The Milwaukee Brewers have had a knack lately for churning out quality, young pitching talent from their minor league organization. On a couple occasions, they’ve been able to lock up some of that talent early at a very reasonable price.
Last Saturday, the Brewers signed one of their newest young starters, left-hander Aaron Ashby, to a contract extension that keeps him on the team through at least 2027. Reports from Joel Sherman of the New York Post are that the contract could be worth as little as $20.5MM and as much as $46MM if options in 2028 and 2029 are picked up, among other factors.
If this basic concept sounds familiar to Brewers fans, it should. That’s because Milwaukee handed out a similar deal to another young pitcher just two years ago.
Prior to the 2020 season, right-handed pitcher Freddy Peralta was also signed to a five-year extension, also for a team-friendly price. In his case, the extension had a base value of $15.5MM and could max out at $30MM.
Those two contracts set up the Brewers starting rotation very well for the future. But could the most recent extension indicate that that future will be one without two even more talented rotation pieces in it?
What, if anything, does Aaron Ashby’s contract extension indicate about the Brewers futures of fellow starters Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff?
Teams often have to fork over a good amount of money to put a 1-2 punch like Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff together at the top of their rotation. In the Brewers’ case, all it took was drafting and development.
Burnes was a 4th round pick in Milwaukee’s 2016 draft while Woodruff was taken by the Crew as an 11th rounder in 2014. The former made his Brewers debut as a reliever in the 2018 season while the latter did as a starter the previous season.
Burnes now has a career ERA of 3.06, a WHIP of 1.055, and 12 strikeouts per nine innings in 121 games. He has made the last two All-Star games and was Milwaukee’s Opening Day starter this year. Oh yeah, he won last year’s NL Cy Young award too.
Woodruff, meanwhile, has a 3.30 ERA, 1.082 WHIP, and 10.4 K/9 of his own through 106 career games. He also has two career All-Star nods and was the team’s Opening Day starter for the two years prior to Burnes.
However, unlike Peralta and Ashby, neither of these two were signed to contract extensions early in their careers. Burnes and Woodruff were signed to one-year contracts worth $6.5MM and $6.8MM, respectively, with each now in their arbitration years.
Both talented starters will command more and more money until they cash in big in free agency prior to their 2025 seasons. But who’s to say that Milwaukee can’t still sign at least one of the two to their own contract extensions before that?
The extensions for Peralta and Ashby were an opportunity to lock up two talented young starters for several years at a price that also happened to be beneficial to the Brewers’ financial situation as a low to mid-market team. And they should be viewed as only that.
In fact, with Peralta and Ashby signed to contracts with such low average yearly values compared to their possible output, it should actually give the Brewers more of a chance to retain one of Burnes or Woodruff’s services.
As fans of a team like the Brewers, who don’t often get to dole out hefty contracts, it can be easy to assume that a contract for one player means no contract for another. Payrolls past this season are far from set, though, so there’s always a chance those fans get to see Burnes and/or Woodruff (likely “or” more than “and”) in a Milwaukee uniform past the year 2024.
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Ashby’s contract means a talented young pitcher stays in Milwaukee for the foreseeable future. And that’s all that it should mean.