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Alex Speier

Should the Red Sox sign Bogaerts or Betts to an extension?

Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts might be content to wait until the next CBA is in place for the 2017 season.AP

In an offseason in which the Red Sox’ work was essentially done in December, a question looms: Why hasn’t the team had a bells-and-whistles press conference to announce an extension with either Xander Bogaerts or Mookie Betts?

Such a line of inquiry is a bit misleading, of course, since it presupposes that either player might want to commit to the Sox for the next half-decade or so right now, rather than seeing how their market value changes. Matt Collins, writing for Over The Monster, offers some excellent points about why players might be reluctant to sign extensions – foremost, the possibility that the game’s exploding revenues mean that waiting to agree to a long-term deal at least until the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is in place for the 2017 season and beyond could prove a very lucrative proposition.

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As Dave Cameron of Fangraphs notes, in the post-testing universe, on-field impact is being found in players who are on the right side of 30, a fact that teams are recognizing as never before with their investments.

Players who hit free agency in their 20s are thus positioned for massive hauls, whether above-average players who fall short of star level like Pablo Sandoval (five years, $95 million) and Justin Upton (six years, $133 million) or a more highly regarded player like Jason Heyward (eight years, $184 million). As a result, the appeal for a young player of signing a long-term deal on team-friendly terms – and delaying their free agency beyond their aging curve sweet spot – might be lower than ever.

Indeed, the coming season will be a fascinating one to see whether extensions across the industry slow in frequency. (Disclaimer: All information below was assembled using the terrific MLBTradeRumors.com Extension Tracker.)

Cutting extensions short?
Multi-year extensions* for position players
Period Oct-Sept extensions Oct-Jan extensions
2015-16 2 2
2014-15 7 3
2013-14 10 0
2012-13 6 0
2011-12 10 0
SOURCE: MLB Trade Rumors extension tracker

* - Extensions for players with less than 5 years of major league service time that bought out at least two years of arbitration eligibity and gave the team control over at least one year of free agency

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From the start of the 2014-15 offseason to the end of the 2015 season, there were just seven extensions signed by position players who were at least two years from reaching free agency – down from an average of nine in the prior three winters. Thus far in 2015-16, there have been just two extensions signed by young position players – a five-year, $50 million deal between Dee Gordon and the Marlins, and a six-year, $75 million deal between Brandon Crawford and the Giants.

The fact that such deals have come in drips thus far this winter isn’t evidence of an industry slowdown in extensions – at least not yet. Extensions almost always are negotiated between the start of spring training and the early days of the season, with 26 of the 37 (70 percent) extensions negotiated for position players with fewer than five years of service time having been announced in February, March, or April (including 15, or 41 percent, in March).

When are extensions* negotiated? Oct. 2011 to present
January
2
February
5
March
15
April
6
May
3
June
0
July
1
August
1
September
0
October
0
November
3
December
1
SOURCE: MLB Trade Rumors extension tracker

* - Extensions for players with less than 5 years of major league service time that bought out at least two years of arbitration eligibility and gave the team control over at least one year of free agency.

Still, it will be intriguing to see whether this spring sees fewer long-term deals for young franchise building blocks than previous ones. It will likewise be of considerable interest to see whether the Sox will do anything with Betts or Bogaerts – though the arguments in favor of the team doing so right now might be less compelling than they might seem.

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Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal writes that waiting on a potential contract extension with Betts also makes sense from a team perspective, given that the Sox are already over the luxury tax threshold. A contract extension now would increase the short-term cost of what the team pays Betts not just by whatever salary bump they might offer him but also of the luxury tax that it must pay on his average annual value.

There would be a compelling counterargument if waiting an extra year to talk with Betts might prove a very costly proposition for the Sox in terms of the ultimate commitment it would take to sign him. But that evidence doesn’t exist for a player like Betts, who has one-plus year of big league service time and who is five years away from prospective free agency.

Starting with the 2011-12 offseason, there have been five deals with players of one-plus year of service time that bought out one year of free agency, each of which came with at least one team option. Those deals have all averaged $5 million to $7 million per year, save for one outlier (catcher Yan Gomes’ six-year, $23 million deal with the Indians). There have been two deals with players who fell into that service time category that bought out two free agent years, which carried average annual values of just over $7 million a year (Christian Yellich) and just over $8 million a year (Andrelton Simmons).

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So what is the extension market like for players with two-plus years of service time – the group to whom Betts would be compared if the Sox waited a year to negotiate with him? There have been three long-term deals with that group that encompassed one year of free agency, with those deals ranging from just under $5 million a year to just over $6 million a year.

There have been three deals (with Andrew McCutchen, Matt Carpenter, and Jason Kipnis) that included two prospective free agent years for non-Mike Trout players with two-plus years of service time. The average annual value of those? About $8.67 million – essentially, spare change on top of the deal Simmons got from the Braves after one-plus season in the big leagues.

Even for players who are entering arbitration for the first time after three-plus years of big league service, the cost of an extension that added team control over one, two, or even three free agent seasons has topped out around $10 million a season (Gordon’s deal, which gave Miami control over two free agent seasons with an option for a third). In other words, the benefit of extending a player like Bogaerts now as opposed to next year might be something like a couple of million dollars a year – a tangible benefit but not a roster reshaping one.

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In short, as much as the theory of extending young players seems compelling, in the case of the Red Sox, there’s little need to approach the possibility of extending Betts and Bogaerts this winter with a sense of desperation unless the team believes that this winter represents the only time when either player will be open to such a suggestion. Barring that conclusion, the team – and the players – may both prefer to wait until the dust settles on the next Collective Bargaining Agreement between owners and players is in place.


Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.