The Seattle Mariners had a relatively quiet off-season, at least when it came to acquiring outside talent. But one area they were extremely active in was handing out extensions to some of their best young talents.
This winter, the Mariners handed out two extensions that they didn’t really need to. The first went to Evan White, who was given a 6-year contract worth $24 million, with 3 team options before he appeared in an MLB game. Then, they handed Marco Gonzalez, who had 4-years of club control left, a 4-year contract with a team option worth $30 million guaranteed, plus an additional $15 million if the option was picked up.
These two signings appear to be an indicator of Seattle’s plan of attack this season. GM Jerry Dipoto wants to lock in “his guys” or the ones he thinks epitomizes what it now means to be a Seattle Mariner. So, it stands to reason, that Dipoto would be interested in discussing an Evan White style extension with his top pitching prospect, Logan Gilbert.
Now, before we determine what that may cost the Mariners, we do need to stress that this entire conversation is irrelevant if Gilbert isn’t open to talking right now. That will be up to him and his agent and playing this out on a year-by-year basis does have its benefits.
But for the sake of our discussions, let’s assume Gilbert directs his agent to open up contract talks with the Mariners. What would it take? Let’s do some math.
Gilbert will earn the league minimum for the first 3 years of his big league career. MLB’s current minimum salary is $563,000 a season, which will increase gradually every year, but not significantly. For easy math, let’s call it an average salary of $600,000 over his first 3 seasons, meaning Gilbert will make just $1.6 million over that span.
Now is where things get a little bit tricky. Because what Gilbert makes in years 4-6 depends greatly on how years 1-3 go. Arbitration is tough to get right a year in advance, let alone 3. But Gilbert’s agent will always assume his client will reach best-case scenario, so that is probably where they’ll land.
For our purposes, Mike Clevinger will serve as the “best-case scenario” comparison. Clevinger, who actually has 4 seasons under his belt but just hit arbitration, is a strong #2 starter. If Gilbert hits that level, the Mariners would be ecstatic. But even if Gilbert gets there, he’s not looking at a hefty sum of money. Clevinger will only make $4.1 million this season. So let’s factor in inflation and call it an even $4.4 million in year 4. This means Gilbert will make roughly $6 million in his first 4 seasons.
After that, it is anybody’s guess. But the general practice here is if Gilbert produces similar results in years 5 and 6, he should roughly double the previous year’s salary. For our purposes, let’s call year 5 a $9 million year and, since we are assuming best case, year 6 will be worth $18 million. This gives us a grand total of $33 million before Gilbert hits free agency if he hits his ceiling and stays healthy.
So that is the starting figure Seattle needs to work with. 6-years, $33 million. But remember, the Mariners don’t want to pay for Gilbert’s ceiling. They want to pay a lower rate than that. Why? Because they are taking a risk that Gilbert won’t fail or suffer a serious injury long before they need too.
In addition, a 6-year (or less) contract doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Mariners either. They won’t have bought any of Gilbert’s free-agent years. But for Gilbert, locking yourself into a long-term contract can drastically limit what you can earn over the course of his career. This is why extensions are hard to come by.
The Mariners and Gilbert must find the win-win scenario to get an extension done and thankfully, Dipoto’s creativity is one of his greatest strengths. What may make the most sense for the Mariners is the White model of including option years on the back of Gilbert’s contract. And perhaps as a concession, Gilbert’s side can give Seattle one team-option year after the 6-year contract and Seattle can give Gilbert a player option after year 7 (assuming there is one).
So what is our proposal? The Mariners offer Logan Gilbert a 6-year (2020-2025) deal, worth $30 million with a team option (2026) worth $17 million and a player option (2027) worth $20 million. If both options are exercised, Gilbert would earn $67 million over the first 8 seasons of his career and hit free agency in 2028 as a 31-year-old.
Seattle can also pitch Gilbert on the idea that with an MLB contract, there is no reason to keep him in the minors and he can begin his MLB career immediately (if there is, in fact, games played in 2020).
Now, the Mariners may have already decided to start Gilbert on the big league club in 2020 after the delay negated the difficulty of limiting his workload. But a guarantee has to carry some weight in a season where playing minor league baseball seems a bit farfetched.
So there you have it. Would you sign Logan Gilbert to a 6-year, $30 million contract with a $17 million team option followed by a $20 million player option? Let us know what you think about that idea.