Two Februaries ago, the Yankees signed two members of their young core to extensions. On February 5, 2019, homegrown ace Luis Severino signed a four-year, $40 million contract with a team option for 2023 worth $15 million. Ten days later, center fielder Aaron Hicks was locked up until 2026 with a seven-year, $70 million deal that included a club option.
Now, due to injuries (and, in Hicks’s case, the shortened 2020 season), neither has played nearly as much as Yankees fans — and the Yankees’ front office — have expected since signing these deals. However, that doesn’t weaken the premise that it’s a good idea to try and lock up important pieces earlier, avoiding the messiness of arbitration and (perhaps) getting them at a rate lower than they might get on the open market.
With that in mind, some of us here at Pinstripe Alley have been thinking this winter about which players the Yankees might look to extend sooner rather than later, with Erica advocating last October for the team to ensure that Gio Urshela mans the hot corner for the next several years, while Peter will be discussing a possible Aaron Judge extension later this week or early next week. Today, I want to look at the Yankees’ youngest superstar, 24-year-old shortstop Gleyber Torres.
Since making his MLB debut on April 22, 2018, Torres has been one of the game’s best middle infielders, making two All-Star teams, posting a career 122 OPS+, and finishing third in the 2018 Rookie of the Year vote behind Shohei Ohtani and teammate Miguel Andújar. Even with his defensive struggles and lackluster 2020 at the plate — the latter of which might be attributed to showing up to Summer Camp out of shape — he has managed nonetheless to put together two three-win seasons by Baseball Reference WAR metrics, and 6.6 bWAR/5.8 fWAR overall. If Torres can bring back the bat that put together a 125 OPS+ over his first two seasons with 20-30 home run power, he’ll be well worth it as a shortstop, so long as he can keep his defensive performance at a somewhat passable level.
It has been a long time since the Yankees last had a young infielder like this eligible for an extension. Robinson Canó is probably the best comparison in 15 years, as he signed a 4-year, $28 million extension before the 2008 season, with team options for 2012 and 2013 worth a combined $29 million. He even agreed to this deal at virtually the same spot in his career that Torres is at now — after three above-average seasons in which he posted a 117 OPS+, and was only one year older.
However, the league has greatly changed in the last 13 years; fortunately, a number of young infielders have signed extensions in recent years, giving us some benchmarks for what a Torres extension might look like. Prior to the 2017 season, the Seattle Mariners inked Jean Segura to a five-year extension (with a club option for the 2023) worth $70 million, while the Chicago White Sox locked up Tim Anderson through 2024 on a six-year, $25 million contract with two team options. The following year, the Arizona Diamondbacks signed Ketel Marte to a five-year, $24 million extension, with club options worth a combined $18 million for 2023 and 2024. In 2019, the Minnesota Twins bought out Jorge Polanco’s arbitration years with a five-year, $25.75 million with team options for 2024 and 2025, his age-31 season. Two months later, the Boston Red Sox signed shortstop Xander Bogaerts to a six-year, $132 million extension that would keep him in Beantown through at least 2025 (2026 was a vesting option).
Alas, Torres does not have a similar profile to any of these players at the time they signed their extensions. In terms of service time, Polanco is probably the closest, although at that time, he only had a career 101 OPS+ with below-average defense. Track record, on the other hand, probably sees Bogaerts as the closest comparison, for although he only had a 106 OPS+ in his career at that time, his 2018 saw him post a career-best 135 OPS+. However, he was in his final year of arbitration and would have hit free agency, which certainly increased the size of the contract.
In terms of value, Segura appears to sit in the middle, but again, he offers an imperfect comparison for Torres: he had a career 92 OPS+, had just posted a career-high 122 OPS+ the season prior, had four years of service time, and had just been acquired via a trade (in exchange for Marte and Taijuan Walker) prior to signing the extension.
I’m a blogger, not a sports agent, so I’m not even going to try to make any definitive statements predicting specifics of a Gleyber Torres extension. Judging from the recent trends though, it looks like it would — at minimum — buy out his remaining arbitration years and at least one or two years of free agency. Additionally, he probably sits on a higher pay scale than Marte, Polanco, and Anderson, all of whom had equal or less service time as Torres does now and without the track record, but lower than Bogaerts.
No matter where exactly he falls on this spectrum, however, one thing is clear: if the Yankees envision Torres being a core part of this team for the foreseeable future, it behooves them to at least begin discussing a possible extension. He may even be more amenable than normal after his so-so 2020 and could see a new multi-year contract as a vote of confidence. The longer they wait, the higher a shortstop needs to be paid.