There is actually some real Mariners news to talk about.
On Friday, it was reported that the Mariners signed first base prospect Evan White to a six-year, $24 million contract. The contract also includes three team options that can bring the maximum value to $55.5 million. It’s an unprecedented move, making White the first AA player to receive a long-term extension. He is now likely to begin the 2020 season as the Mariners’ starting first baseman.
It seems a bit surprising that a prospect like White would sign a contract like this before starting his major league career. Players often like to bet on themselves and typically only sign extensions after breaking out. It is certainly possible that White prefers to play it safe, but he’s putting a hard ceiling on his earning potential. There’s a reason players almost never sign contract extensions before reaching the major leagues. It’s essentially betting on yourself to fail, since the player only receives more than his value if he is a bust. The reward for being patient can be hundreds of millions of dollars. The most likely explanation is that White feels satisfied with the Mariners organization and wants to play in Seattle for a while.
The risk on White’s contract is very low. If he’s a disappointment in the major leagues, at least he won’t be hampering the team with his salary. The annual value of the contract shouldn’t exceed five percent of the Mariners’ payroll. If the worst case scenario is having to pay a failed Evan White $8 million in the sixth year of the deal, that’s not a disastrous outcome. He doesn’t need to be a superstar for the Mariners to feel good about making this signing. He just needs to be a decent starter at first base.
But what makes this contract extension so good for the Mariners is those three team options. If White doesn’t pan out, he’s a free agent after six years and $24 million spread out over that period. Meanwhile, the best case scenario would be absolutely massive for the Mariners. A player like White could command as much as $20 million per season in the open market upon reaching free agency. Having a superstar for just over $10 million a year is a huge win. The upside on this deal is incredible, and I’m amazed that the Mariners pulled it off.
Since taking over the Mariners in September 2015, Jerry Dipoto has proven to be one of the most creative general managers in baseball. He’s mostly received attention for his numerous trades, some of which were instrumental in extending the Mariners’ window of contention. However, since last offseason, Dipoto has also shown some creativity in signing contracts. Yusei Kikuchi’s deal was structured in a similar way to White’s extension. His rookie season was disappointing, but Kikuchi will have two more seasons to prove himself as a starter. Depending on how he performs, Kikuchi’s contract could be a bargain for several years or a minor burden on the payroll. The worst case scenario isn’t too terrible. Dipoto structured the Kikuchi and White contracts to minimize the risk and maximize the potential payoff. The Mariners will have significantly more payroll flexibility if those two deliver. Jerry Dipoto potentially made his job a whole lot easier.