Spring in baseball is the time to think about pitcher-fielding practice, bunt plays and additions to your pitch mix — a moment of optimism for all 30 teams. It is also the most fruitful time of the year for contract extensions.
Over the last 15 years, more than 45 percent of contract extensions were signed in February, March or April; thanks to MLB Trade Rumors’ invaluable extension tracker. That’s why we’re making this Extension Week at The Athletic, looking at some of the biggest names under current team control and what an extension could look like.
On Monday we examined the single most intriguing extension candidate: Shohei Ohtani. Tuesday we looked at 10 players heading into their walk years. Wednesday was pitchers who are within three years of free agency. Today it’s hitters who are within three years. For a refresher on my methodology, click here.
For players who are multiple years of arbitration away from free agency, coming up with reasonable estimates for their future salaries through arb is critical. For that, I use an arbitration spreadsheet, again culled with the assistance of MLB Trade Rumors, to look at how similar players have earned in arbitration over time. For instance, what does a player who makes $4 million in his first year of arbitration usually make in his second? And what does a player who makes that in his second year usually make in his third?
Juan Soto, 24
Controlled through 2024
2023 Salary: $23 million (third year of arbitration, Super Two)
Although Soto is not quite in a class by himself the way Shohei Ohtani is, his next contract has a better chance of starting with a five. That’s because he’s four years younger than Ohtani; the next Soto contract will include several more years of his prime and has the chance to run longer than any contract in baseball history.
As a Super Two player through arbitration, next season Soto is set to shatter the record for most money made in a single year of arbitration and most money made over the life of arbitration. (Soto has already made $48.6 million in three years of arbitration. Ohtani is making $30 million in his final year of arbitration, and Mookie Betts made $57.5 million over three years.)
These are a couple reasons why Soto shouldn’t feel much need to sign an extension. He’s already making a lot of money, and he’s going to hit the free-agent market at an abnormally young age. (Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were also entering their age-26 season as free agents back in 2019.)
Soto should make something like $32 million in arbitration next season. For his free-agent years, we’re fortunate to have his teammate with a very recent extension off similar production.