As spring training nears, so does the time when numerous players sign contract extensions with their organizations. Who could be extension candidates for the Brewers, besides the obvious.
By now, everyone in the state of Wisconsin wants to see the Milwaukee Brewers sign a contract extension with Christian Yelich and make him a Brewer for the rest of his career. If there’s any player that fans and front office personnel alike want to sign long-term, it’s Yelich.
However, that appears unlikely to happen this year, given the money he would ask for, the current payroll situation, and his current contract. There’s no rush right now, and it would make the most sense to wait until next offseason to begin extension talks with Yelich.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other players worthy of contract extensions that could see offers come their way this spring. Let’s look at three extension candidates not named Christian Yelich.
1. Brandon Woodruff
In 2019, Brandon Woodruff emerged from the chaotic mess that was the original starting rotation and had a great deal of success. Woodruff set himself apart from the group and established himself as the best starting pitcher on the team.
Woodruff posted a 3.62 ERA in 22 starts with a 10.6 K/9 and a 1.14 WHIP. His stuff is electric, with a fastball hitting triple digits from time to time, and a wipeout curveball to go along with a solid changeup. Bryce Harper compared him to a young Matt Harvey, with exploding stuff and being a really good all around pitcher.
Despite not getting more than 50 innings in the big leagues in each of 2017 and 2018, Woodruff made a huge impression in his 22 games in 2019. He’s the real deal out there on the mound and appears to be the ace of the club moving forward.
That makes right now a good time to sign him to a contract extension.
He doesn’t have the super long track record to immediately push himself into the “$20MM a year” category, but he can start earning some decent money and get paid closer to what he’s actually worth.
Let’s take a look at two other similar pitchers who signed extensions last spring: Aaron Nola and Blake Snell. Aaron Nola had three full seasons under his belt and was coming off an All-Star year and a 3rd place finish in Cy Young voting entering what would be his first year of arbitration. Instead, the Phillies signed Nola to a four-year, $45MM contract extension with a club option for the fifth year, potentially buying out two years of free agency.
Blake Snell was a year away from arbitration when he signed his five-year, $50MM contract extension with Tampa Bay last spring. Coming off a Cy Young winning season, the Rays bought out all of his arbitration years and one year of free agency, at the average cost of $10MM per season.
Brandon Woodruff is one year away from arbitration, like Snell, but Woodruff is a Super-Two player, meaning he has four years of arbitration to go through. The Brewers have control over Woodruff through the 2024 season at the moment. If they were to sign Woodruff this spring, it would need to be at least a six year contract to buy out one year of free agency.
Still, Snell got that big contract coming off a Cy Young winning year where he led the league with a 1.89 ERA in 31 starts. Woodruff is coming off a good season, but not that good. That means an AAV of $10MM is likely a little too high for Woodruff to reach at the moment.
Woodruff could put himself into that category or higher if he has another strong season in 2020 and continue his upward climb. If the Brewers wait to sign an extension with him, his cost could go up and make it more difficult to keep their homegrown ace around long-term.
While he will earn close to league minimum in 2020, Woodruff will be in line for a big payday in arbitration. By choosing to extend him, the Brewers will eliminate one variable in their payroll picture. By signing, Woodruff can reach his payday quicker and avoid another year of near-league minimum salary and long arbitration battles.