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Ketel Marte and other shortstop extensions

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Marte isn’t the only young infielder to have been locked up by their team lately.

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Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game One Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Just three weeks ago, shortstop Paul DeJong signed a long-term deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. And last season, the White Sox bought out Tim Anderson’s immediate future. On the other hand, Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians reportedly rejected a $100 million extension about a year ago. While those aren’t exactly comparable to Marte’s extension, let’s take a look at them in a bit more detail, and see how they stack up as a template for Arizona. But let’s start with a thought or two on how the free-agent marketplace might have played into the Marte situation.

For the longest time, young players have been taught by example, that free agency is where the big bucks lie. Get through those three years of pre-arbitration league minimum wage slavery (though minor league players might mock that notion), then the somewhat better-paid season of arbitration, and you’ll reach the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That’s why Lindor was able to turn down a nine-figure deal. And it still might be true for him, because he’ll hit free agency at the end of the 2021 season, still only a 27-year-old. But I wonder if the cold market this year will make this kind of deal more common?

It’s hard to overstate how much the market has changed. Just a year ago, an agent could say, “The value of free agent years is going to go up, and it’s not crazy to think that number is going to start with a four,” and the idea of $40 million per year could be taken seriously. Now? Just ask J.D. Martinez. He and his agent went into the off-season loudly touting their demands for a seven-year, $210 million deal, and ended up getting barely have of that total, setting for five years and $110 million from Boston. The message was clear: Once you’re in your thirties, free agent years aren’t worth what they used to be. This might make players more willing to get guaranteed money over those earlier seasons.

Now, let’s compare Marte’s deal to the ones mentioned above, signed by DeJong and Anderson. What’s striking is how similar they are. Yes, the other two have an additional year to them, but that’s explained entirely by the players having one year fewer of service time than Ketel. As a result, the guaranteed years cover the same section of career for the players concerned - and they even share the same number of option years. About the most significant difference in structure is that Anderson’s deal contains a single two-year option at the end of it, while for both DeJong and Marte, the team has two separate one-year options to be exercised or bought out.

But let’s put all three contracts together in a table, side by side:

Shortstop contracts

Name Paul Dejong Tim Anderson Ketel Marte
Name Paul Dejong Tim Anderson Ketel Marte
Age 24 23 24
Service Time 0.124 0.115 1.162
Signing Bonus $1m $2m
Year 1 $1m $850K $1m
Year 2 $1.5m $1m $2m
Year 3 $1.5m $1.4m $4m
Year 4 $4m $4m $6m
Year 5 $6m $7.25m $8m
Year 6 (buyout) $9m $9.5m $10m ($1m)
Year 7 (buyout) $12.5m ($2m) $12.5m ($1m) $12m ($1m)
Year 8 (buyout) $14m ($1m) $14m
Min length/value 6 yrs/$27m 6 yrs/$25m 5 yrs/$25m
Max length/value 8 yrs/$50.5m 8 years/$50.5m 7 yrs/$45m
Source USA Today ESPN Buchanan

These are exactly the kinds of deal which could become prevalent as we go forward. The balance of value will tilt away from the free-agent years, and back towards guaranteed payments in the earlier seasons of a player’s career. It’s hard to say how much money the players concerned might make, if they simply went through the arbitration process. The high-water mark there would be someone like Manny Machado, though he has played his career to date at 3B rather than SS. He’ll have earned about $34 million by the time he hits free-agency at the end of this season. However, he has put up 28 bWAR to date, and I think we’d all be delighted if Ketel Marte was to match that.

For the player, it’s guaranteed money: even if (god forbid), their career were to end tomorrow, they and their family would be provided for. For the team, it’s cost certainty, with players being locked in at current prices. History has shown that revenue has significantly outstripped both inflation in general, and even baseball salary inflation. So it’s likely that the option year prices, of between $10-14 million. will be considerably less in real terms, by the time the teams have to decide whether to exercise them. If we presume say, 5% deflation, the $10 million for Marte’s option in 2023 would become around $7.7 million. Put another way, what do you think $10 million will get you in free-agency that year?

The risk is obvious. Every team has seen guaranteed contract extensions that have gone horribly wrong. For the D-backs, the Eric Byrnes deal is likely the poster child, ending in us paying him $11 million to cavort around in beer-league softball. It’s possible Marte could phone things in for the next five years. But that seems unlikely, and on the other hand, you have Paul Goldschmidt’s buyout. Presuming his option is exercised, the years 2014-19 will have cost the team a total of $46.5 million for six years. With two seasons still to to play, Goldy has already produced 23.8 bWAR, and at that pace, will end up worth north of 35 bWAR. If the Marte deal ends up anything similar, we should just call our GM St. Hazen.