The Diamondbacks finally committed to at least one piece of their middle infield. After a rotation of middle infielders over the last several years, Ketel Marte figures to be a fixture for the next five. In his first season for the Diamondbacks, Marte got back to the form that had him pegged as one of the league’s good, young bright spots when he lit the world on fire during his debut in Seattle. His sophomore campaign didn’t live up to expectations, however, and he found himself traded in the winter of 2017 as the M’s and D-backs swapped Marte and Taijuan Walker for Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger and Zac Curtis. It appears that Marte has finally found a home in the desert.
The Diamondbacks bought out a year of free agency in inking Marte to the extension. He was slated to make the league minimum again this season, then enter arbitration next winter. Instead, Marte will earn $1 million this season (plus a $2 million signing bonus), $2 million in 2019, $4 million in 2020, $6 million in 2021 and $8 million in 2022. If you’re doing the math, Marte will make nearly $2.5 million extra this season (accounting for the bonus) and the team will control his salary through what would have been his arbitration years. He would have been a free agent in 2022, but instead he’ll earn $8 million. Not a bad little guarantee for Marte and his family and I’m sure he’s sleeping good tonight.
But, and there’s always a “but,” the Diamondbacks also have options over Marte for the 2023 and 2024 seasons at $10 million and $12 million, respectively. There are some unknown incentives built in that could add as much as $4 million more to Marte’s earnings and he has a $1 million buyout on his option years should the D-backs choose not to retain him. That means that the D-backs may have just bought out his three best free agent years for a combined total of $30 million (or as much as $34 million depending on the incentives). At worst, Marte will walk away from the deal with $24 million to show for it. At best, he could walk away with $46 million. Ketel Marte, who’s a father of three and had his mother pass away last season, has taken care of his loved ones and set himself up for life.
For their efforts, the D-backs control Marte’s salary for the next five years at the very least, and seven years at the very most. They won’t have to play the arbitration game with him and can use the certainty around Marte’s cost to address other pieces of the roster. They’ll certainly get Marte at a discount rate provided he’s healthy and contributing as his most expensive guaranteed year is worth what most teams are paying their setup man, not their everyday shortstop or second baseman. Those options years could also heavily favor the D-backs. Because salaries continue to inflate in general (with this winter being a strange exception to the rule), the $10 million and $12 million figures Marte could receive in 2023 and 2024 should prove well-below market rates. That will only help the team afford other, more expensive players should those options be exercised six and seven years from now.
An argument can be made, however, that Marte is severely limiting his potential earnings by signing this pact. Sure he locked in $24 million, but if he’d gone year-to-year and continued to perform well over the life of his team control, he could have made substantially more. Scooter Gennett entered his first arbitration season on a platform not too different from Marte’s and earned $2.5 million (Marte will get only $2 million). In his second pass through arbitration, and following a kind of breakout year, Gennett will earn $5.7 million (Marte will get only $4 million). It’s yet to be seen what Gennett will get next winter, but $9 or $10 million is not out of the question (Marte will get only $6 million). At that point, Gennett will be 29 and enter free agency where he can potentially cash in. Marte would have hit free agency a year sooner, something that would certainly play in his favor. Instead he’ll be under contract for $8 million, and if he plays well, he’ll stay under contract for $10 million and potentially $12 million the year following.
It’s hard to say what a 28-year old Ketel Marte could fetch in free agency four years from now, but we’ll really never know. Prices will have gone up and if he plays like the kind of player he’s capable of becoming, one would certainly think he could get more than the 3-years and $30 million that the D-backs purchased his first three free agent years for. Should the team keep him for the entire length of their control, he’ll hit free agency at 31-years old and be worth well less than if he’d entered free agency at 28. They bought his best three free agent years at a pretty hefty discount, again, provided that Marte stays mostly healthy and plays well. At the end of the day, they got themselves a pretty excellent deal with very limited downside while Marte got financial security, though he possibly left plenty on the table.
This is not a wildly different scenario than what went down in Philadelphia a few days ago when U of A alum Scott Kingery signed a seven-year deal with the Phillies despite having never registered a major league plate appearance. General outrage followed as many blamed the Phils for taking advantage of the youngster’s contract situation while Kingery and his family presumably rejoiced in a dream come true. Most baseball players never get any kind of substantial payday, but Kingery got his and by being willing to leave potential money on the table, he was willing to lock in his financial future at the ripe old age of 23.
Marte and his kin are probably just as excited, and it’s easy to see two sides to these deals. The player gets their assurances that the goal they’ve worked so hard for has finally paid off and they’re not excluded from making more down the road, though they have likely limited their future earnings to some degree. The team can pencil in a player at below-market rates for the foreseeable future, giving them an asset that they can play or trade down the road with limited risk exposure. Both sides win… kind of.
These deals, while not necessarily new to the baseball landscape, also set a dangerous precedent of teams using baseball’s artificial rules to depress player salaries while the game’s revenues soar. The team has all of the leverage and in both instances, they’ve used it to get inexpensive, relative certainty when it comes to the asset, the player. Just ask Paul Goldschmidt how much money he’s left on the table and I’m sure he’d just rather not talk about it. Politically speaking, this is a tricky situation and one I’m just not prepared to settle on yet. I am happy for a guy who appears to be a likable young player to earn a financial reward that will take care of him and his family. I’m happy that the D-backs have more cost certainty and can maybe actually extend some guy they’ve been underpaying for quite a while now. I’ll just have to live with the repercussions.
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