Having a veteran leader personality who embraces analytics like Matthew Boyd would be beneficial to the Detroit Tigers and their young upcoming arms
There has been an increasing effort in baseball to extend young players who are multiple years away from free agency; and this is a strategy many have been advocating for the Detroit Tigers to do with lefty starter Matthew Boyd. Teams typically get six years of control when a player reaches the major leagues for the first time; the first three of those years come at league minimum while the next three are negotiated between the team and the player representation each year; and if they are unable to reach an agreement before a certain off-season deadline, they would go to arbitration where there would be a ruling either in favor of the player or the team.
So why, then, with such a cost-effective and built-in long-term control, would teams like the Detroit Tigers be increasingly willing to pay these players beyond what they are owed? There are a few reasons, really–but much of it comes down to leverage. With league minimum salaries averaging somewhere between $500,000 and $600,000 per year, even quadrupling that number still does not pose a significant risk to payroll even if the player regresses; meanwhile, the player gets an unexpected pay day and a security net while they would have been under control any way.
In exchange, many times these players will hit free agency for the first time later in their career. Take the White Sox with Yoan Moncada, for example. Moncada had just finished his second full season in the major leagues. In 2018, Moncada struggled and struck out an AL-wost 217 times over 149 games but would break out in 2019 by producing 4.8 bWAR. In the off-season, the White Sox rewarded Moncada and bought themselves an extra year of control by signing him to a 5 year, $70 million extension. The value per dollar will certainly go down short-term, but using the rough rule of $9 million per 1.0 WAR model, it is still an amazing deal for Chicago and essentially spreading out what would have been a $30 million year in free agency over the other 4 seasons. They deployed similar strategies with Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, and Tim Anderson as well.
The challenge with replicating any extension with Detroit Tigers’ Matthew Boyd is twofold. Firstly, Boyd has already entered into his arbitration-eligible seasons; meaning his pay will likely increase in 2021 and 2022 before he becomes a free agent after the 2022 season. This gives Boyd leverage to continue with his arbitration-eligible seasons, continue to build his resume, and potentially get a higher pay day considering there will be multiple teams to negotiate with when he would ultimately become a free agent.
The second would be the question of whether the Detroit Tigers feel that Boyd would be worth extending. Pitching has been the strength of their farm system for some time–and while GM Al Avila has stated publicly they cannot have enough pitching, it is fair to ask whether their financial resources could be put to better use elsewhere. While Boyd has many of the intangibles necessary to be successful; he has a reputation for being a fast starter and then regressing through the season; evidenced by his career 3.08 ERA in the month of April and his 5.59 and 5.19 ERA totals in August and September, respectively.
The anecdotal evidence in such cases for pitchers signing extensions early is actually quite rare. I have to believe the significant injury risk that exists with pitchers causes teams to hold off from writing unnecessary checks before they should, but there are a couple cases in which left-handed starters signed contracts well before they were scheduled to hit the open market. According to MLB.com, Matt Moore had just 17 days of service time in the books before Tampa would sign him to a 5 year, $14 million extension.
The other was Madison Bumgarner, who had just north of a year of service in before inking a 5-year, $35 million extension after he produced a 3.21 ERA in just over 200 innings his first full major league season. Perhaps the best and most recent extension signee comes from Seattle Mainers starting pitcher Marco Gonzales, who signed a 4 year, $30-million contract extension in February.
Gonzales has about a year less of service time and is also a year younger than Boyd and both produced very similar numbers in terms of WAR in 2019, though Boyd is generally more well-regarded. With Gonzales, however, his extension will basically take him through his team control period any way, so Seattle did not pay their way to keep Gonzales beyond the amount of time they had him in the first place. Detroit would want to do this with Boyd, so this suggests the price would be higher.
Considering Boyd is scheduled to make $5.3 million this year, I would venture to guess he would come in around $10 million in 2021 and $15 million in 2022 in arbitration; so we’ll start with those two years and roughly $25 million. From there, the Tigers would likely want a couple or few years of Boyd, but I cannot see them going much beyond two more years, considering Boyd would be 34 by the time that contract would expire.
At this point, the risk is not worth the reward. The Tigers could have gotten Boyd on a team-friendly deal last year or the year before and potentially gotten some of his free agent seasons at a big discount; but with $25 million coming to him in the next two seasons any way, they may be better off to wait and save themselves in the event of a regression or injury–or frankly, need.
Estimated offer required: 4 years, $70 million