(Earlier version of this had each player missing one year of pre-arb control. It’s been updated with extensions reflecting that extra year. Math is hard.)
With many fans frustrated the team hasn’t gone big into the gross dollars in free agency this year, and Aaron Nola and Luis Severino both signing extensions buying out arbitration years, I thought we’d look at some deals the Braves could do to satisfy the bloodthirst for a big contract signing. Remember, regardless of what the Braves do in free agency either now or within the next couple years, there will be some players that we will certainly want to lock up that are already wearing a Tomahawk on their chest.
Nola’s deal will see him make $4M in 2019 at the age of 26. Then through ages 27 through 30, he’ll make $8M, $11.75M, $15M, then $16M club option with a $4.25M buyout. So it buys out 3 arb years that you’d think would have already costed $5M, $10M, $15M. Somewhere in there. I think those are fair but aggressive projections. This new deal gets them a team-friendly first year in free agency, and a right of refusal for a second year at a near-equally team-friendly number. And they can get out for $4.25M if Nola turns into a pumpkin by age 30. So while they were probably already on the hook for around $30M, they get an extra year of control for a max of $13M. But if they pick up the second year, the option is not paid out so they’re paying $8.75M for that first year of free agency then $16M for the second year. It’s definitely a good deal for Philly, but there is still some risk in doing so.
Severino had filed for $5.25M in his first year of arbitration. In avoiding arbitration, his deal ended up being $4M for 2019, then he’ll earn $10M, $10.25M, $11M, and then a club option of $15M with a $2.75M buyout. So it’s similar to Nola’s deal in some ways. They get one year of FA guaranteed to be bought out, then first dibs on the second year with an even smaller out if he’s not the pitcher they hope he will be. So a similar amount of money already owed for the 3 years of arbitration as Nola, then a similar amount of money committed to form a similar risk/reward equation.
Who might the Braves try to create a mutually beneficial long-term deal with?
Mike’s got three years left. He’ll make $5.475M this year, then have another year somewhere between $8-10M, then another year $10-12M. And if Folty keeps his trajectory, he’s not far from cashing in big in free agency. The Braves would get some serious surplus value if they could get him to sign a 5YR/$58M deal. That would buy out his three remaining arb years, but then give the team two of his first free agent years at around $16M per.
He’s so close to free agency that he probably wouldn’t want to do this. He’s already locked in his 2019 salary, and he’s three years away from probably locking down a multi-year deal. This deal would also take him to his age-32 season, and he would probably want to enter the free agent market at age 30. So him not getting an extension like Severino or Nola has probably more to do with that than any potential feelings of slight at the arbitration hearing last year.
Newcomb’s got two more years of pre-arb, then his 3 years of arbitration. And there’s not much to go off of in his career trajectory. He could indeed live up to the Jon Lester comp, or he could be the middle-to-back-of-the-rotation starter he was last year. And it wouldn’t make sense to buy out the next 4 years; the arrangement is so favorable to the team with the lack of escalation in their salaries and the ability to get out at the end of every year until free agency. And being able to buy out one year of free agency is probably not going to be enough to make the Braves commit to the next four, unless there was some probable savings along the way.
They could both potentially agree to this format: $2M in 2019, $4M in 2020, $6M in 2021, $10M, in 2022, $13M in 2023, and a $17M club option with a $2M buyout. A total of a 7YR/$52M deal. Newcomb will make a little more money than he otherwise would in 2019, then he makes in 2020 and 2021 about what he would make if he turns the corner this year. But then the Braves start seeing some significant savings with those $10M, $11M, and $13M years since the last two will be after Newcomb would have become a free agent. Pitchers are hard to project, of course, but the Braves would be rewarded big if he gets close to being a top-of-the-rotation starter, and Newcomb still gets lots of guaranteed money.
Ozzie has 5 years left as well, two pre-arb and three arb. Hitters are so much easier to project, and that’s why you saw Brian McCann, Andrelton Simmons, and Freddie Freeman get the deals they got in their pre-free agency careers. I’d give Ozzie 7 years at $88M: $4M in 2019, $4M in 2020, $10M in 2021, $12M in 2022, $18M in 2023, and $20M in both 2024 and 2025. He makes some really good money relatively in 2019, a little extra than he otherwise would in his first two arb years, then the Braves start enjoying the savings in his last year of arb and then his first two years of free agency.
You can see why these deals are hard to get done. Why would Ozzie take that deal if he thinks he’ll develop a stay healthy? Would the Braves be willing to commit to 6 more years of Ozzie, even at these prices, based on what they’ve seen so far?
Same as Ozzie; two pre-arb, 3 arb. But I’d go the same length as Ozzie but really try to get the overall number much lower. 7 YR/$54M : $2M in 2019, $2M in 2020, $6M in 2021, $8M in 2022, $12M in 2022, and $12M in both 2023 and 2024. Starts out the same as Ozzie’s: early money in 2019 and 2020. But then $8M in his second arb year, very team-friendly, then $12M in his final arb year. $12M each in his first two years of free agency would be an absolute steal.
Oh, baby. So the Braves avoided Super Two by not calling him up, so they’ve got 5 more years of this man: 2 pre-arb, and 3 arb. So they’ve got him for the league minimum the next two years, and by that time, he will undoubtedly be right up there with the highest arb earners in our game’s history. If Nolan Arenado got $26M in his last arb year, just wait until you see what Ronald Acuna Jr. will get in 2023.
My modest proposal is 8 years, $118M: $2M in 2019, $5M in 2020, $5M in 2021 for pre-arb, $12M in 2022, $18M in 2023, $20M in 2024 for arb. $28M for both 2025 and 2026. He gets early money in his next two pre-arb years where he’d otherwise be making the league minimum. Then through his arb years, the Braves get a fairly steep discount at $5M, $12M, and $20M in his last arb year. But then they get the first 3 years of his free agency at a discounted rate of $28M per year. By that time, you’d have to think someone of Acuna’s stature could be headed for a $35M+ per year AAV, so that’s another steep discount. And in return, Acuna will have to figure out a way to be spend $131,000,000 minus, of course, a fairly precipitous 37% tax rate.