That was the 2010 American League MVP’s message to the Rangers on Monday.
“Free agency is free agency,” Josh Hamilton told ESPN’s Jim Bowden on SiriusXM radio. “If they sign me now, it’d probably cost less. If they sign me there (free agency), it’d cost more. So we’ll see.
“Obviously, I told the Rangers that they get first shot, and I mean that. I have loyalty to the Rangers. They’ve been good to me and my family, and it’s been a good relationship.”
It was labeled a mutual decision when the Rangers and Hamilton halted contract extension talks following the outfielder’s alcohol relapse last month, but from the sound of things, it was definitely more the Rangers’ call than Hamilton’s.
Hamilton is one of the game’s most talented players, but he’s entering his age-31 season and he’s played 150 games just once in his career. Even if one wants to discount his past substance abuse problems, he’s still a risk because of his injury history. It’s not all that often that players become more durable in their 30s.
It’s unclear exactly what Hamilton is looking for to forgo free agency next winter. He’s making $13.75 million this year as part of a two-year, $24 million contract. The Rangers might be amenable to spending $16 million-$18 million per year on him for the next three or four seasons. Going any longer than that would simply be too risky.
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.