The Baltimore Orioles have a chance this offseason to get a team-friendly deal done with Jonathan Schoop. How much could it cost?
The Orioles are heading into a crucial two-year stretch that could define the future of the franchise. Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Zach Britton are all free agents after the 2018 season. Ace Chris Tillman can test the market after the 2017 season. The Orioles face roster Armageddon because they have not be able to lock up any of their youngest stars to team-friendly contract extensions. Nearly every small-to-mid-market team around the league has had at least some success getting their controllable players to ink an extension before free agency, but not the Orioles.
Jonathan Schoop is the last remaining budding star the Orioles have any chance of extending. That ship has sailed for Machado, and there is no reason for Tillman to sign an extension now with free agency only a year away. Even if he is willing to stay with the Orioles long term, Tillman’s next contract will be at fair-market value. Schoop is it in terms of getting a potential All-Star to leave some money on the table in free agency.
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It’s not exactly the Orioles fault that none of their core is locked into team-friendly extensions. Machado has wanted an extension for years, but the Orioles could not commit to one after two consecutive major knee injuries. In hindsight 2014 would have been the time to get a deal done. Now Machado can taste free agency and the impending $300-million offer from the New York Yankees. Britton’s future was in question as he transitioned to the bullpen, and the Orioles have yet to hand out a contract to a starter for more than four seasons under the current front office. Tillman may have agreed to an extension if ownership was willing to budge on its stubborn practices regarding starting pitchers, but it’s hard for a tiger to change his stripes.
Schoop was a legitimate All-Star candidate for the entire first half last year. He entered the break hitting .304/.338/.509 with 23 doubles, 14 home runs, and 52 RBIs. After the break, however, his numbers fell off a cliff to .225/.252/.391. September was his ugliest month of the year, as he slashed .196/.222/.348 with only three walks in 117 plate appearances. Still, over 248 games over the past two seasons, Schoop is a .271/.301/.463 hitter with 55 doubles and 40 home runs. His 38 doubles in 2016 ranked fifth in the league while his 25 homers ranked tied for sixth.
The second-base position is going through a bit of a renaissance right now, similar to the influx of power hitters at shortstop in the 1990s. Schoop is right up there with the best young second sackers in the game, but has to improve his pitch selection. He may never draw 80 walks a year (50 would be wishful thinking), but he has to cut down on his chase rate. Over the past three years, Schoop is seventh in the league with an O-Swing% of 42.3. He is an equal opportunity chaser — fastballs at the eyes, sliders off the plate, and curveballs in the dirt have all vexed Schoop to some degree.
Even with his flaws and need for maturation as a hitter, the Orioles must lock up Schoop this winter. It’s going to be an underwhelming winter regardless, but an extension for Machado’s best friend would be something to hang a hat on. Around the league, several young second basemen have already signed team-friendly extensions. Jason Kipnis and the Cleveland Indians agreed to a six-year deal for $52.5 million with a $16.5-million option for 2020. Before he signed his extension, Kipnis had batted .270/.349/.424 with 38 homers and 66 steals in his first 337 MLB games. Schoop has him beat in terms of power the past two years, but is not nearly as well-rounded a player at this time.
Another name to consider is Brian Dozier who is signed to a four-year, $20-million contract with the Minnesota Twins (for now). Dozier signed that deal after hitting .241/.318/.397 with 47 home runs and 44 steals in his first 387 games with the Twins. Dozier was coming off an 89-walk season worth 5.2 bWAR in 2014 when he signed his extension. Schoop’s efforts in 2016 were only worth 2.1 bWAR. Dozier’s extension does not extend into his free agency, so the player did not sacrifice anything. In Schoop’s case, the Orioles should be looking to eat up at least two years of free agency.
If the Orioles want to tie up at least two year’s of free agency with a Schoop deal, they are looking at five years minimum. He is projected for a little more than $3 million in arbitration this year. A good starting point for 2017 salary would be $3.5 million, with an increase to $5 million in 2018, $7.5 million in 2019, and then $12 million the final two years of the deal. That puts the price for Schoop at five years and $40 million, potentially bumping to $45 million or adding an option for a sixth year at $15 million. That seems very reasonable for a player who could easily blossom into an All-Star at second base for years to come.
Getting extensions done with homegrown talent before free agency is the lifeblood of mid-market teams like the Orioles, but they have not been able to capitalize in recent years. Schoop is a prime candidate for an extension before he “pops” and becomes too expensive for an extension. This is a step the Orioles need to take now before it’s too late.