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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