I think we can all agree that it will be a very interesting off-season for the Milwaukee Brewers. And there are some really difficult decisions for Matt Arnold and Company to consider.
Between free agency and potential trades, the front office should be busy. How much will they be able to spend, or will they need to make decisions to reduce salaries? If that’s the case, fans will need to know that there will be some really good, really popular players that could be dealt. Today, we consider what a contract extension with Corbin Burnes might look like.
(SPOILER ALERT! Quick summary, in case you need to come back later to see the actual numbers… It’s going to be a bunch of years and a really big dollar value.)
Last weekend, we considered what a trade of co-ace Brandon Woodruff might look like as well as what Woodruff might be able to get in a long-term contract extension. Yesterday, Tim considered what the Brewers could get in return for Cy Young Corbin Burnes. So today, the pressure is on me to do a little research and provide Brewers fans with a realistic look at what a long-term contract extension with Burnes might look like
Let’s start with the basics.
Burnes was drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 draft out of St. Mary’s University. He made his MLB debut in July of 2018 and tossed 30 games out of the Brewers bullpen. In 2019, he went 1-5 with an ERA at 8.82, again, most out of the bullpen. That is the point in which I dropped him from the minor-league roster of my long-time keeper league. He had 243 strikeouts to go with 51 walks.
So of course, in 2020, he went 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA. In 2021, he went 11-5 with a 2.43 ERA. In 167 innings, he walked 34 and struck out 234 batters on his way to his first Cy Young award. So far, it’s “just” one Cy Young Award, but if healthy, he appears to be a guy who will be a perennial All Star and Cy Young candidate. In 2022, he made a career-high 33 starts (to lead the league) and 202 innings. He was 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA.
He has 4.049 years of service time which means he has two years of arbitration left potentially. So in reality, the Brewers (and Burnes) should not feel forced to make a deal, but it is also the ideal time for the Brewers to do this because the closer Burnes gets to free agency, the more likely he will want to hold out for that time when multiple teams will be able to court him.
A quick look at his velocities. In 2022, his fastball averaged 96.0 to 96.9 mph. In the past couple of years, the pitch has been coded more often as a cutter and the velocity has been 95.3 and 95.1 mph. His slider has been over 88 mph. His curveball has been between 81 and 82 mph. He even throws a change-up, and it has been right over 90 mph. In other words, the stuff has not changed.
According to Fan Graphs, Burnes has been worth 14.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) over the past three seasons, and that includes the Covid-shortened 2020 season (he was a 2.4 WAR pitcher in the 60-game season, which equates to about 6.5 WAR over a full season). In those three seasons, his ‘Value’ has been worth $115.6 million. Again, if you give him a full season for 2020, you can add about $33 million more to that number. So yes, per 162 games, he has been worth just over $50 million per year.
Corbin Burnes has been on the Injured List just once. In 2020, he missed time with an oblique injury. In 2021, his Cy Young season, he left one game with a jammed knee but didn’t miss a start. Knock on proverbial wood, but to this point, he has remained healthy.
Simply, there are not a lot of long-term contracts signed with dominant, Cy Young Award winners with two years of arbitration remaining.
So, it is possible that the only decent comparables might be free agents, but that’s not the same. Free agents can talk to multiple teams in their negotiations. That said, those top contracts such as Gerrit Cole’s deal with the Yankees (9 years, $324 million) or Stephen Strasburg’s deal with the Nationals (7 years, $245 million). The Average Annual Value (AAV) of Cole’s deal was $36 million while Strasburg’s was $35 million. Of course, Trevor Bauer also signed before the 2020 season at an AAV of $34 million. Going back five years earlier, Max Scherzer signed a seven-year, $210 million deal with Washington ($30 million per year).
The one contract that is probably most similar to this Burnes’ situation might be that of Jacob deGrom. Before the 2019 season, deGrom and the Mets agreed to a five-year, $137.5 million deal. At the time, deGrom was coming off of his first Cy Young season in 2018 and then won his second in 2019. So, he had two more years of arbitration remaining if he wanted to go in that direction.
Instead, he signed a deal and received: 2019: $7M, 2020: $23M, 2021: $33.5M, 2022: $33.5M, 2023: $30.5M, 2024: $32.5M (club option). (AAV = $27.5M)
As you know, the deal allowed deGrom to opt out after the 2022 season (so we should hear more about that soon). It’s also important to note that nearly half of the contract is deferred. Could that be included in a deal with Burnes? deGrom also received a full no-trade clause.
There is one significant difference between deGrom’s extension and a long-term extension with Burnes, if he signs this offseason. Age. 2019 was the first season of deGrom’s deal, and it was his Age-31 season. Burnes will be 28 years old throughout the first season of such a deal. While that doesn’t need to mean more AAV, it could mean extending the contract out.
So, let’s get to a proposal I would send to Burnes and his agents and advisors. OK, I’d probably start just a little bit lower in hopes of reaching a deal around this number. Will this be a deal that Brewers management, and ownership, would be comfortable agreeing upon?
This contract is similar to deGrom’s deal with the Mets. The difference is that it extends longer, and I don’t want to have to consider deferments and such. I do like the idea of options, at least one, at the end of any contract. I really do not like the idea of opt-outs. However, in this case, I am going to add one.
I feel like these huge contracts are far riskier for the organization than it is for the player. In this case, I would let Burnes make that decision after five years and $133 million. If he did opt out, he would be giving up the final two years and $77 million. However, if he would opt out, it would be because he could sign a deal for much more than that. If that happens, the Brewers would save that money by not paying a 33-34 year old $77 million when the risk is obviously much higher. The Brewers risk, of course, is that Burnes doesn’t opt out, it would likely mean that either he wasn’t pitching well or was injured.
|With Opt Out||5 years, $133M|
|Guaranteed||7 years, $210M|
|Up To||8 years, $235M|
Ultimately, it is the same contract that Max Scherzer signed as a free agent seven years ago. Again, Scherzer was a free agent. He won his first Cy Young Award two years earlier, in his age-28 season with the Tigers. In 2018, he finished fifth in Cy Young voting. He had pitched in his second straight All-Star game.
The economics of baseball has grown significantly over the past seven years. I think that two years of arbitration and five years of free agency today could be worth the same as a seven-year contract would have seven years ago.
So what do you think? Is this a contract that you would feel comfortable with the Brewers offering Corbin Burnes at this time? If his representation is willing to negotiate from there, awesome. Keep the talks going. If they aren’t willing to even listen to that offer, then Milwaukee should reach out to other teams to see what his trade value is (It will be very, very big). If they’re not happy with the offers, then you offer him arbitration, have him pitch in 2023 for something close to $20 million, and try again next offseason with the same three options.
Your turn. What would you do?
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