Young Star Extension Projections

One of the latest trends for teams in baseball has been to lock up young stars to extensions. Over the last few years, several big names have landed massive deals, including Fernando Tatis, Jr., Julio Rodriguez, Corbin Carroll, and most recently, Bobby Witt Jr. 

For organizations, this ensures team control at a fraction of the cost a player may be priced at in free agency. For players, more money is paid upfront, and there's a safety net in place in case of injury.

So which young stars should get early extensions, and what would it cost? 

We’ll use our Future Extension Tool (found in our Player Value Timelines section, for GM-level subscribers) to crunch the numbers. Let’s focus on candidates who figure to make at least $100M, and try to line up the timeframe so that a contract ends at either their age-31 or age-37 seasons. In the former case, if they’re young enough, ending at age 31 enables them to hit free agency for a second payday. The others will want one big extension through age 37, to finish their playing career. 

For this purpose, we’ll exclude prospects like Colt Keith and Jackson Chourio, both of whom signed extensions this offseason – deals like theirs are much harder to project without MLB data.


Budding Young Stars

Although some were rookies last year, all these candidates were promoted to the MLB level before the 2023 season. These stars are beginning to cement themselves as franchise cornerstones, and extensions would make lots of sense if their teams plan to build around them moving forward. 

Gunnar Henderson: 9 years, $292 million ($32.4M AAV, through age 31)

With the Orioles’ recent change of ownership, now would be an excellent time to buy all-in on the young core. 2023 AL Rookie of the Year Henderson would be a great place to start. Posting 4.6 fWAR in 2023, Henderson helped lead the team to a 101-win campaign, enough for a first-place finish in the AL East. Baltimore may look to begin locking down their young core to make the most of their window for contention moving forward. With a 9-year deal, Gunnar also has the opportunity to sign an additional large deal to finish out the back end of his career.


Adley Rutschman: 6 years, $134 million ($22.3M AAV, through age 31)

Rutschman has already cemented himself as perhaps the cornerstone of the young Orioles squad. He’s a bit older than Henderson, going into his age-26 season this year, but has been even more productive, producing 5.4 fWAR in 2022 and 5.1 fWAR in 2023. This consistency should give the new O’s ownership the faith to invest in a long-term extension. However, many catchers physically cannot sustain staying behind the dish for lengthy careers, which is why we’ll project this one for six years, buying out his remaining four pre-arb and arb years plus two years of free agency.


Justin Steele: 10 years, $176 million ($17.6M AAV, through age 37)

One of last year’s biggest breakout players, Steele produced 4.9 fWAR in 2023, to go with a 3.06 ERA and 176 strikeouts across 173.1 innings – good for a fifth-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting. Steele is a bit older than some of the other names on this list, entering his age-28 season, but an extension could still make sense here. Locking him in would help stabilize the top of the rotation for years to come, alleviating pressure from the young arms coming up in the organization.


Royce Lewis: 7 years, $126.7 million ($18.1M AAV, through age 31)

Twins postseason hero Lewis is another name that may be in the center of contract extension talks here soon. Even as a rookie, the production Royce provided when he’s been on the field has been very important to the overall offensive output for the team, as he slashed .309/.372/.548 for 2.4 fWAR in just 58 games last season. The knock on Lewis is that he’s had numerous injuries, and that’s factored into his price. A move like this would pair well with Carlos Correa’s long-term deal, and could prime Minnesota for playoff contention for years to come.


Triston Casas: 8 years, $92 million ($11.5M AAV, through age 31)

Casas is another player who displayed lots of talent during his rookie campaign last year, producing 1.7 fWAR and hitting .263 with 24 home runs. For an extension to make sense for the Red Sox, however, he’ll have to make some large strides in the field, as he was one of the worst defensive first basemen in baseball. One option Boston may explore longer-term could be a move to DH. Defensive questions aside, an extension could still make sense if Boston believes Casas will continue to elevate his offensive game. 


Two 2023 debuts

Now let’s focus on two players who made their debut on the big stage during the 2023 season. Both showed flashes of strong talent, but an extension comes with some risk for their teams. These deals would all be centered around buying out arbitration years with a few additional years tacked on at the end. The likelihood of these extensions is a bit lower given the lack of a proven track record in the Majors, but this is the time that organizations can land team-friendly deals for the future.


Eury Perez: 11 years, $141 million ($12.8M AAV, through age 31)

The Marlins made it into the postseason in 2023 fueled by a very strong pitching staff. Although he pitched on an innings limit throughout the year, Perez flashed elite upside, posting 1.4 fWAR and a 3.15 ERA across 122 innings. At only 20 years old entering Opening Day, a long-term contract for Eury would solidify the Marlins’ rotation for the near future, for a fraction of the price he would command on the open market. 


Elly de la Cruz: 10 years, $125 million ($12.5M AAV, through age 31)

Although the Reds missed out on a Wild Card spot last year, the young talent brought up from the farm gave Cincinnati fans lots to be optimistic about. The most talked-about young player on the squad was de la Cruz, who demonstrated elite power and speed, albeit with big questions about his plate discipline. An extension for Elly would therefore be a high-risk, high-reward deal for the team. But if the 22-year-old can refine his plate approach, this could become an enormous bargain.


Will we see more of these?

These types of deals can alter the trajectory of a franchise. The Braves’ strategy to lock up their young core early has already produced one championship and another 100-win season last year. This success has led other teams to follow, and overall, is a great thing for baseball. Young stars playing for the team that brought them into the league helps foster a great culture for hometown fans, and appears to be a great direction for baseball.


About the Author