The most important thing a mid-market team like the Royals can do is to continue to churn out prospects who can contribute on the big league level. Somewhere not far behind that is locking up young talent to deals that control their costs over the next few seasons. And sometimes in locking up that young talent, risks need to be taken in order to get the best deal possible. A player who hasn’t yet broken out but you feel might will be a lot less expensive to sign at that point than after a huge year. Today I want to look at what an extension might look like for Jorge Bonifacio if the Royals choose to go this route.
Before I get into the numbers, I guess we’ll look at the why. Bonifacio is a 25-year old corner outfielder who has yet to put up truly big power numbers but has shown glimpses of being a solid hitter who can fit in either in the two-hole of a lineup or more toward the bottom of the middle. He’s not likely to be the star on a good team but does have the tools to be a productive bat on a good team. If the power really comes for him, with his decent plate discipline, he could be a bit more than a productive bat. They can’t all be stars and guys who fit somewhere between there and role player are important pieces of good teams.
So far in his career, Bonifacio is a .259/.324/.438 hitter and has been very good since his suspension ended, hitting .288/.351/.481 in 14 games with seven extra base hits. I’ve said a few times before that he got the raw end of the Melky Cabrera trade and that stunted some development last year and hurt his numbers. All of his stats play. He’s not a strong defender, but I do think he can be close enough to average that he’s playable regularly defensively. For a guy who hits the ball hard, has some pop and has really passed the eye test for me, he’s someone who I think the Royals need to at least think about signing to an extension if the money is right. You’re betting a bit on a breakout, but at the money I think he’d get, it’s not a crazy bet that he’d be worth the deal.
Usually when I think about extensions, I try to think of the best case scenario for what he’d earn through his arbitration years. He’s not eligible for arbitration until following the 2019 season, so let’s give him a $600k contract for next year and think about what he might earn. If everything goes absolutely perfect for him, I’d say we’re looking at maybe $24 million or so in his three arbitration years (thinking $4 million, $8 million and $12 million). Let’s round that to $25 million. And if that all works out, he’s probably in line for a four or five-year free agent deal worth about $15-$18 million per year. So if you’re looking at a six-year deal, I think about the absolute max he’d make is six years and $60 million. But you’re not paying him to lock him up at the rate he’d get if everything goes perfectly.
If things don’t go great for him, but they go well enough for him to make it through all six years of team control, I think a reasonable number for his next four years is probably something like $15-$16 million ($600k, $1.5 million, $5 million, $8 million). So let’s keep those in mind while we look at some comps.
There are a couple long-term extensions I’ll mention just to throw them out, but they don’t hold much weight here. Adam Jones signed his six-year deal right ahead of his final season of arbitration in 2013 as was the case for Charlie Blackmon before this season. Both were far too late into their team control years and both far better than Bonifacio is now.
The place to look for examples really is to a mid-market brother in Pittsburgh where the Pirates have given pre-arbitration extensions to three of their outfielders in the past few years. The least relevant of the three signings was Andrew McCutchen. He was given a six-year deal worth $51.5 million with a seventh year option that he’s playing under right now with the Giants. Leading up to his contract, he had played 420 games with a .276/.365/.458 line, so he hadn’t exploded yet, but he was a very good player who could handle center field. Any Bonifacio deal made with an eye on Cutch’s deal would need to be for a fair amount less money, even with accounting for rising salaries.
Starling Marte signed his deal after his first full year in the big leagues but with 182 games of experience and a .275/.332/.440 career line. He’s more of a base stealer than Bonifacio and a considerably better defender, but Boni has a lot more power potential than I think was seen in Marte at the time. Interestingly, Marte was suspended last year for PED use, so they have that in common if you’re looking for another comp. His deal was worth $31 million over six years with two options worth $24 million and buyouts after each one. It started in 2014, so it’ll be five years old by the time a theoretical Bonifacio extension happens.
And the third Pirate that might make the most sense as a comp here is Gregory Polanco. He had played two full years in the big leagues and part of another and was a .253/.318/.404 hitter playing right field. The two big differences between Polanco and Bonifacio are that Polanco steals quite a few more bases than Boni ever has or likely could and Polanco was one of baseball’s best prospects prior to his call-up in 2014. While that’s worth noting, by the time he had received his extension, he had played three somewhat middling big league seasons and was entering his age-25 season. His deal was for five years and $35 million with options similar to the Marte deal in that there were buyouts after each one and they totaled $26 million. If you were to add a sixth year onto Polanco’s extension for the sake of comparison, he’d have been at six years and $47.5 million.
My initial thought before looking at the three Pirates deals was for a six-year deal worth $42 million as a decent number for both sides. I think that’s a little high. You probably do want to go six years to include two free agent years if you’re doing it, so let’s stick with that. I believe something in the range of $38 million makes some good sense.
I’d break it down as such:
2019 – $750k
2020 – $3.25 million
2021 – $5 million
2022 – $8 million
2023 – $10 million
2024 – $10 million
The option year:
2025 – $16 million, $2 million buyout
Those are pure baseball numbers with nothing else taken into account. What it doesn’t mention is the fact that Bonifacio was suspended for half of the 2018 season because he tested positive for PEDs. Is that worth a discount to the Royals on this deal? I’m not entirely sure, but maybe. I suppose you could knock a few million off. Let’s call it $4 million total and just take a million off each of 2021, 2022 and 2023 and $1 million off the buyout to get there. Either way, it’s in the ballpark.
The big question is if it’s worth doing and my belief is that it is if he finishes the season hitting the way he has through 14 games. The home run power is a bit down, but if he plays 65 games the rest of the way at his current pace, he’d finish with 28 doubles, six triples and six home runs this year in just 322 plate appearances. The triples won’t be there, but we’re just using his current pace as a fast and loose look, so it’ll work for now. Where it becomes a riskier deal is if he doesn’t keep this up and he plays like he did in 2017. If he does that, he’ll end the year with a .262/.326/.442 line with 14 doubles, two triples and 11 home runs. Still solid work, but there are questions that don’t make it a slam dunk.
Maybe it’s a year early, but as I mentioned at the top, it’s important to control the costs on young talent, and Bonifacio has the opportunity to be a really nice bridge to some of the talent in the lower levels and some that probably isn’t even in the system yet. And for this sort of price, it’s almost definitely worth a look.