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Being All Judge-y About Contract Extensions

Like most of us, I have played in enough different types of leagues to know what I like. My favourite kind of leagues are auction leagues that use some of the original keeper rules, specifically, l love the leagues where you can keep a player at a given price for a couple of years and then you have to decide whether to extend his contract (at an extra charge) or let him go. The added strategic dimension is a nice puzzle to figure out and thinking about it keeps the winter from getting too boring without actual ball games. It may be a bit early, but I have already got these questions on my mind (can you tell that my teams were not as competitive this year as I would like).

I am going to look at a few players to consider whether or not they are good candidates for extensions. In some cases the answer may be obvious, but in others it is less clear. Obviously, the object here is to maximize the value you get from your keepers, effectively keeping the most value for the least price.

For the purposes of the exercise, I am taking average 2013 auction prices from ESPN to use as a proxy for what you might have paid for each player. I am also assuming a standard mixed-league, $260 budget, and a cost of $5 per year to extend a contract up to a maximum of two years. I am not counting any inflation even though with keeper leagues there will be some.

Kyle Seager, 3B, SEA – $2.50

This is a bit of a slow ball to start off with, because Seager is a no-brainer to extend. Seager is the 11th best 3B according to ESPN’s player rater, but he will be ranked much higher heading into next year, due both to his performance and because some of those guys ahead of him will not qualify there for 2014 (notably Hanley Ramirez and in some leagues Edwin Encarnacion). Seager has produced better than average power, runs, and RBIs for his owners and there are not many statistical chinks in his armour (consistent K%, improved BB%, sustainable BABIP), and he should be getting better heading into his prime.

Verdict: Extend freely and for as long as your league will allow.

Patrick Corbin, SP, ARI – $0

At a hilarious $0 average price in 2013, Corbin might also seem like a slam-dunk, but I think his case is a bit more nuanced depending on your league parameters. The decision really revolves around how much, if at all, you think Corbin will regress in 2014. There was a very good exchange about this on the Twitter yesterday led by FanGraphsEno Sarris who pointed out that Corbin does not have an elite skill. So, if you think Corbin takes a step back from his elite ERA and WHIP numbers to merely good ones, accept that there is not a big leap coming in strikeouts, and know that wins are mostly up to the gods, what is Corbin really worth?

In a $260 league, depending on roster size and how you divide your money between hitting and pitching, the average auction price for a pitcher is probably going to be somewhere between $8-$13. Extending Corbin two years puts him squarely in the middle of that range and so the question becomes whether you think he will still be above average in 2014 and 2015. I do, but he strikes as one player where the risk of variance is higher given his short track record.

Verdict: I would extend him the two years, but I might think about trying to trade him and making the choice someone else’s if you feel strongly about a regression and can get good value for him.

Jason Grilli, RP, PIT – $4.70 and Jose Reyes, SS, TOR – $23.80

The injured ones are the worst. No one could be blamed for taking the position that they will never extend a guy with an injury history. Grilli and Reyes present very different, but real conundrums for owners who are comfortable with a little risk in their lives.

In Grilli’s case, he was pitching so well when he got hurt in first his stint as a closer, but really was just extending a run of two plus solid seasons as a dominant short reliever. It is his price that makes him incredibly tempting even though relievers and closers will come cheaply, both on auction day and during the season.

Verdict: If your decision point is far enough into the future wait and see what his health and role turn out to be. If you have to decide immediately after the season, I would go one more year Grilli.

We all know Reyes’ story – elite talent when healthy, not healthy enough. The dilemma is that SS across the majors has become a sinkhole; more so lately as guys like Starlin Castro and Asdrubal Cabrera have fallen off. Reyes will play only slightly more than half the season this year, but he is the 11th among SS on the ESPN Player Rater. That said, at nearly $24 he was also the second most expensive SS by average price.

Verdict: He could easily top the SS Player Rater next year and very few of us would be surprised, but I could not justify adding onto his current salary and crossing my fingers that I get 130-150 games from him in 2014.

Justin Verlander, SP, DET – $32.40

If the injured guys are tough, the guys who seem to fall off from elite to mediocre for no reason are brutal. As far as we know, Verlander is not injured. He is just not the guy he was 2010 and 2011 (or really even 2008 and 2009 if you look at some of his peripherals). It is hard not to wonder if the 490 regular season innings (plus playoff appearances) the last two seasons have taken their toll. Could he bounce back next year? Sure. But he is going to throw 200+ innings again this year and the Tigers look like they are headed to the postseason, which will more miles onto Verlander’s shoulder and elbow.

His price frankly makes this discussion fairly moot, because without the assurance of elite performance (and maybe even with it) you cannot really go in for more of your budget on the former MVP. But, honestly the reason I wanted to write about Verlander is because I think the question fantasy players are really grappling with here is whether the moment is at hand to try to be a year ahead of Verlander’s fade rather than a year behind it.

Verdict: No chance.

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Noel Baldwin

Noel Baldwin

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