And while we have rightfully paid the majority of that attention to position players (given the Cubs’ core, that’s justified), there is always the possibility that the Cubs may soon want to extend someone like Kyle Hendricks.
To that end, the Cardinals have recently extended their young starting pitcher, Carlos Martinez, to a 5-year deal worth a guaranteed $51 million, plus two team options thereafter.
The deal comes three years away from free agency (this year is Martinez’s first time being arbitration eligible), and buys out at least two free-agent years. Those two team options added to the end of the deal ($17M and $18M) could effectively make this a 7-year extension for the Cardinals, covering Martinez’s age 25-32 seasons. That’s really great.
You know, for them.
MLB Trade Rumors has more details on the deal here, but in short, the extension sprouted up through arbitration negotiations – which is very common. The Cardinals filed at $3.9 million for 2017, while Martinez’s camp came back with $4.25 million. Eventually, they said this is too boring, let’s go for the big deal, and here we are.
You could argue that this deal is both a good and a bad thing for the Chicago Cubs.
On the one (bad) hand, the Cardinals have just locked up the best years of Martinez’s career for a relative bargain. In his first two full seasons as a Major League starter (2015 and 2016), Martinez has been really great. His collective 6.8 fWAR over that stretch is top 25 in baseball, and his 3.02 ERA is actually tied with Kyle Hendricks at the back of the top 10. The Cubs will have to face him for a good long while.
In addition, the cost certainty for those three arbitration years, plus the option to control Martinez for up to four years after that is extremely valuable. Martinez has gotten healthier and better over the past two years, and the projections are expecting 2017 to be his best yet. Of course, none of this is to even mention the ever-ballooning valuation of young starting pitchers. The Cardinals did well both competitively and financially with this deal.
With all of that said, it’s not hard to see this as potentially a good comp for the Chicago Cubs, with regards to Kyle Hendricks.
While Hendricks has been the more valuable pitcher over the past two seasons overall, he has Martinez beat by just 1.0 WAR during that stretch. In reality, they were comparable pitchers in 2015, and Hendricks just happened to take a big leap forward in 2016, while Martinez improved only slightly.
Hendricks has also thrown five fewer innings than Martinez during that stretch, and is two years older. Moreover, Martinez has the more traditionally enviable repertoire. Jeff Todd (MLBTR) notes that Martinez, “a power righty with two outstanding breaking balls and a useful change-up”, is carrying an ace’s arsenal.
So how does this add up to something good for the Cubs?
Well, next season Kyle Hendricks will be arbitration eligible for the first time, just like Martinez is this year. If he contemplates signing an extension then, it isn’t inconceivable to believe that a previous deal, like the reasonable one Martinez just signed with the Cardinals, might be used as a foundation.
Of course, if Hendricks repeats what he just did in 2016 next season, this might all go out the window, but if he just pitches well again, there can be some similarities … and a starting point for the Cubs.
When Hendricks’ camp (theoretically) comes in for an extension next winter, the Cubs can point to Martinez’s deal with the Cardinals as a blueprint. By doing so, however, they’ll be gaining a lot of leverage. After all, at the time of his deal, Carlos Martinez was three years younger than Hendricks will be next winter, threw more innings, and carried a more traditional arsenal of pitches. Could Hendricks really force the Cubs to offer more money, when a team within their own division set the market for first-time arbitration pitchers of their caliber? I’m not so sure.
Throw in the fact that, to this point, Martinez has made more money than Hendricks has in his career, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that Hendricks might be just as interested in locking in life-changing money before he approaches 30.
But again – and most importantly – a lot can change over the course of next season. Kyle Hendricks is more or less in control of how much money he’ll be able to earn, and it all starts with his performance in 2017. Another obligatory, even if unlikely, caveat: there’s always the chance that the Cubs aren’t interested in extending Hendricks at all. Four more years of cheap team control (three years via arbitration) through his age 30 season isn’t a bad deal, after all.
For now, then, just be aware of the Martinez extension, and the many ways it could impact the Cubs going forward.