Should The Mariners Extend Michael Pineda Now?
Last week, the Tampa Bay Rays continued their strategy of aggressively locking up their young talents even before they’ve established themselves in the big leagues, signing Matt Moore to a five year, $14 million contract (followed by three team options) despite the fact that he’s pitched a total of 19 1/3 innings in the Major Leagues. This deal follows in the footsteps of contracts the team has previous given Wade Davis, James Shields, and Evan Longoria, all of whom were locked up extremely early in their careers. By signing these deals with players who have a year or less of service time, the team has avoided paying some huge raises through the arbitration process, creating significant cost savings for the franchise overall.
Other teams have also begun to look to lock up their best young talents early as well. The A’s gave early career extensions to both Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, while the Blue Jays locked up Ricky Romero in the middle of his second big league season. Anderson is a pretty good example of why the players are willing to take these types of deals – he blew out his elbow last year, but was already set for life and doesn’t have to worry about the injury limiting his future paychecks. Essentially, the team absorbs the injury risk that is usually carried by the player, but if the player stays healthy, the team is likely to come out way ahead.
Based on the other pitchers who have signed deals in this general service time range, it would likely cost the Mariners something in the range of $20-$25 million guaranteed to buy out the next remaining five years of Pineda’s team control, and they’d probably be able to get team options on his first few years of free agency in exchange for guaranteeing him decent paydays this early.
If he stays healthy and develops into a quality starting pitcher, Pineda will make a lot more than that through arbitration, so the team could certainly put themselves in a position to keep his long term costs down. However, pitchers are notoriously risky, and Pineda does have a history of arm problems. You could make an argument that the team should want to see him endure a legitimately full Major League season before they hand him a long term deal, but that comes with the caveat that he’ll be a lot more expensive to lock up next winter if he has a strong second season in the big leagues.
There’s also the trade value aspect of cost certainty – Pineda may very well be a more valuable asset in potential trade talks if the M’s are able to get him signed to one of these extensions that buys out a few free agent years, even if he doesn’t develop into the pitcher the team is hoping for. For instance, Wade Davis has gotten worse each year since arriving in the big leagues, but because the Rays were able to sign him to a deal that pays him peanuts, he still has some trade value despite mediocre performances. If the M’s do decide that they need to move Pineda in order to improve the offense, he could be a more marketable piece if teams knew exactly how long they’d be able to control his rights.
It’s possible that Pineda and his agent may not be interested in signing some free agent years away at this point, but I’d hope the M’s have at least explored the option. As Tampa Bay has shown, being aggressive with signing premium talents early in their careers can create massive long term cost savings and is often worth taking on an additional bit of risk.