The MLB world was hit with huge news on Tuesday when the Los Angeles Angels and superstar Mike Trout came together on a massive contract extension. Now. Who’s next?
The AL East has the reigning league MVP and Cy Young Award winner. Both, along with another headliner in that division, are in line for a big payout. The same is true for a pair of NL East phenoms who competed for the senior circiuit’s Rookie of the Year Award. Meanwhile, one of Trout’s teammates is so unique that he’ll have no precedent when it comes time to negotiate a new deal.
Trout is easily baseball’s best player. But as we look ahead to the next several years of MLB action, a number of stars could be in line to top his huge contract.
Mookie Betts, right fielder, Boston Red Sox
We can put our focus on Betts’ sterling 2018 season, in which he hit .346/.438/.640 with 32 home runs, 30 steals, and won the AL MVP. But Betts is far from a one-year wonder. From 2016-2018, Betts hit .308/.379/.538 while averaging 29 home runs and 27 steals a season. As if that wasn’t enough, he won a Gold Glove in all three seasons and finished in the top-six in AL MVP voting each time.
Making matters better for Betts is that he’s only 26 and more than a full year younger than Trout. So, Betts is really only entering his prime. Betts is already drawing massive paydays in arbitration. Playing for a big-market team, he could well cash in on a massive extension before hitting free agency. But if not, he’ll be a free agent after 2020 and is set to become a very rich man at that point.
Aaron Judge, right fielder, New York Yankees
If we’re being somewhat pessimistic, we can point out that Judge was something of a late bloomer and isn’t set to become a free agent until he’s 30. That’s the bad news. The good news is everything else. Literally everything else.
From a financial standpoint, having Judge on the roster might as well give the Yankees a license to print money. MLB has not had a star this marketable in a long time — and it shows. While we associate Judge with home runs, he is actually a pretty complete player on the field. But power is definitely his greatest asset. Fortunately, that tends to be the last thing to leave a hitter. The Yankees will not let this guy leave. Judge is a prime candidate for a big extension before he hits free agency.
Blake Snell, starting pitcher, Tampa Bay Rays
Snell was brilliant en route to winning the AL Cy Young in 2018. Despite pitching in the AL and sharing a division with the likes of Betts, Judge, J.D. Martinez and Giancarlo Stanton, — just to name a few — he posted a 1.89 ERA, 0.974 WHIP, and struck out 11 hitters for every nine innings pitched. That’s one heck of an age-25 season.
The only thing working against Snell is his current team. Tampa is generally not known as a big-spending organization. That would minimize the chances of a big extension. But it wouldn’t be totally shocking to see Snell get dealt as he gets into his arbitration years (which start after 2019). Also, even if that doesn’t happen, Snell will be a free agent after 2022, when he’ll be 29. He can definitely cash in then. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, we’re expecting Snell to be on his game for quite some time.
Ronald Acuna Jr., left fielder, Atlanta Braves
Acuna hit .293/.366/.552 with 26 home runs and 16 steals as a rookie in 2018. That’s not something often done by 20-year-olds. Heck, that’s not something that many 20-year-olds have ever done.
Yes, it’s often wise to have somewhat tempered expectations with young players. But Acuna looked like a superstar in 2018. Nothing that we saw indicates that he’ll be anything else. And if he gets to free agency before signing an extension, he’ll do so at the age of 25. If we listen close enough, we can actually hear the sound of a cash register going off in his agent’s mind.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., third baseman, Toronto Blue Jays
We’ve known who he is for so long that it seems crazy to think about this. But Guerrero is only 20. So, when he makes his long-awaited MLB debut in 2019, he’ll only be slightly older than Trout was when he debuted in 2011 and will be younger than Trout was when he became a full-time MLB guy the following year. And unless he signs an early extension, Guerrero will be in his mid-20s when he becomes a free agent.
Admittedly, it seems a little premature to be projecting such great things for someone who has yet to have even a cup of coffee at the MLB level. But Guerrero is a .331/.414/.529 hitter in the Minor Leagues. In 2018, he hit a staggering .402/.449/.671 in Double-A, which is where the best prospects tend to spend most of their time. The Blue Jays may think otherwise, but he’s ready to go.
Josh Hader, relief pitcher, Milwaukee Brewers
Hader took MLB by storm in 2018, posting a 2.43 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, and a 15.8 K/9 rate. Even more notable is that Hader is far from a specialist. In fact, he’s capable of being stretched out beyond an inning. So, when MLB enacts the three-hitter minimum rule in 2020, it won’t be much of an adjustment.
As recently as one year ago, it would have seemed absolutely crazy to even think about any reliever — especially one who’s never been a full-time closer — getting such a huge payday. But bullpens are becoming more and more prevalent. That’s not a trend that’s going away any time soon. So, while we wouldn’t call Hader cashing in this way especially likely, it’s absolutely worth thinking about.
Juan Soto, left fielder, Washington Nationals
Soto made an incredible impression in 2018, hitting .292/.406/.517 with 22 home runs. That would be impressive for any rookie. But Soto wasn’t just any rookie. He put up those numbers despite not debuting until May 20, nearly two months into the season. Moreover, he was only 19.
Soto was eclipsing what Hall of Fame phenoms did when they were his age. In some cases, he was doing things that had been never been done by someone so young. We don’t know what the future holds for Soto. But if he did that at 19, his 20s shape up pretty well. And if he continues down that road, a big payday will not be far behind.
Shohei Ohtani, starting pitcher/designated hitter, Los Angeles Angels
The free agency of Ohtani will be fascinating. He’s unlike any baseball we’ve seen since Babe Ruth — literally. Not only does Ohtani hit and pitch, but he fills both roles quite well. Even if there are better hitters and pitchers, nobody else does both.
Granted, Ohtani’s pitching career is on hold for a while as he recovers from Tommy John Surgery. But Tommy John Surgery also has a very high success rate. Assuming he does come back strong as a pitcher, Ohtani’s free agency will be unlike basically anything we’ve ever seen. From a financial standpoint, that will be very good for Ohtani.