With the recent extension of Justin Verlander, it has been the assumption of many that the Tigers are now going to turn their efforts toward Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera is signed with the Tigers through 2015 at which point he will be 32 years old. With Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder already garnering $200M dollar contracts, I’m probably one of the few people that thinks the Tigers may not look to extend Cabrera at that age and the dollars that he would demand.
This brings me to Austin Jackson.
Taking the small sample that is 2013 into consideration, Austin Jackson appears to be an emerging superstar in the game of baseball. If he isn’t the best center fielder in the American League, he is in the same class as those who are. He is also playing 2013 for $3.5M dollars as a first year arbitration eligible.
So, if he has two years of tremendous value, why would I as the Tigers look to extend Jackson now?
Well, it’s simple really. The Tigers overpay on the two arbitration years in order to get two or three years of free agency at a rate cheaper than what he will earn on the open market. And let’s not kid ourselves, Austin Jackson is pushing himself towards a big pay day.
Since 2010, Jackson has averaged just a tiny bit more than 3.8 fWAR per year. That is an extremely valuable player at an extremely valuable position. His best season, last year, he posted 5.2 fWAR which was second in the American League to the all-world performance put up by the Angels Mike Trout. His WAR total and overall numbers led to a couple of conclusions. Jackson is one of the game’s best young center fielders, and two, he is still improving.
While Jackson does get a nice bump from a healthy BABIP, he has shown that he can carry those high averages for a whole season, partly due to a line drive rate that he has kept in the mid 20’s percentile two of the three full seasons that he has played. But what is really interesting about Jackson is that he has seen his K rate decrease from the mid to upper 20 percent to 21 percent last year. This season in early action, Jackson is striking out just a paltry 8% of the time. On top of his decreasing strike out rate, Jackson is developing more power, as well as getting on base more, becoming one of the most dynamic lead off men in the game. He does have ability to steal 2o bases a year, making him a 20/20 potential guy, but the Tigers just don’t run that much. He also plays a Gold Glove caliber defense.
At 26 years old, Jackson is just beginning to hit what is considered the prime of his career. The next two years of team control means that Jackson will be with the Tigers through age 28, but getting him until he is 31 or 32 years old would be optimal.
I firmly believe that making Jackson’s future comfortable now is the beneficial thing to do for the Tigers. They really don’t have a CF in the minor leagues that looks like they will be able to replace Jackson’s production, and they would be securing one of the more emerging talents in baseball for the next five years.
I’m typically bad at throwing out contract numbers, but I would have to imagine an extension in the five year 60-70 million dollar range would be fair. The first two years would be a bit on the cheaper end, approximately twenty million or so, and then would get larger in the free agent years.
What do you all think an Austin Jackson extension should look like? Or should the Tigers even extend him at all?