What a José Berríos Contract Extension Could Look Like
Image courtesy of © Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY SportsUnlike teammate Byron Buxton, Berríos lacks clear, directly applicable, recent precedent deals around whom we can build an imagined agreement. That doesn’t directly make a deal less likely, but it does illustrate the roadblocks both sides face at this stage. More so than batters, pitchers tend to have either demonstrated their full ability or suffered setbacks that stunted their development and blunted their earning power by this point in their careers. Berríos, who will turn just 27 in May, is a rare case.
His age means time is still on Berríos’s side. He’s been quite healthy and durable throughout his professional career. He’s been consistently above-average, with DRA- figures of 91, 95, 91, and 95 over the last four years, according to Baseball Prospectus. (DRA- is an advanced statistic that expresses a pitcher’s contribution to run prevention on a scale indexed to 100, such that that number is average, and lower is better.) Yet, there remain several reasons to believe that he could be even better, and his inability to take the step from solid mid-rotation starter to ace has delayed any discussion of a deal until now.
Few pitchers sign extensions taking them past their walk year when they have between four and five years of big-league service, as Berríos does right now. Most have either already signed deals, shielding them from the risks associated with being a good young pitcher, or are willing to bear the remaining risks and go to free agency. Kyle Hendricks signed such a deal in March 2019, with the same amount of service time. It guaranteed him $55.5 million, with a club option that could carry the total value up to $70 million. Because it took effect only in 2020, the deal really extended the Cubs’ control over Hendricks by three or four seasons, not two or three, and it kept intact the $7.4-million deal he’d already signed for 2019.
Hendricks’s deal isn’t a great template for a Berríos one, though, for multiple reasons. Hendricks was already 29 when he signed the deal. He signed it during a period in which extensions were being signed at an unprecedented pace, often on very team-friendly terms. He has also consistently been much better than Berríos has been, albeit with a skill set that leads many to (unfairly) question his staying power. It was only those factors that even led the deal to happen at that time.
To build a potential Berríos deal, then, we need to be creative and willing to work without the safety net of history. Getting an extension done would require the same from both the Twins organization and Berríos’s agents at Wasserman Media Group. Using what we know about arbitration and free agency and the outcomes we can imagine for Berríos over the next half-decade, it is possible to build a contract that would serve the interests on both sides of the negotiating table.
Firstly, remember that Berríos and the Twins already agreed on a $6.1-million deal for 2021. This deal wouldn’t need to replace that one, but let’s suggest that it do so, by converting his 2021 salary to $5.7 million, with a $1.5-million signing bonus. That would be a net raise of $1.1 million for this year, and making more than that a bonus would protect Berríos somewhat in the event of any turn in the progress of the pandemic that leads to fewer than 162 games being played. (Signing bonuses, unlike salaries, are not prorated in such cases.)
For 2022, the deal could give Berríos a raise to $9.1 million, plus a $3.3-million signing bonus. That would protect Berríos in the event of a work stoppage that either truncates or wipes out the season. The total payout of $12.4 million would be right in line with what Berríos would be likely to earn via arbitration, given a strong 2021, and it would represent an investment on the part of the Twins.
In exchange, Berríos would give up some of the potential riches of a free-agent payday immediately after 2022. In 2023 and 2024, a deal could pay him $15 million annually. Then, in 2025, Berríos could hold a $16-million player option, with the right to decline it and pursue free agency heading into his age-31 season. That structure offers the player both security and considerable upside, since if he pitches well at age 30, he would be in line for a fine payday by declining his option after 2024.
The Twins, though, could seek to add one more wrinkle. When Jake Arrieta signed with the Phillies prior to the 2018 season, two seasons were guaranteed. After that, Arrieta held a player option, but the Phillies had the right to void it by guaranteeing that salary for 2020, 2021, and 2022. A similar, slightly souped-up version of that could work here, too. If Berríos were positioned to turn down his player option after 2024, but the Twins believed he projected well over the following few years, they could void the player option by exercising a club option worth a total of $60 million over three years, 2025-27.
To summarize, the deal proposed here would extend the Twins’ club control over Berríos by at least two years, and as many as five. Berríos would be guaranteed as much as $59.5 million in new money, or $43.5 million if he elected free agency rather than exercise the player option at the end of 2024. He’d get immediate security, and the Twins would gain long-term cost certainty in a rotation chock-full of question marks beyond 2021. At its maximum, if the Twins voided Berríos’s option and exercised their lucrative one, he would make $109.6 million over the next seven years, with $103.5 million of that being “new” money. He’d still be positioned to hit free agency at age 33.
This is a complicated contract. Its structure would be unusual in multiple ways. The Arrieta deal happened very late in an offseason, and Arrieta was a free agent. This is a very different situation. The fact that these countervailing interests and possibilities have to be accounted for, resulting in such a complex package, underscores the improbability that the team and the player will find common ground this spring. If they do, though, this is how it might look, and it’s a (potential) deal about which Twins fans should feel good.
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