None have Chris Tillman's tenure. Essentially a throw-in in the Erik Bedard/Adam Jones trade, Tillman's become a rotation mainstay. He hasn't always been great; hell, he hasn't always been good. But he is a serviceable enough starting pitcher and has always been worth putting on the mound.
So it's weird to think 2017 could be Tillman's last year in an Orioles uniform. He's a free agent after the season ends, and while he certainly deserves to shop himself around, I think he and the Orioles can find common ground on a contract extension.
The Orioles have an incentive to offer one. Tillman can leave after 2017, but much of their core -- Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Zach Britton to name a few -- will be around for one last hurrah in 2018. Should the Orioles attempt to compete that year as well, Tillman will help. And after 2018, the team needs pitchers. They have only Kevin Gausman and Logan Verrett, plus question marks in Dylan Bundy, Tyler Wilson, and Mike Wright.
Tillman has an incentive to listen. He's not an ace, so a down 2017 would hurt his value. He's a little old to be hitting the free-agent market as a starting pitcher. Players want to contend and the current Orioles core can do that. I don't know whether he likes playing for Baltimore, but I can't imagine he's so unhappy he would reject an extension out-of-hand. Plus, shoulder injuries can take whole careers with them; Tillman spent time on the DL with bursitis in August.
An agreement might be tough. Tillman's not some ramen-eating rookie who'll take a wildly below-market extension just to set him up for life. He already is: MLB Trade Rumors projects he'll make $10.6M in 2017, which will push his career earnings over $23M.
Performance-wise, Orioles fans know the deal. Tillman is entering his third and final year of arbitration at age 29, which is post-peak for most pitchers. He profiles as starting pitching depth at 1-2 fWAR per year but can reach above-average if his BABIP or LOB% are under control. He hasn't shown he can consistently control either, though. He has remained durable except for the bursitis.
Even though I'm proposing an extension, I doubt one will happen. Tillman will be 29 this year. Since 2010 only one right-handed starting pitcher aged 28-30 has signed away his first few free agent years: Ricky Nolasco with the Marlins in 2010.
This lack of comps means either teams don't want to risk extending starting pitchers who weren't good enough at ages 25-27, or such pitchers have high opinions of themselves and seek free agency at all costs. Likely it's some combination of both: teams may offer conservative extensions hoping they can land the pitcher but he's been waiting for free agency so long, and he's already post-peak, that he wants to get all the money he can.
But for giggles, let's work out what an extension might look like.
Extension LengthA three-year extension feels right to me. This would replace Tillman's last year of arbitration and buy out his first two free agent years -- the first of which the Orioles hope to contend, the second of which the team might punt, meaning Tillman could be trade bait.
Three years matches not only the Orioles' situation, but also the extension Nolasco took in 2010. Younger pitchers, better pitchers, and left-handed pitchers have gotten four or even five years in an extension. Tillman doesn't fall into any of those categories.
Extension AmountWith a length of three years, let's start the negotiations at $34M. I used Tom Tango's WARcels formula to estimate Tillman will be worth 4 wins during the next three years:
- 2017: 1.6 fWAR
- 2018: 1.2 fWAR
- 2019: 0.8 fWAR
At $8.5M per win today, 4 wins is worth $34M. That feels like a good starting point. It's in line with market prices and raises Tillman's AAV to $11.3M. He saves face by not taking a pay cut and the Orioles keep their contention window open a bit longer. Tillman stays on the team through age 31.
Nolasco got $26.5M, but in today's money that's really $30M. Add in WAR inflation at 5% per year and his deal is worth about 3/$39M today. Since Nolasco was a better pitcher (he had two four-win seasons prior to signing) and was a year younger than Tillman is, his extra $5M makes sense.
Tillman's ChoiceLet's say the Orioles offer 3/$34M today. If you're Tillman, would you take it?
Consider why you should reject the deal:
- You can afford to shop around. You're set to clear $23M in career earnings before hitting free agency.
- You're a durable innings-eater with a long track record of average performance and an All-Star appearance.
- You have that vaunted 'postseason experience' teams seem to crave.
- You have a hint of that 'veteran clubhouse presence' everyone likes.
- You have an awesome curveball.
- You protect against a down year in 2017 that would hurt your free-agent stock.
- Even with a regular year, you don't profile well in next year's free-agent pitching class.
- You triple your guaranteed earnings (assuming a salary of $10.6M in 2017).
- You remain on a contender for two years.
Remember: I'm talking about an extension, not a free-agent contract. Assuming 2017 goes well, Tillman could get more on the open market: maybe 3/$45M or even 4/$52M. But he's not on the open market now. From the player's perspective, an extension involves lowering your asking price in exchange for guaranteed employment.
If you're the Orioles, what would you do?
If you're Chris Tillman, how would you respond?