Typically, March and early April is ‘team friendly extension’ season in Major League Baseball. Arbitration is past so there’s a known starting point for negotiations. The season is either getting ready or just ramping up, so the interest in doing a deal is ripe on both sides of the negotiating table.
As the Pirates’ best player currently without a long-term deal that extends past his team-controlled years, many have their eyes on the Pirates to extend Jameson Taillon. And while that would be great, I’ve shown why the Pirates may have some hesitation on their part to do such a deal. On Taillon’s side, he’s very pro-labor and is willing to go to free agency, as is his right, if he’s not fully enamored with a deal. He’s already booked a $6.5M signing bonus, so there’s no financial pressure on him.
But what about a player who has been flying under-the-radar, both locally and nationally, for some time now. What if the next Pirates to sign an extension is actually Trevor Williams?
In recent weeks, it seems as if TPOP has turned into a Trevor Williams’ fan account. First I wrote a quasi mea culpa about dismissing him last season as a ‘smoke and mirrors’ type of pitcher, a la Jeff Karstens. Then last week, Alex wrote about just how amazing Williams is at putting up starts of at least 6 innings with no earned runs. He’s dubbed this stat The Williams, in honor of Trevor.
Also last week, the Colorado Rockies got into the team-friendly binge by signing German Marquez to a five year/$43M deal. To me, this is a good discussion point on a possible framework for a Williams extension. Marquez is age-24 this season, while Williams is age-27, so there will need to be an adjustment for place on performance peak curves, but their stats to this point have plenty of similarities. I’m going to present some ‘old-school’ metrics below, because as much as I wish that exit velocity and xwOBA and other ‘new school’ metrics were used, arbitration is still an old-fashioned process and that informs many front-office decisions for extensions, too.
- Service Time — Marquez (2 years 27 days), Williams (2 years 27 days). OK, that’s weird. Let’s move on and not discuss that further
- Innings Pitched — Coming into 2019, Marquez pitched 378.2 innings (65 starts, 3 relief appearances). Williams had pitched 333.2 innings (57 starts, 12 relief appearances).
- Wins — Coming into 2019, Marquez had 26 wins and Williams had 22 wins.
- ERA — Marquez had a 4.11 ERA, while Williams was at 3.72.
- BB/9 — Marquez was at 2.80 BB/9 and Williams was at 3.05.
- K/9 — Marquez is more of a strikeout artisan; he sat at 9.32 K/9 and Williams was at 6.85.
Going solely by old-school metrics, it would appear that Marquez is ever so slightly a better pitcher to this point. More counting stats, slightly better ‘old school’ rate stats. He’s also 3 years younger, which is a big deal when attempting to determine future worth before a decline phase.
Using their WAR only for their full seasons, Marquez has a 2.7 and a 4.2. Williams has a 2.4 and a 2.7 to his credit. Some of that is attributable to more innings and more strikeouts on Marquez’s part.
The specific year-by-year breakdowns of Marquez’s contract have not been released yet. However, another recent data point is the Rays’ extension of Blake Snell for 5 year/$50M. Like Marquez and Williams, the service time is similar (2 years 72 days for Snell). Now keep in mind that the age-26 Snell is coming off a Cy Young-winning season and is a much better pitcher than Williams, so please just use these Snell year-by-years as a point of reference:
- $3M signing bonus
- 2019 — $1M
- 2020 — $7M
- 2021 — $10.5M
- 2022 — $12.5M
- 2023 — $16M
So with that in mind, let’s try and box in some numbers for Trevor Williams. I’m going to assume the deal would kick in immediately, as if it were signed today. A five year deal, therefore, would be for his age-27 to age-31 seasons, which as we all know is before the age-32 inflection point age in the Pirates’ decision making.
- $2M signing bonus
- 2019 — $584,000 (same)
- 2020 — $5.5M
- 2021 — $8.0M
- 2022 — $10.5M
- 2023 — $14M
- 2024 — $16M team option ($1M buyout)
This equates to a 5 year/$41.084M contract, with a team option for a 6th year. It puts $40.5M of new money into Trevor Williams’ bank account, come rain or shine, over the next five-plus seasons. It satiates the bloodlust, albeit temporarily, by subsets of the fanbase that want to see the Pirates spend money and lock up good talent. I’ve never understood the idea of team-friendly extensions reflecting on financial outlays — the Pirates have Williams under control anyway for the next four years. If he performs well, he would take more money out of Nutting’s pocket through arbitration. But people like to think that the player has ‘won’, when in fact it really just helps the team achieve cost certainty at a potential discount. Yes, they are incurring some risk over committing to a longer time period because of injury or ineffectiveness, but their potential monetary benefit far outweighs that risk potential.
A potential Williams extension helps set the baseline for what salaries Jameson Taillon, conceptually a better pitcher, could expect to command in his own extension talks. Williams also frames in some deal parameters if the Pirates were interested in signing a less-prominent pitcher like Joe Musgrove.
It’s funny how time alters decisions. This time a year ago, I never would have thought about extending Williams. At the end of last season, I would have been against it, because of how I perceived he was just ‘lucky’. But now I’m starting to think this deal would be a bargain for the Pirates.