I like Patrick Corbin. I like A.J. Pollock. I like most things and most people, at least initially. My good feelings about the Diamondbacks’ lefty and center fielder have endured because they strike me as fine young gentlemen who do good thing routinely for the Arizona Baseball Diamondbacks. They’re similar in certain ways and very different in others. Last season, Corbin had some millennial garbage walk up music while Pollock opted for something more familiar but not necessarily magnitudes better. Both Corbin and Pollock will play integral roles in whatever success the Diamondbacks have in 2016 as young, talented, cost-controlled players. And it’s that final vein that we’re most interested today.
Just a year ago, I argued that the Diamondbacks should extend A.J. Pollock before he headed to arbitration. I felt good about that argument because I thought Pollock, coming off a very good but injury-shortened season was in a rare position: he had proven his value in the preceding season and a half, yet didn’t quite have the full body of work to demand a large payday. It was a small window, but one I thought the Diamondbacks should have capitalized on:
And frankly, now’s the time if the Diamondbacks want a sweet deal. Should Pollock play a full 2015 at the rate we think he will, his value will escalate and his incentive to sign an extension, any extension, will decrease. This is the offseason for the Diamondbacks to get the best bang for their buck when it comes to Pollock….
Sure enough, Pollock lit up the stat lines and finished as one of the very best position players in all of baseball in 2015, joining Paul Goldschmidt as a rare elite talent. The two combined to be the most valuable position player pairing in all of baseball. Coming off of a season like that, A.J. Pollock would, presumably, never entertain a contract extension of 4 years and $28 million – the remaining portion of the extension I proposed last winter. Alejandro de Aza just got a contract worth up to $7 million with the Mets and he’s pretty bad, so Pollock isn’t taking $7 million AAV. I’d guess he’s not signing an extension unless it’s big – surely eclipsing what Goldy signed – and he’s got all the reasons in the world to just wait until he becomes a free agent to cash in. He’ll make life-altering money through arbitration and can afford to play it out a little further, then get his payday.
None of that had anything to do with Patrick Corbin, except it kind of had a lot to do with Patrick Corbin. He’s in a very similar position. Corbin is arbitration eligible this season and it appears that he’s headed towards a trial for his 2016 salary unless he and the team work something out beforehand, which we have no indication is about to happen. But, like Pollock before him, Corbin is also coming off of an injury-shortened season. Also similar to Pollock a year ago, Corbin proved he was on the right track when he was on the field and, specifically, saw his velocity return fully and his slider remained sharp following his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Looking ahead, he appears to be the guy we thought he was all along – a strong number two starter who can shut down the opposition frequently. He’s a dominant lefty who can get righties out at a satisfactory rate. Corbin is young, healthy and productive again, but his recent injury does still hang over his head. Would he be willing to sign an extension at a discount to guard against future earnings lost to another injury? Would the team be willing to offer him a modest deal to guard against rising arbitration salaries and future free agency should he remain effective? As was the case for Pollock last winter, another strong campaign for Corbin might just push the price of an extension too high for Arizona to consider.
What might that look like? If the team wanted to buy out an arbitration year, which would make sense if they’re trying to keep this contention thing around as long as possible, the deal would have to be for four years. If we think Corbin will stay healthy and effective, he could easily earn $18 million over the next three years, then probably command a $20-22 million annual salary when he becomes a free agent. So, let’s call it $40 million just to be safe. If we think Corbin might face another injury and miss a whole season at some point, his earning may be cut in half – about $20 million over those same four seasons. Maybe a 4-year, $32 million deal, with a fifth year option for $14 million and a $2 million buyout would keep him aboard for four more years, guaranteeing him a lot of money and keeping him in Arizona at least one year longer. If the team exercises the option, he’s getting five years and $48 million. If not, he’s getting four years and $34 million. Considering Mike Leake just got five years and up to $90 million, this would be a real bargain for Arizona.
Of course, they may not want to do this at all. They may realize that after 2017, or surely 2018, the team will have a tough time keeping some of their currently cheap players and they may instead opt to cash out guys like Corbin, David Peralta and others in an attempt to re-tool quickly while they still have Zack Greinke aboard. Additionally, they might just not be keen on extending pitchers who’ve had a full elbow tear because, well, Daniel Hudson.
None of this is to say that the Diamondbacks should sign Corbin to an extension, but if it’s something they intend to pursue, now is truly the time if they’re going to get surplus value back. Just like last winter was the critical time with A.J. Pollock, now’s the time with Patrick Corbin. If he stays healthy and pitches the way we know he can over the next three years, he’s going to command a very large deal as a free agent, one the Diamondbacks probably can’t afford with Greinke in the fold and attempt to keep Paul Goldschmidt long term. If they want to roll the dice on Corbin’s left arm, now’s the time.
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- RT @OutfieldGrass24: Patrick Corbin has a WPA of .318 and it's only the fifth inning., Apr 04
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