Owners refusing to spend money on free agents has been an ongoing theme this winter. Teams apparently don’t want to be saddled with large contracts for players in their 30s, or when a player’s performance starts to fall off. However, teams do have a reasonable alternative: paying young players more. They don’t do so out of the kindness of their hearts. Signing young players to contract extensions that cover multiple free-agent years has proved to provide massive financial bargains for teams.
For the young players themselves, they are signing deals that probably will handicap their future earnings. There is an argument to be made that the union should do anything it can to prevent these sort of deals (and I’ve made it), as Mike Trout, Jose Altuve and Paul Goldschmidt would all be free agents this winter without having long since signed their team-friendly extensions. Collectively, players would be better off without these contracts, but an individual player needs to do what is best for himself and his family. Teams have an opportunity in the current system, and they take advantage.
In exchange for that guaranteed payday, the team holds on to the players for a few extra prime years at below-market rates. Even just one or two extra prime years can help shape the future of a franchise. Extensions help keep the Los Angeles Angels and Arizona Diamondbacks in contention thanks to Trout and Goldschmidt. And deals with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana helped the Chicago White Sox accelerate their rebuild and acquire some of the very best prospects in baseball and fixtures for their future in Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech.
If teams want to avoid paying players in their 30s, they are going to continue to make commitments to more players in their early 20s. Below are some prime extension candidates, including a trio of young Yankees and even one player who has yet to reach the majors.