This is the latest installment of our Braves Extension Series, a sequence of posts detailing each player currently deserving of a long-term contract by the Braves. For an introduction to this topic, check out my brief overview published in January, here.
We’ve reached the month of May, and the current COVID-19 situation has progressed enough that as of Monday morning ESPN and the Korean Baseball Organization reached an agreement to broadcast six KBO games per week, including the KBO’s postseason. This comes just days after USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale published his story regarding MLB’s plan to start its season in either late June or early July (which I wrote about here last week). However, despite a recent surge in optimism regarding the return of American baseball — we sit here today patiently waiting… I’ll believe it when I see it.
But until that day comes, there’s still plenty to discuss regarding the Braves and the 2020 season, as well as the team’s potentially exciting future. This pandemic won’t last forever, and there will undoubtedly be crucial days ahead once this global catastrophe is officially over.
For the Braves, the ramifications of this pandemic appear to be much more manageable than perhaps other organizations. The franchise still rosters an incredible young core, a top-5 farm system, and the reputation of a determined club currently yearning for bigger and better things. Remember, the Braves are back-to-back NL East champs, and the last two seasons weren’t achieved by chance… a plan was most definitely put in place dating back to the 2018 campaign.
So starting today, this series will look at each player, on a case-by-case basis, that should be viewed as a top priority for the Braves going forward to keep in Atlanta as long as possible.
Extension candidate no. 1… Mike Soroka
- Arbitration eligible:2022
- Free agent:2025
- 2019 stats:174.2 IP, 2.68 ERA, 4.0 WAR
In January, I mentioned the obvious regarding Soroka — how he nearly won both the 2019 NL Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards, posting the majors’ fifth-best ERA. Despite a 2019 season featuring a historic surge in home runs, he managed to allow the fewest in all of baseball. However, repeating such a dominant campaign is highly doubtful (at least at that level); but regardless, the Braves need to lockup the soon-to-be 23-year-old (his birthday is in August)…
…but sooner than Freddie Freeman…? No way!
Look, MLB has quickly morphed into an offensive game over the years, making starting pitchers with an ability to prevent runs that much more valuable. That may seem like an overly simplistic explanation of today’s game, and probably doesn’t justify extending him before Freeman, but just look at what free-agent starters are earning these days:
- Stephen Strasburg (2019) — 7 years, $245M
- Gerrit Cole (2019) — 9 years, $324M
- Clayton Kershaw (2018) — 3 years, $93M(extension)
- Zack Greinke (2015) — 6 years, $206.5M
- Justin Verlander (2019) — 2 years, $66M
Whether it’s a long-term deal or just for two or three seasons, the going rate for an ace-level starting pitcher is around $30 million per season… and rising fast (as you can see by Strasburg and Cole’s $35+ AAV contracts signed this past winter). The Braves would be extremely wise to get out in front of Soroka’s free agency (even his arbitration years) and settle for a much more team-friendly deal, or at least one that won’t require a fifth of their yearly payroll.
At this point, Soroka is slated to be a 27-year-old free agent entering the 2025 season, and just like several months ago — when we last looked at his case for an extension — formal talks have yet to take place between him and the Braves. However, the earlier, the better… perhaps even more so for a guy in Soroka’s unique position.
With the 2020 season on hold, the Canadian’s breakout 2019 season is still fresh on everyone’s minds, perhaps even regardless of whether or not an MLB season takes place this year. To put it bluntly: the hype regarding Soroka isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and fortunately, he is still young enough to cash in on his already ace-like performance without hindering his ability to earn another big payday down the road. Therefore, the Braves should pounce on such an ideal timeline and lockup the right-hander right away.
Back when I first looked at a possible extension for Soroka, I comped his circumstances to that of Blake Snell, who signed a 5-year, $50 million deal in 2018 (granted, right after winning an AL Cy Young award), and Chris Archer’s from 2014 (6 years, $25.5 million). I still think those two deals are both applicable now. However, the financial impact from the current COVID-19 outbreak will cause several teams to perhaps take a closer look when it comes to handing their pre-arb players tens of millions of dollars (and we already know how stingy Liberty Media can be, despite how pleased we’ve been with their spending habits this past offseason).
Although, it all comes down to the aforementioned plan. What kind of core do the Braves want to carry forward? If this hypothetical “core” doesn’t include Soroka, then contingency plans will need to be made to bring in the caliber of pitching required to continue as contenders, while also staying within the limited margins of the team’s recent annual payrolls. Although, to me, it’s simple, especially given what the Braves currently have in Soroka… and even Max Fried. Pay the man and solidify your starting rotation for at least the next 5-7 seasons, providing a young pitching staff to go along with the guarantee of having stars like Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies for the next decade.
It’s that simple, right?
Next week we’ll look at Extension Candidate no. 2…
What do you guys think? Let us know your list of players the Braves should extend, ordered from top priority to lowest priority.
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