As a team that is definitely looking for a new recipe for extended success, the Mariners are a team that may be able to jump on board the growing trend of signing their players to extensions before they are arbitration eligible.
Dustin Ackley has about a half year of service time, or so I assume, as he played 90 games last season, though Baseball Reference and Cots both have him at 0.105 years of service time. He probably won’t be arbitration eligible for three more years, but has shown signs of the advanced bat that got him drafted second overall, and the kind of defense needed to remain at second base long term.
So why do, and why don’t these kinds of contract extensions get made?
The risk for the team of course is that the player fails to develop, or gets injured, and the team is saddled with an overpaid player for several years. The benefit is that the team gets a player at a cost-controlled, generally-discounted price for several years, and usually at least one year beyond their arbitration years.
The risk for the player is losing out on potential income down the road, as these kinds of contracts often delay free agency, and generally under pay for arbitration years. However, they afford the player financial security.
One good present-day example of this is Wade Davis, a pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays. He signed a contract extension after posting 1.7 WAR in his first 35 starts, and barely more than a year of service time. The contract was for four year, and just over $10 million, which includes moderate raises to replicate arbitration raises, and then three team option years, giving the team control of Davis until 2017 potentially.
Davis posted a dud last year though, basically stalling in his development, and actually losing ground on K/9, groundball percentage, and xFIP. He pitched a career-high in innings, but still only managed 0.9 WAR. After striking out close to one batter an inning and drawing whiffs on almost nine percent of the pitches he threw in a brief 2009 stint, he’s declined to 5.14 K/9 and has a whiff percentage under six.
That said, the Rays can be completely rid themselves of Wade Davis three years and $9.1 million from now. That means for the same price as Chone Figgins 2012 salary, and your and my combined 2012 income (I assume you make a lot if you’re reading a blog this prestigious!), the team will have Wade Davis, no matter how mediocre, and a shot at having the kind of Wade Davis that would engender the desire to put an exclamation point in parentheses.
But Ackley is a very different player than Davis, as he is a position player and his opportunities for future contribution will but much more frequent, as he’ll hopefully be penciled in at second base for the next half-decade at least, while Davis at his best can only contribute every five days.
But also, I think it is fair to say that Ackley has always been a better prospect than Davis, and is already a better player than Davis. Ackley was worth 2.7 WAR in about a half season last year, and while he’s probably (I guess) due for a decline defensively, he probably also won’t have another 76 wRC+ month like his September. Ackley’s September was destroyed by a 45.6 fly ball percentage and an almost 30 percent strikeout percentage. If he’s as good as advertised, he’ll make an adjustment going into next year, if that means adjusting to hit for less power but better average and on-base, or by harnessing his power and settling in as a guy who has enough bat control to swallow 125 strikeouts a year and still be very valuable.
Either way, of all the things to be worried about when it comes to Ackley, his bat is at the bottom of the list.
More worrisome, although without cause at this point, is Ackley’s glove. He’s not a natural second baseman, and even though he showed well last year, it’s entirely possible that he eventually won’t be the team’s best option at the position defensively. Especially if Nick Franklin’s bat develops into anything close to what it looked like it would develop into after the 2010 season.
But unlike a guy such as Evan Longoria, who signed a nine year, $44 million extension after a week in the majors, if Ackley’s present position is no longer a viable option for him, he probably won’t have to move across the diamond, but rather outside of it.
Ackley was a center fielder in college before Tommy John surgery relegated him to first base during his junior year in order to keep his bat in the University of North Carolina baseball team’s lineup. He was expected to be a pretty damn good center fielder too, though perhaps worries about his elbow health have quelled those kinds of expectations. However, if the team is ready to move on from Franklin Gutierrez when his contract is up after next season, Ackley could move positions and never occupy a premium offensive position, and add offense to the Mariners lineup by osmosis.
What the Mariners have in Ackley is a guy who can make it easy for the team to replace, or improve upon Guti from either the category of outfielder or middle infielder. That’s a pretty nice luxury for a team that simply needs to improve, and presently needs to do it in a cost effective way.
The terms of an Ackley contract extension have a few comparables. Ackley would certainly get more over a nine year stretch than Longoria. Matt Moore, whose service time situation is perhaps the most relevant to Ackley’s, is more likely to strike Ackley out or give up a double to him than be used as a comparable to Ackley by his representation. (Matt Moore is a pitcher, for those who didn’t pick up on that. Ackley isn’t a pitcher.)
Maybe we can piece together an extension for Ackley though, using Matt Moore as something of a low-end pre-arb base, and extrapolating to the extension given to Chase Utley after about three years of service time.
Something along the lines of a six-year $30 million contract with two club options that would bring it to eight-years $56 million may work for both sides. The structure would be something like this:
2012: $2 million (a bump from his original contract)
2013: $2 million
2014: $4 million
2015: $6 million
2016: $8 million
2017: $10 million (Last arbitration year without extension)
2018: $12 million (club option)
2019: $14 million (club option)
For Ackley, this would mean he’d have the opportunity to hit free agency again going into his age 32 season at the latest, and could be primed for another big deal. For the Mariners, it means that they’d have one of their best offensive players locked up at a discount for several more seasons.
The contract would pay Ackley $22 million over the first five years of the deal, which is greater than the $15 million given to Moore, and could give him upwards of $36 million over the three years after that, which is comparable to Utley’s $41.8 million over those same three years, but at a discount (especially considering that Utley’s deal was signed in 2007) based on Ackley’s lack of service time and past performance.
Considering that his bat is likely to play, and that he’ll be able to play a premium defensive position in all likelihood until the end of the contract, if Ackley is game, extending him is a no-brainer.
Should the Mariners offer Ackley a long-term extension right now?
- Yes (89%, 118 Votes)
- No (11%, 14 Votes)
Total Voters: 132