By now, the calculus on whether Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer should add Kris Bryant to the Opening Day roster has been well explained. By keeping him down at the beginning of the season, the Cubs can secure an extra year of control. Bleacher Nation went through the process of explaining how it all works out. Since that discussion is somewhat afield of this discussion, his post can be found here.
At this point, the conventional wisdom on Bryant is that the Cubs absolutely need to secure the extra year of control in his prime because of who is agent is. Scott Boras is known for his ability to squeeze every dime out of teams, which we saw this week with Max Scherzer heading to Washington for a tidy $210M. Other Boras clients, such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, and Prince Fielder also opted to take their large free agent paydays. In that sense, these players lend to the assumption that Scott Boras pushes his players onto the open market to garner the largest contract possible.
While it is unlikely that the Cubs would follow the model that the Tampa Bay Rays set, when they signed Evan Longoria to a very team friendly contract that could extend through 2023, the prospects of an extension are not out of the question. Scott Boras clients have signed extensions with their teams when they’ve directed Boras to get it done. Elvis Andrus, Carlos Gonzalez, Jason Varitek, and Jered Weaver are all Boras clients who signed extensions before they hit the open market. While all of these players signed contracts that secured them financially for the rest of their lives, they were all deals that were less than the market would have given them and they were all client driven because they wanted to stay with their current teams. One of the players who did enter the market, Ellsbury, said before his contract with the Red Sox ended,
“You have examples like CarGo, Weaver, Andrus, Varitek — there’s a ton of examples of guys that have signed before [free agency]. [Boras] gives you advice, but it’s up to you to make your own decision.”
Assuming that Ellsbury’s comments were accurate, the possibility of Kris Bryant signing an extension with the Cubs exists. Looking at some of the other higher profile young clients of Boras also says that the possibility is there. Whether or not the Cubs and Kris Bryant are able to agree to a contract that stretches beyond 2021 rests on the shoulders of Kris Bryant.
The actual value of a potential Bryant extension is a more interesting question. When Elvis Andrus signed his extension, he was coming off four full seasons, at a combined 13.2 fWAR. His deal was for eight years with an option for 2023, worth $120M, and had a limited no trade clause. Since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have taken control of the Cubs front office, they have signed their two youngest stars to contracts before they reached arbitration when they signed Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Assuming Kris Bryant wants to stay in Chicago and is willing to work out an extension, it seems safe to say that it would likely come after his first arbitration year. None of the extensions that have been worked out by Scott Boras have come before a player was arbitration eligible. That makes sense. It allows some ability for a market to bear out value on the player, taking some of the negotiating leverage away from the team. Fortunately for the Cubs, Bryant will undoubtedly be a super two player, moving the time frame up by a full year. At this point, Bryant will have a smaller MLB sample and less established value than if he were to go to arbitration after his third season. With that said, if the Cubs and Bryant are mutually interested in an extension, Bryant would most certainly have performed at or above the lofty expectations placed on him after his first full professional season.
None of the points on the timeline for Bryant and the potential for a contract extension matter much if Bryant meets expectations. Boras himself provided some insight as to how he is going to handle another client, Bryce Harper, as it relates to the contract extension signed by Mike Trout.
“I have the pleasure and privilege of watching Mike Trout play every night. I think he’s a very special cup of tea, for which he is deserving of a completely different brew. While few, I definitely consider Bryce Harper as part of the next generation of elite brand of teas. Certainly as a studied connoisseur, I may hold a differing opinion as to the availability, demand and value of tea futures.”
In spite of the odd (yet, easy to follow) analogy about tea, Boras is saying pretty plainly that he disagrees with the valuation of Mike Trout and would likely push for more as it relates to Bryce Harper. How does that relate to Kris Bryant? He comes into the 2015 season with a 3.6 WAR Steamer projection. For the sake of simplicity, let’s use that as his rookie season value with an increase of 0.5 WAR for each of the next two seasons, bringing him to a combined 12.3 WAR when the Cubs sit with Scott Boras to hammer out an extension. Bryant does not play short stop, like Andrus, nor does he play center field, like Trout or Harper. While his defensive position diminishes his value slightly, his bat and his age would more than make up for defensive value.
Looking to another Scott Boras client, Mark Teixeira, may provide us with a reasonable place to discuss where a Kris Bryant extension may land. In the three seasons before his free agency, Texiera had a combined fWAR of 14.3 as a corner infielder at first base. He signed with the Yankees for 8 years, worth $180M. It would be unlikely that Boras secures the same no-trade clause, but it wouldn’t be out of the question to see a limited no trade clause, which was given to Andrus in his extension. Based on Boras’ comments about Trout’s extension, it would be fair to assume that he would work for a deal greater than the 6 years at $144.5M Trout agreed to. After all, he knows tea futures, and Kris Bryant flavored tea is hard to come by. Power hitting corner infielders in their prime do not grow on trees. If Bryant wants to stay in Chicago, he will demand the Cubs pay for it.
Without question, this exercise is premature. There are no guarantees in sports. Kris Bryant could flame out. He could get hurt. But if he is who we have all seen in his first year plus in the minors, he will become a very valuable piece of the Chicago Cubs. So premature as this may be, we are not long from the time the questions about whether Kris Bryant should be extended are going to be asked. If for no other reason than that, this may be a place to start in terms of a general framework.