In the days since Sandy Alderson spoke at the Mets' press conference introducing Yoenis Cespedes, there's been plenty of speculation about the long-term future of the team's starting pitchers. Alderson answered a question on the subject that day and didn't offer much specificity but said he didn't want to "foreclose any possibility."
Even with Cespedes in the fold—for either one year or three years—the team's payroll commitments beyond 2016 look downright reasonable. If Cespedes doesn't opt out out his contract after this season, only he, David Wright, and Juan Lagares would have guaranteed contracts beyond the 2017 season. Curtis Granderson's four-year deal is up after 2017, and Wright's contract drops from $20 million per year to $15 million in 2019 and $12 million in 2020. So, per Cot's Contracts, the Mets have approximately $81 million committed to payroll in 2017, $55 million in 2018, and just $24 million in 2019. Obviously, the Mets will want to keep several of their young players around through the next few seasons, and those players—including the five young starting pitchers—will get raises in their arbitration years.
From Cot's, here's how long the Mets have control over those five pitchers. We'll pencil in Steven Matz for free agency at the same time as Noah Syndergaard, as both pitchers started their major league careers well after the cutoff that got the Mets an extra, seventh year of control. Matz probably came up late enough to avoid Super Two status—which earns a player an extra year of arbitration eligibility—so let's pencil him in for three years of arbitration starting in 2019 for the purposes of this table. The age in the final column indicates what the age- season each player will be in for his first season after getting to free agency.
|Player||ML Srv||2016||2017||2018||2019||2020||2021||2022||Age at FA|
Harvey is under the Mets' control for three seasons, Wheeler for four, deGrom for five, and Syndergaard and Matz for six. The concept behind a contract extension is straightforward: a team guarantees a player money through his arbitration years—which would not otherwise be guaranteed—in exchange for some of the player's free agent years. The team gets a player for less than he would cost on the free agent market. The player gets a guarantee of making several million dollars whether he suffers a long-term injury or not.
The Mets signed such a deal with Jon Niese just before the 2012 season started. At the time, Niese was under Mets control for four seasons. He was guaranteed $25.5 million over five years, the last of which was the 2016 season that Niese will begin with the Pirates. Niese was guaranteed $9 million in 2016—his age-29 season—and the team had options at $10 million for 2017 and $11 million for 2018. Even though he never broke out, Niese, who was roughly a league-average pitcher, was easily worth the commitment. And then the team turned the rest of Niese's contract into Neil Walker for the upcoming season.
Niese doesn't make for a perfect comparison the current pitchers, though. When he agreed to his extension, he hadn't pitched nearly as well as the Mets' five have thus far in their careers. He also hadn't had Tommy John surgery at any point in his past, though, while four of the Mets' five have.
As far as comparisons with similar-performing pitchers who signed extensions recently go, Chris Sale and Madison Bumgarner seem relevant. Sale had pitched for the White Sox for two-plus seasons, working exclusively as a reliever until moving into the rotation in 2012, and the results were outstanding. Bumgarner had spent two-and-a-half seasons in the Giants' rotation, from 2010 through 2012, and the results were very good.
Sale signed a five-year, $32.5 million extension with team options for $12.5 million for a sixth year and $13.5 million for a seventh year. He would have been eligible for free agency after the fourth year, which means the White Sox bought out one year of his free agency with guaranteed money and had options to buy out two more.
Bumgarner signed a five-year, $35 million extension with team options at $12 million for each of the sixth and seventh years. Like Sale, he would have been eligible for free agency after the fourth season, and the Giants bought out one year of his free agency with guaranteed money and had options to buy out two more.
The salary breakdowns were very similar, too. The breakdown on both extensions, in millions, was roughly 1-4-7-9-12, followed by the option years, which were also similar in price. The deals look incredibly team-friendly right now, as elite pitchers like Sale and very good pitchers like Bumgarner would earn significantly more on the open market.
Free agent salaries have only gone up since those pitchers signed their deals, of course, but the biggest difference between Sale and Bumgarner and the Mets' five is that both of those pitchers were younger when they signed their deals.
The youngest season of free agency that the Mets could buy out would be Syndergaard's, at age-29. Harvey and Wheeler would be 30, Matz would be 31, and deGrom would be 33. Pitchers generally peak early, and their declines begin a little sooner than you might think. Considering how well they've pitched so far, the Mets' five could still be well above average even if they follow the normal aging curve.
In a perfect world, all five would maintain their excellence and play out their careers with the Mets. If the pitchers were willing to sign extensions like those signed by Sale and Bumgarner, it's hard to see how the Mets would decline to take on the relatively low risk of guaranteeing their salary through their arbitration years. But if the pitchers aren't open to similar deals, the Mets still the makings of a great rotation locked up for several years—a very long time in baseball.