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Ronald Acuña Jr. also signed an extremely team-friendly extension

This year, players are signing bigger extensions, and some like Acuña are signing them earlier.

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Chicago Cubs v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

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Earlier this morning, Jeff Passan of ESPN broke the news that the Atlanta Braves signed Ronald Acuña Jr. to an eight-year contract extension with two club options. Over the eight years, Acuña will make a minimum of $100 million and a maximum of $124 million if the Braves pick up his two options. Acuña, who would have been a free agent in the 2023-24 offseason entering his age 27 season, is now going to be a Brave until he’s 31.

This is just one of many major extensions that have been signed this offseason. Earlier this week, Xander Bogaerts signed a six-year, $132 million extension with the Red Sox. Blake Snell signed a five-year, $50 million extension after he criticized the Rays for paying him close to league minimum following his AL Cy Young winning season. Eloy Jimenez signed an extension before making his major league debut. The largest of all was Mike Trout’s 12-year, $426.5 million contract.

I looked at every extension signed since the trade deadline of the 2014 season to see if this year feels like an outlier. I split each year at the trade deadline since moves made before that date have that season in mind, and deals made after that season have the next season in mind. These numbers don’t include club options, only the guaranteed salary and contract length.

Average Extensions

Year Number Length Salary (Millions) Service Time AAV ($mil/year)
Year Number Length Salary (Millions) Service Time AAV ($mil/year)
2014-15 29 3.37 $33.85 4.22 $7.59
2015-16 22 3.17 $31.71 5.08 $8.47
2016-17 23 3.75 $31.58 3.97 $8.47
2017-18 18 3.21 $28.37 4.31 $8.04
2018-19 26 4.59 $73.38 3.97 $14.45

Median Extensions

Year Number Length Salary (Millions) Service Time AAV ($mil/year)
Year Number Length Salary (Millions) Service Time AAV ($mil/year)
2014-15 29 3 $19.83 3.15 6.49
2015-16 22 2 $18.50 4.1 7.15
2016-17 23 3 $27.75 3.12 6.08
2017-18 18 3 $17.50 4.09 4.8
2018-19 26 4 $45.00 3.15 10.17

Since the trade deadline of last year, there have been 26 extensions signed. That’s just three away from the biggest extension year in the last five which was the 2014-15 season which saw 29 extensions. If just four more players sign an extension between now and the trade deadline, this will be the biggest year for extensions in the last five.

What’s more is that the extensions players have been signing have been larger both in terms of years and dollar amount. The median dollar amount this year was $45 million, nearly $17 million more than the next closest season. There were 8 extensions signed that totaled over $100 million this year. 2014-2015 saw two: Kyle Seager and Giancarlo Stanton. 2015-16 saw Stephen Strasburg sign for $175 million. The rest didn’t have any.

Teams aren’t spending in free agency, but they sure are spending on extensions now. This could be a good sign. If teams are reluctant to spend on free agents, at least the players can get paid before they reach free agency. The landscape of free agency will likely change with the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (whether there’s a strike or not). The extensions afford players and their families certainty when the future is anything but. That’s not worthless.

But the thing about extensions is that they are inherently team friendly. Yes, even Mike Trout’s $426.5 million deal is team friendly. Teams have no need to extend a player for more than their market value because they already have control of them. The only risk a team is taking is in thinking hoping that this player will remain good and healthy.

In the broader context, it’s hard not to view the recent extensions to young players in light of the news that teams have a symposium every year to discuss how they’ll suppress arbitration salaries. A roundabout way of doing that is to make sure that the best players don’t go to arbitration. Players are winning more arbitration cases than before, and players like Acuña, Snell, and Jimenez would have continued to move the needle. Better to give them some guaranteed money now instead of waiting for them to break arbitration records.

In Acuña’s case, he’ll make a lot more over the next two years when the Braves wouldn’t have been required to pay him over league minimum, but he’ll be underpaid for all the years following that. If Acuña were to hit free agency at 27, it’s hard not to envision him signing for something like what Bryce Harper or Manny Machado got. In his first season, he was already worth around $30 million if you value a win at $8 million.

It’s still possible that the Braves could write up a new extension somewhere along the lines. After all, Trout’s extension overwrote a previous extension that was much more team friendly and comparable to what Acuña is getting now considering Acuña’s former distance from free agency.

For now, Acuña is being underpaid even if he’s making a lot more than he was before. If Acuña doesn’t sign a new extension before this current one is up, it will be a steal. Literally. It will be theft.