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2019 sees explosion of MLB extensions

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Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout gestures during a news conference to talk about Trout's 12-year, $426.5 million contract, prior to the team's exhibition baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, March 24, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout gestures during a news conference to talk about Trout's 12-year, $426.5 million contract, prior to the team's exhibition baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, March 24, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

There’s no denying that Major League Baseball’s economic model has drastically shifted in the past few years. It seems as though the days of the long-term free agent megadeal are largely in the rearview. Sure, there are always going to be outliers – Bryce Harper and Manny Machado this year, for instance – but those decade-long mid-nine-figure deals look to be few and far between going forward.

But that doesn’t mean that teams aren’t going to want to lock up star players for extended periods. And that doesn’t mean that players aren’t going to want to establish some sort of financial security now that free agency isn’t the jackpot it once was.

And so – extensions.

The one that has everyone talking is the deal that the Angels gave Mike Trout. Trout – the consensus best player in baseball – agreed to a 10-year, $360 million extension. That decade is tacked onto the end of an earlier six-year, $144 million extension Trout signed back in 2015. All told, the final result is that he is signed for the next 12 years for a total of over $430 million. It is the most valuable contract in North American professional sports history.

There was also the Nolan Arenado extension, where the Rockies signed the All-Star third baseman for an additional seven years and $234 million. This extension takes effect after the 2019 season; Arenado is already under contract for $26 million. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt – traded to the St. Louis Cardinals from the Arizona Diamondbacks – signed for an additional five years and $130 million.

A couple of veteran star pitchers got new contracts as well. The Boston Red Sox inked ace Chris Sale to a five-year, $145 million deal – one that allows for an opt-out after the third season. Meanwhile, Astros starter Justin Verlander got an additional two years and $66 million from Houston. And the New York Mets locked up reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob de Grom with a five-year, $137.5 million deal, including an opt-out after 2022 and a full no-trade clause.

But perhaps the biggest indicator of extensions becoming the new normal is the number of young players with limited service time signing deals that take them through their arbitration eligibility and a free agent year or two, eschewing the opportunity to maximize their earning power in favor of ensuring their financial security.

The following three players, each with just a shade over two years of service time, opted for multiyear extensions that, while lucrative, don’t reach the level that they might otherwise have earned:

Third baseman Alex Bregman, a burgeoning star for the Astros, signed a six-year extension worth $100 million. Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell – the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner – opted for a five-year, $50 million deal. And St. Louis starter Miles Mikolas inked a four-year, $68 million contract.

But perhaps the biggest indicator of how the game’s economics change is probably the contract signed by Chicago White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez. Jimenez – an elite prospect who has yet to appear in a major league game – signed an extension for six years and $43 million, a deal that locks him up through arbitration and beyond.

There’s plenty of evidence that MLB’s financial model has been broken for a long time, with players only receiving their big money paydays after their peak years are behind them. Massive free agent deals have long been seen as sunk costs, with teams considering the large payouts to players on the downslide as simply the cost of doing business. Organizations are far more reluctant to hand over huge checks to guys who may already be in decline. And so, star players are taking deals that are potentially less than their actual worth in order to ensure the financial security that so many of them seek.

Is the security worth the sacrifice? Tough to say, but if someone feels like guaranteed peace of mind is worth a few million bucks, that’s their prerogative.

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