You know the Chicago Cubs is working on extensions for their young positional talent (whether it can be accomplished or not remains to be seen), and so you know they sit up and pay attention when another young positional talent is extended around baseball.
So it is this morning with the Tampa Bay Rays and elite defensive outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who had agreed to a six-year extension with the team, per multiple reports. The deal may have option years thereafter, and is reportedly worth at least $53.5 million.
The deal just barely tops Andrew McCutchen’s six-year extension with the Pirates from when he was a similar age and at a similar service level (the only difference was McCutchen was a year younger, but Kiermaier was due an extra year of arbitration due to Super Two status).
Kiermaier, who turns 27 next month, was set to play out his first arbitration season in 2017, and then have three more turns at arbitration thereafter. Thus, the deal buys out his four arbitration years, plus two free agent years, with option(s) thereafter TBA.
Kiermaier is a back-to-back Gold Glove winner who is arguably the best outfield defender in baseball, and has posted WAR totals of 3.9, 5.6, and 3.8 in the past three years. Last year’s figure would have been much higher if not for the two months missed due to a broken hand, as Kiermaier improved his offensive game to a solid .246/.331/.410 (104 wRC+) with good peripherals.
There’s no perfect comp here for the Cubs in terms of age and service time (Albert Almora Jr. is the obvious player comp, in terms of an elite defensive center fielder with above-average offensive potential), but it’s interesting to see that the rate on a deal like this didn’t move north all that much from what McCutchen got five years ago.
You could argue that McCutchen was clearly the superior player at the time of his deal, but I’m not so sure that’s the case, given that his defense was already trending down at that point, and the bat hadn’t yet it’s sustained stretch of MVP-caliber excellence. With what we know about defensive value, and the game increasingly trending toward more fly balls, I could make the case that Kiermaier projects to be more valuable now than McCutchen projected to be be then. (I don’t think I’d actually make that argument … but I could.)
If you had to pick a Cubs comp, maybe you’d point to someone like Addison Russell, who will be a Super Two next year, and combines elite defense with a bat starting to tick over league average. The rub there is that, by this time next year, when his service time matches Kiermaier’s, Russell will be four years younger than Kiermaier, and his bat may very well have exploded in 2017. You could also talk about Javy Baez here in a similar mold, but his versatility and planned usage in 2017 make things a little more complicated.
In any case, it’s one more positional player extension data point to add to the repository. There was a time when it looked like Freddie Freeman’s eight-year, $135 million deal three years ago was going to completely change the landscape for pre-arbitration extensions, but that hasn’t really played out just yet.
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