It may not be until 2021 that the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Players’ Union and Major League Baseball expires, but there is a definite shadow being cast by that deadline which can be observed throughout the game.
This week, Nolan Arenado and the Colorado Rockies agreed to an 8-year, $260m extension for one of, if not the best, 3rd basemen in the whole of the game to stay at Coors Field. Arenado slashed .297/.374/.561 last year, continuing the consistent numbers he has put up more or less since he broke onto the Major League scene.
Elsewhere, St Louis Cardinals ace Miles Mikolas agreed to a 4-year, $68m extension which will run from 2020 through the 2023 season. Mikolas went 18-4 across 32 starts last year with a 2.83 ERA; very good numbers in what is a tough division in the NL Central.
The pattern is reluctance from players to enter free agency. Bryce Harper is still at the time of writing without a team, as is Dallas Keuchel, as is Craig Kimbrel, as are many others. Many free agents, it could be argued, are struggling having put up numbers that can easily be replicated by younger, in-house players for these teams, or perhaps for other, justifiable reasons (yes, Jose Reyes, we are looking at you). However, the market’s stagnation has been such that players are now willing to perhaps take a lower amount of money in an extension and avoid the uncertainty of a free agent market where the overwhelming trend is clearly negative.
Aaron Nola shocked many in the baseball world by agreeing to a 4-year, $45m extension with the Philadelphia Phillies; an average annual salary of $11.25m for a player that was arguably the third-best pitcher in the National League last year with a 2.37 ERA and 17 wins, has youth on his side and has true ace potential, would appear to be on the low side compared to free agency contracts given out in the past.
Anyway, I digress. With regards to Arenado and Mikolas, both moves clearly make sense for their respective franchises. The Cardinals lock down a pitcher who could make a huge impact for them over the coming season as they look to overhaul the Cubs and Brewers in the Central, particularly with their offensive capabilities having been enhanced via the signing of Paul Goldschmidt in trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks in his final year before the aforementioned dreaded free agency.
Arenado’s is even more interesting, and a massive statement from the Rockies. Many believe that the NL West is a lock for the Dodgers again this year, and perhaps next year, given the strength of their roster, and the NL in general is very competitive – much more competitive than the comparable American League in terms of the number of teams that will be in contention for a playoff spot in 2019 and perhaps beyond.
However, it has never been a secret that Arenado is, in every way, a winner. He is desperate to win games, to win pennants and to win World Series championships. For him to commit a potential 8 years to staying at Coors Field is an indication that he really does believe in the franchise and believes in the team’s ability to contend in both the NL West and the NL more widely.
There is, of course, the added carrot of an opt-out following the 2021 season, which makes sense for two reasons.
First of all, the Collective Bargaining Agreement will have expired and the market will be at least clearer, if not better, for the players in terms of the going rates and attitudes of the front offices and Major League Baseball heads. Secondly, purely from a playing perspective, it gives Arenado a chance to see how the Rockies progress over the next three years. If he sees improvement and potential, it would be no surprise for him to continue in Colorado. If he does not, it would equally be no surprise to see him opt-out and pursue a ring in New York or any other contender of the time.
The extensions are interesting. The circumstances behind the extensions perhaps even more so. But to Rockies and Cardinals fans, all that will matter is the fact that their studs, their stars, their best players, are with them for the next few years at least.
For them at least, the prospects for the new season just got that little bit brighter. In isolation, away from everything else, that cannot be a bad thing for either team.