybe the quietest offseason in baseball. Ottavino is a big loss for that bullpen, but the rest of the guys can be replaced, especially when you consider that Murphy and Reynolds can form a great platoon at first base and Desmond is moving off first base. Blackmon moving out of center field will also be a huge boost to the overall defense, even if Desmond isn't an elite defender in center.

Cubs fans know Murphy's impact with the bat. Now add him to Coors Field and into a lineup with Arenado, Blackmon, Story and Dahl and it's easy to dream about how this team could lead the league in runs scored. That's especially true if top prospects Hampson and Brendan Rodgers pan out at second base or center field.

Cubs fans also know how well this Rockies team can pitch, managing just 1 run against Freeland and Co. in 13 innings. Freeland and Marquez took huge steps forward in their second full seasons in the big leagues and represent a dynamic 1-2 punch atop the rotation. Gray is a former first-round pick (one slot after the Cubs selected Kris Bryant in 2013), but has yet to put it all together. If he suddenly figures it out, watch out.

The weakness of this team may be the bullpen, despite former Cub Wade Davis still hanging around as closer. He had 43 saves, but also blew 6 and finished with a 4.13 ERA. Losing Ottavino was big and high-priced arms like Jake McGee, Bryan Shaw and Mike Dunn are coming off awful seasons. 

While they had a quiet offseason, the Rockies managed to avoid the biggest potential distraction of the season when they inked Arenado to an extension through the 2025 season. 

Still, as good as this roster can be, it's going to be a tough road for Colorado to get into the playoffs again. The talent is too top-heavy and depth may be an issue, especially on the pitching staff. The Dodgers still look like the class of the NL West and there are going to be a few really, really good teams vying for the two Wild-Card spots from the other two divisions.

The best thing they have working in their favor is they play in the weakest division in the league, as the Diamondbacks and Giants probably won't be all that competitive and the Padres may still be a year or two away.

The Rockies will be contenders this season, but I'm betting they come up just short.

Prediction: 2nd in NL West, just missing out on 2nd Wild-Card

All 2019 previews & predictions

San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Los Angeles Dodgers
Miami Marlins
New York Mets
Atlanta Braves
Philadelphia Phillies
Washington Nationals
Cincinnati Reds
Pittsburgh Pirates
Milwaukee Brewers
St. Louis Cardinals

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