With MLB having more young stars than at any time in recent baseball history, teams across the league will soon have important decisions to make. Many of the sport’s top stars are underpaid heading into the 2016 season, but that could change in 2017 as teams look to hand out contract extensions and hold onto their best players.
History was made last season when 20 players age 25 or younger were named to the All-Star team. Matt Harvey was 26 years old for the duration of the 2015 season, and he was the No.1 starter for the New York Mets in the World Series. After avoiding arbitration and agreeing to a $4.325 million salary for the upcoming season, Harvey told reporters on Monday that he’d be open to the idea of signing a long-term extension.
"I think whatever comes up is going to come up," Harvey said at Mets camp in Port St. Lucie, Florida. "I've never shied away from it. I've never said I wouldn't consider it. But I haven't heard anything considering that."
Harvey is under New York’s control through the 2018 season, making him arbitration-eligible for two more seasons before he becomes a free agent. If the starter continues to be among the best pitchers in the National League, he’ll earn himself a major payday when he hits the open market.
Along with Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler, the Mets’ rotation is filled with young arms that will eventually earn themselves lucrative contracts if they stay healthy. New York won’t be able to afford all of them in the long term, and Harvey will be the first one to hit free agency. Harvey could choose to sign a deal with the Mets before next season, earning him more money in 2017 and 2018 than he would in arbitration.
In recent years, teams have signed some of MLB’s best players to enormous contracts while they were still arbitration-eligible, avoiding the risk of losing them in free agency. Prior to the 2014 season the Los Angeles Angels gave Mike Trout a six-year extension worth $144.5 million, even though he was under their control for the next four seasons. Eight months later, the Miami Marlins signed Giancarlo Stanton to a record-setting 13-year, $325 million extension.
A deal between Harvey and the Mets could be worth nine figures, but it’s nothing compared to what Bryce Harper might make. The Washington Nationals outfielder is coming off one of the best seasons any MLB player has had in the last decade, and he won’t turn 24 years old until the 2016 playoffs. Harper has two more years of arbitration before he’s eligible for free agency following the 2018 World Series, but the Nationals might sign him to an historical contract before that can happen.
If Harper remains healthy and productive, he’ll earn more than Stanton received. There’s speculation that he could make $400 million as a free agent, and he’s indicated that he could look to earn even more than what experts are projecting. That would be a significant upgrade from the two-year, $7.5 million contract he signed in the 2014 offseason.
No other player that is arbitration-eligible in 2017 will sign a contract close to Harper’s projected deal, but plenty of young stars have a chance to make big-time money within the next year. Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado will see his salary rise from $548,000 to $5 million this year, and he’s said he’s open to a contract extension to avoid arbitration. Xander Bogaerts hit .320 for the Boston Red Sox in 2015, and he’ll be eligible for arbitration for the first time in 2017.
Both reigning Cy Young award winners could avoid their final years of arbitration with long-term deals before the 2017 season. Jake Arrieta agreed to a one-year, $10.7 million deal with the Chicago Cubs this offseason, and he’s arbitration-eligible for one more year before hitting free agency in Nov. 2017. Houston’s Dallas Keuchel will make $7.25 million in 2016, and he’s under the Astros’ control for two more seasons.
After winning the AL MVP award in his first season with the Toronto Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson avoided arbitration in 2016 and 2017 by signing a two-year deal worth $28.65 million. Adrian Beltre hasn’t faced arbitration in years, but FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi reports that the third baseman is likely to sign an extension with the Texas Rangers, avoiding free agency next offseason.