Early, you say? Angel in the outfield Mike Trout signed a long-term deal (six-years, $144.5 million USD) in March of 2014 after completing two full seasons in the Major Leagues. The deal was signed at the end of Spring Training, but prior to playing in his third full season. We surmise that Corey Seager will follow suit with the Dodgers after the 2017 season and even though he is the elder statesman, Joc Pederson may follow suit as well.
Let us put this into context. Seager and Pederson play two of the most important and taxing defensive positions (next to catcher) on the diamond, in shortstop and center field. For the 2016 season, the two promising young stars and futures of the franchise combined to smash 51 home runs and knock in 140 runs. Seager was awarded the Rookie of the Year for his efforts, while Pederson posted a .992 fielding percentage and is widely recognized as one of the better center fielders in baseball. Lest you forget, take a look at this gem.
For years, as announcer and Dodger great Orel Hershiser said in the Pederson video directly above, the organization searched for a center fielder, and a shortstop. Now, through great player drafting and development, the Los Angeles Dodgers have both. What is that positional security worth to the Dodgers?
The high bar is Angels’ center fielder Mike Trout at six-years and $144.5 million dollars because Trout entering his third year in professional baseball in 2014 was a better player offensively compared to Pederson and better defensively compared to Seager, albeit playing a different position. We should also separate Seager’s and Pederson’s performances and projections, with Trout as number one in this group comparison, with Seager and Pederson following in that order.
A middle of the road deal is closer to Tampa Bay Rays’ third baseman Evan Longoria who signed a six-year extension for $100 million in 2012. Longoria’s extension brought the total length and value of the contract, when combined with his existing contract, to eleven years and $144.6 million dollars.
For the lower end of contract extensions, consider that Pederson is good, but not Trout-like in terms of performance and therefore dollars. Therefore, Pederson is unlikely to receive a six-year extension for $100+ million dollars. His contract extension, should it arrive before free agency, but likely after his arbitration years, is more likely to be modeled after a deal like Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier. Ethier signed a contract extension in 2012 just prior to hitting free agency for five-years and $85 million dollars. Pederson projects more like an Ethier-type player, but with higher defensive upside and speed. In that regard, Pederson is more likely to be paid Ethier-like money.
An essential point to remember is the above contract extensions were made while the players were under team control. The contract extensions brought the players through their arbitration years and/or took away some free agency years. It is a strategic decision to make by each side, team and player, because the team is guaranteeing financial resources and control over the player for seemingly less money, while the player can never guarantee his own performance or health.
As decision-making goes, player-agents come into the discussion and Trout, Seager, Pederson, Longoria, and Ethier all have/had different representation, including some agents/agencies who are more and some who are less friendly to non-free agency deals for their clients specifically and in general. Let us rephrase, Seager and Pederson may employ agents and agencies that are less likely to encourage their clients to sign team friendly contract extensions for less money than open market value would bring. It is a balance of securing stability for their clients in terms of salary, geography, and insurance against the backdrop of potential diminishing health and performance, but with larger returns in the free market looming.
Seager has demonstrated the performance, health, and leadership to be an otherworldly ballplayer. He is simply a stud human being. He is the most likely current Dodgers player to sign a contract extension in the near future should he and his agent find themselves on the same page with the Dodgers’ brass. If Seager outperforms his 2016 season in 2017 and pushes the Dodgers later into October and November, as a young shortstop, the Dodgers will most certainly offer an extension prior to the 2018 season and it may be in the six or seven-year range between $120-150 million dollars.