Dodgers should consider a Joc Pederson contract extension

Photo: Stacie Wheeler

Joc Pederson has been a really good player in his first two MLB seasons. He’s come as advertised as a high-strikeout, high-walk, high-power hitter that’s capable enough defensively in center field. Now he’s entering his age-25 season coming off a considerably better 2016 than he had in 2015. So this is as good a time as any to think about a contract extension and, possibly, buying out some free agent seasons.

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First things first: His agent is not Scott Boras, so it’s immediately more likely to happen than if his agent were Boras. Corey Seager and Julio Urias employ Boras as their agent, so don’t expect any contract extension before the last year of team control (if any).

I actually wrote a couple years ago about the Dodgers exploring the possibility of signing Pederson (and Urias) to pre-MLB contracts, like the Astros did with Jon Singleton in 2014 (after I wrote this article). While that hasn’t worked out for Houston, it was a worthwhile gamble for them to make.

Here’s what I wrote about Pederson back in March of 2014:

Pederson, 22, is the Dodgers’ best position prospect closest to the majors (he’s expected to play at Triple-A Albuquerque in 2014). He was their MiLB POY in 2012 and had arguably a better season in 2013 at Double-A Chattanooga. If there’s any prospect in the system worthy of a deal like this, it’d Pederson. The only thing that gives me pause isn’t his ‘inability’ to hit lefties (I don’t think it’s entirely accurate), it’s the roughly four outfielders in the majors signed through at least the next four years. Yes, the Dodgers will probably trade Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier, but there’s no telling when that might happen. Pederson could use some seasoning in Triple-A, but if they came either midway through this season or shortly after the season with a 7-year, $35 million offer, I’m betting Pederson would take it. He could make more via the arbitration process and his first year of free agency — if he performs well. This way, he’s guaranteed $35 million before he hits free agency. I used Shin-Soo Choo‘s arbitration numbers for comparison’s sake. Choo made a little more than $17.5 million in his six years (hey, there’s that Longoria number). Choo is making $21 million in the first year of his 7-year deal in Texas. I’m not sure Pederson will ever be a $20-plus million per year player, but that’s $38.5 million for seven years. So, my 7-year, $35 million proposal isn’t that far out.

Take into account Pederson had yet to play an inning in the majors, so a 7-year deal may not have even bought out one free agent season. Remember, he debuted in September of 2014 but still has four years of team control remaining.

Andrew Friedman has (almost) done this before with Evan Longoria. Longoria had made just 24 plate appearances in 2008 before the Rays signed him to a 6-year, $17.5 million deal, buying out all of his controllable years. He would later sign a 6-year, $100 million extension that actually kicks in this coming season. Longoria aboslutely cost himself some money on the open market, but it isn’t like he can’t get by with career earnings approaching $120 million.

It was a gamble for a cash-poor (because they choose) Rays organization, but one that absolutely worked out for them. The Dodgers are anything but cash poor, but extending Pederson now could actually save some money.

Also from what I wrote in 2014:

Signing players to pre-MLB deals could be the way for the Dodgers to reduce payroll while not only keeping their homegrown players, but their potentially superstar homegrown kids. These deals would require the youngsters to be on the 40-man roster soon after signing them, so if they’d be open to such deals, the Dodgers would have to make sure there’s room for them to play. Also, it’s a two-way street. Players would need to be willing to sign such deals, and there’s no guarantee Pederson or Urias would be interesting in doing this. I don’t expect either of these deals to happen, but it’s something the Dodgers should look into with their top-flight prospects (if they aren’t planning to trade them) to (hopefully) save some money in the long run.

This is all coming to the forefront now because two center fielders just signed 5-year extensions with their respective teams: Ender Inciarte and Odubel Herrera. Both are comparable players to each other and somewhat comparable to Pederson in terms of value. The pair might have been more valuable overall than Pederson since 2014 via fWAR (with Inciarte having 400-500 more plate appearances than both Herrera and Pederson), but Pederson has been the more productive hitter, posting a 120 wRC+ to Herrera’s 111 and Inciarte’s 95. In terms of wins above replacement per 600 plate appearances, the numbers break down like this:

  • Inciarte: 3.6 fWAR/600 PA
  • Herrera: 3.9 fWAR/600 PA
  • Pederson: 3.6 fWAR/600 PA

Inciarte and Herrera both signed for $30.5 million, and Pederson could be in line for a similar-type extension. He’d be, in a way, betting against himself regressing or having plateaued already, while the Dodgers are betting on him getting better. But having $30-plus million guaranteed before getting to unrestricted free agency after his age-28 season (one year later than if he goes the arbitration route) is awfully tempting.

Eric Stephen did a great job of breaking this down further last week at True Blue LA. It’s a highly recommended read.

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A contract extension at this point probably isn’t going to happen because Pederson doesn’t have a real reason to sign one given his current career trajectory. But it also wouldn’t be crazy to see him gain some financial security in case he doesn’t ever figure out hitting against lefties or sees his contact strikeout rates regress to 2015 forms.

The front office has done a great job so far this offseason. Second base is still an issue (and hopefully it gets resolved next week or so), so a contract extension for a guy under team control for four more years probably isn’t the highest priority. But if the Dodgers can shore up second base and get Pederson signed to an extension, well, #FraudmanTwitter wouldn’t have anything to complain about (just kidding, they’d find a way).

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin’ Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif., and has yet to be shot.