We often hear about veterans coming to new teams and asking younger players for their old jersey numbers. Often there is payment involved.
Last year Julio Borbon gave Adrian Beltre his customary number 29 in exchange for a watch. The year before, Jim Thome gave Alexi Casilla a Rolex in exchange for his number with the Twins. My favorite of all time — which I mention whenever this comes up — was former Giants punter Jeff Feagles who got Plaxico Burress to pay for an outdoor kitchen at his vacation home in Phoenix in exchange for number 17 and — before that — got Eli Manning to send the Feagles’ family on a vacation to Florida in order to give up number 10. Dude was a ninja.
The latest in this sub-sub-sub genre of baseball news comes from Pittsburgh, where new Pirates starter A.J. Burnett wanted to wear his lucky (Lucky? Sure, lucky) number 34. Except Daniel McCutchen wears it. Or, wore it, because A.J. has ponied up:
Some players get a watch when a veteran who joins the team takes their jersey number. Daniel McCutchen got a college fund. For his unborn daughter, due in May.
It was McCutchen’s idea, by the way. Burnett asked him what he wanted and McCutchen said a college fund.
Now, to be sure, a 529 fund can be in all manner of amounts and, as McCutchen notes in the article, its true value will be determined in 18 or 19 years when it matures and his daughter goes to college. The initial investment by Burnett could very well be less — much less — than a Rolex.
But the optics here are pretty great. Way better than a vacation or a watch or a grill. Good for McCutchen for thinking of it and Burnett for doing it.
Yankees starter Luis Severino and Phillies starter Aaron Nola both signed contract extensions within the last week. Severino agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract with a 2023 club option. Nola inked a four-year, $45 million deal with a 2023 club option.
While the deals both represented significant raises and longer-term financial security for the right-handed duo, some feel like the players are selling themselves short. It has become a more common practice for players to agree to these types of deals in part due to how stagnant free agency has become. Get the money while you can.
Mets starter Noah Syndergaard is in a similar situation as Severino and Nola were. He and the Mets avoided arbitration last month, agreeing on a $6 million salary for the 2019 season. He has two more years of arbitration eligibility left. A contract extension with the Mets would presumably cover both of those years plus two or three years of what would be free agent years. As Tim Britton of The Athletic reports, however, Syndergaard plans to test free agency when the time comes.
Syndergaard said, “I trust my ability and the talent that I have. So I feel like I’m going to bet (on) myself in free agency and not do what they did. But if it’s fair for both sides and they approach me on it, then maybe we can talk.” He clarified that he would be open to a conversation about an extension, but the Mets thus far haven’t approached him about it. In his words, “There’s been no traction.”
Syndergaard, 26, has been one of baseball’s better starters since debuting in 2015. He owns a career 2.93 ERA with 573 strikeouts and 116 walks in 518 1/3 innings. Among pitchers to have logged at least 400 innings since 2015 and post a lower ERA are Clayton Kershaw (2.22), Jacob deGrom (2.66) and Max Scherzer (2.71). Syndergaard made only seven starts in 2017 yet still ranks seventh among pitchers in total strikeouts since 2015.
If Sydergaard doesn’t end up signing an extension, he will be entering free agency after the 2021 season. The collective bargaining agreement expires in December 2021 and a new one will likely be agreed upon around that time. Syndergaard will hopefully have better prospects entering free agency then than players do now.