The state of labor relations in Major League Baseball is tenuous at best these days. We have seen players become increasingly vocal about their displeasure regarding the “broken process” of free agency this winter, including high-profile veterans like Adam Wainwright and Justin Verlander. But while the “like-minded” thinking across front offices that has driven down free agent spending the past two years has incensed almost every player who speaks up about the subject, the tactics used by executives have indeed helped to accomplish their goals in the short term - lower overall salaries and convince players to become more willing to negotiate team-friendly extensions rather than face the uncertainty of free agency.
With many players starting to sign extensions in uncertain MLB economic system, #Brewers 3B Travis Shaw said he is open to overtures from the club. Shaw, whose salary jumped to $4.675 M in 1st year of arbitration, said there have been no talks yet.— Tom (@Haudricourt) February 16, 2019
Travis Shaw recently expressed his interest in signing a long-term deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, hoping to join the recent spate of players who have inked extensions with their current employers. Shaw has spent the past two seasons suiting up for the Cream City Nine following a trade from Boston and has broken out to become one of the top third baseman on the Senior Circuit, compiling a .258/.347/.497 slash in 1,193 plate appearances (120 OPS+) with 63 homers, 187 runs batted in, and 15 stolen bases across 296 games. He was also a finalist for a Gold Glove at the hot corner in 2018. Baseball-Reference values Shaw’s contributions at 8.0 wins above replacement since the start of 2017.
Here is what Shaw had to say about his future in Milwaukee, per Adam McCalvy:
“You can’t blame guys for doing it. [Aaron] Nola is worth more than what he signed for, but I can’t blame him. I would probably take the same thing. Guys are starting to grab some money now while they can, and nobody can fault them. People are saying they’re taking ‘team-friendly’ deals, but are they really team-friendly deals when they’re getting to free agency and they’re not even getting that?”
”I’m open for discussions. I like it here. I’ve had some success here. We had a good group of guys here and I’ve enjoyed it. I would like to be here long-term.”
Shaw’s situation is somewhat unique when it comes to profiling him as an extension candidate. He received only a $110K signing bonus upon signing as a ninth-round pick of the Red Sox and though he signed for one year and $4.675 mil covering the 2019 season, he has yet to truly lock in that “lifetime of financial security” that players who agree to such extensions are typically seeking. A late-bloomer in terms of MLB success, Shaw will play this season at age 29 and won’t be eligible for free agency until after 2021 season, at which point he’ll be entering his age-32 season. That could have him feeling some added pressure to secure some guaranteed money right now, especially with a wife and young daughter who has battled serious health problems to think about at home.
There aren’t many clean comparisons in terms of age and service time when looking back at past extensions. There have been several players in the 3-4 year service class who have signed big money extensions, including the likes of Freddy Freeman, Elvis Andrus, Eugenio Suarez, and our own Ryan Braun. But all those players were either much younger, much more accomplished, or both when they agreed to their long-term deals. Alexei Ramirez was both the same age (29) and in the same service class (between 3-4 years) as Shaw now when he signed his four-year, $32.5 mil extension back in 2011. But that was eight years ago, and Ramirez was a shortstop and had already secured quite a bit of money when he signed as an international free agent from Cuba in 2008.
So, we’ll have to go about things differently when building a hypothetical Shaw extension. If he was to simply continue through the arbitration process for two more seasons while producing at a similar level on the field, one would figure that he should earn somewhere in the range of $18-20 mil combined during the 2019 and 2020 seasons when building off of his $4.675 mil base in arb year one. The Brewers would obviously want him to give up some of that earning potential in exchange for guaranteed security. But because of Shaw’s age, they probably wouldn’t want to buy out too many of his free agent years, either.
Perhaps something like a three-year, $25 mil deal with a club option for the fourth season could work out for both sides. In this scenario, he would play out 2019 at his already agreed upon rate, then earn salaries of $6 mil in 2020 and $8 mil in 2021 covering his final two years of arbitration followed by a $10 mil base in 2022 during what would be his first year of free agent eligibility. The fourth year could be a club option for 2023, Shaw’s age-32 season, at another $10-12 mil or so along with a $1 mil buyout.
A deal along these lines would offer Shaw the financial security that he seems to desire, and if he’s able to continue producing at a level similar to the last two seasons, it would give Milwaukee another three to four years of a well above-average player at relative bargain prices and solidify the third base spot within the current contention window.
It worth noting that there are presently no talks that are known to be occurring between the player’s camp and the Brewers at present, and there has not been any real indication that the front office is interested in locking up Travis Shaw at this time. But he is a talented third baseman who is popular with the fan base and he appears to be open to give the Brewers a deal, if they are willing to talk. There is still plenty of time for the two sides to hash out an agreement before the regular season begins, and that’s probably something that David Stearns and company should begin to seriously consider.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference