WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- January’s barely beeping pulse inspired baseball executives to enter into two lines of thought. First, they questioned the sanity of some agents. Free agent pitchers who ended up signing one-year deals in February were forced into that position after turning down multi-year deals in December. Second, they thought the winter’s chill would prompt an embrace of contract extensions.
Little did they know how right they were.
Nolan Arenado. Blake Snell. Mike Trout. Paul Goldschmidt. Chris Sale.
Whit Merrifield. Alex Bregman. Eloy Jimenez. Jose Leclerc. Miles Mikolas.
From young to old, established to projected, pitcher to position player. Extensions have hit across every level of the market, flipping baseball’s expenditures from limited to vast. And it has a direct correlation to the Nationals.
Washington is trying to work an extension with Anthony Rendon.
General manager Mike Rizzo said Saturday there’s “nothing new” in negotiations, but both sides continue to be open to it. The Nationals have approached Trea Turner about an extension in the past. When it was suggested, half-jokingly during the offseason, that it may be time to talk to Juan Soto about an extension, an executive suggested the idea was not as far-fetched as it sounds.
Just like the current transition to extensions above free agency includes the gamut of players, options for the Nationals run from young to old. Soto and Victor Robles could be targeted to have their arbitration years bought out in exchange for a give of possible free agency seasons. Turner has three arbitration years remaining. Scherzer has two years remaining on his contract following this season. Justin Verlander’s percolating extension -- recent reports pegged it at two years, $66 million -- suddenly becomes a model for Scherzer.
The shift is rapid and seismic.
“It doesn't surprise me at all,” Rizzo said. “Good players, you're trying to lock up your good players and I think that when you treat them fairly and both sides can agree on something, I think it's good for the game."
Suggestions Stephen Strasburg left a lot of money on the table immediately accompanied his surprise contract extension in 2016. Reasons why Strasburg, a Scott Boras client, chose an opt-out laden deal well before free agency included comfort and familiarity. The money was also good: $175 million. It’s right in line with what Patrick Corbin received this offseason, three years after Strasburg opted for an extension. The deal looks more than palatable now.
What’s interesting is it remains an outlier because of the agent involved. Boras is not prone to extensions. Of the 18 players to sign extensions this calendar year, none are Boras clients, unlike so many in the Nationals clubhouse. Soto is. Rendon is. Scherzer is. Turner is not. Will Boras come along with the shift?
"I just think that players, the representatives and the players are more in-tune to what the economics of the game are now than they have ever been,” Rizzo said when asked in general why this is happening. “These guys know what they are talking about, they know what the market looks like, and I think they are making good, prudent decisions for their own personal careers."
Would Rizzo look at it with Soto and Robles?
“I think that, like I said, we have a blueprint and a plan in place and keeping your talent is a huge part of that plan,” Rizzo said. “We're open to all sorts of ideas that keep us viable and competitive for the long haul."
That includes buying out arbitration years in the right scenario.
"I think that as a rule of thumb, I think that when you buy out arbitration years, I like to get a free agent year or two tacked onto it to make that make sense to me,” Rizzo said. “But other teams do it different ways, and I think to take on the risk of buying out arbitration... it controls your payroll and you know where you're at, but I think that tacking on a free agent year shares the risk more evenly."
So, we know the internal possibilities. We know Rizzo’s stance on the idea. We also know the environment has changed. Washington has a chance to change the future with it.
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