Getting in on the extension action

It’s a pretty good time to be a talented major league baseball player.

OK, there isn’t ever really a bad time to be a talented major league ballplayer, but given the contract extensions we’ve seen handed out over the last couple of days, there’s no better time than now to be able to throw in the mid-90s or be a young, skilled position player.

A day after the Cardinals handed right-hander Adam Wainwright a five-year, $97.5 million extension, three more extensions got finalized around the major leagues yesterday.

The Tigers and Justin Verlander agreed on a whopping seven-year, $180 million extension, according to reports, with a vesting option that could bump the deal up to $202 million.

Shortly after news of that deal broke, catcher Buster Posey - who is just 26, mind you - finalized a nine-year contract with the Giants worth $167 million, with a club option that could raise the value of the deal to $186 million.

And while it doesn’t reach the level of the Wainwright, Verlander or Posey deals, the Diamondbacks and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt agreed yesterday on a five-year, $32 million extension.

Now, in a sport in which contracts are fully guaranteed, I’ve never been one to agree with handing out extensions that cover upwards of seven years, regardless of the player’s age. Yes, Posey is just 26 and he’s one of the most talented catchers in the game. Yes, Verlander is a remarkable talent and the Tigers want to keep him in Detroit for a while. I get that.

zimmermann red fenway throwing sidebar.jpgBut given the uncertainty of today’s game, I just don’t agree with the idea of giving anyone seven guaranteed years. Look at what’s happened to the Yankees after they went around tossing out big-money, long-term deals to players. They’re stuck with contracts they would love to get rid of and players that are spending more time on the disabled list than on the field.

That’s the market we’re in, however, and if a team isn’t willing to give up such a deal, the Yankees, Dodgers or a handful of other teams sure will.

That notwithstanding, however, the current trend in Major League Baseball is for teams to lock up their young, emerging stars before they can smell free agency. There’s too much money out there on the open market and too many teams desperate to make a splash to allow your talented players to reach free agency if you really hope to bring that player back.

The Nationals currently have two 27-year-olds knocking on the door of stardom in Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond, both of whom are under team control through the 2015 season. Zimmermann will pull in $5.35 million this season, while Desmond will make $3.8 million in 2013, after both went through the arbitration process for the first time.

Given the two $100 million contracts (Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman) the Nats already have on the books, they need to pick their spots wisely when it comes to extensions with other players. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are under team control for a handful more years (Strasburg through 2016, Harper through 2018), but the Nats can’t spread themselves too thin if they want to have a chance at keeping both Scott Boras clients around long-term.

That means this could be the time to lock up either Desmond or Zimmermann (or both) to an extension that would buy out their remaining arbitration years and possibly tack on another couple of years on top. There’s no guarantee Zimmermann and Desmond will remain on their current career arcs, obviously, but the Nats might need to take a chance and get a deal done before these two players’ stock rises even more.

Zimmermann and Desmond have both said that they’re open to long-term talks with the Nationals. General manager Mike Rizzo has indicated the feeling is mutual. Deals of this type are generally less common once the season starts, although there’s nothing stopping a team and agent from negotiating after opening day.

Contract extensions are being handed around all over the place these days. We’ll see if the Nats are able to get in on any of that action, either over the next 48 hours before the 2013 season gets under way or before we’ve put this season in the books.

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