Yesterday, we ended our 2019 Atlanta Braves Player Review series and today we begin to look forward to the 2020 season and a new series: Atlanta Braves Extension Candidates. We start with a story similar to our beloved Ronald Acuna with a player whose skillset, although different from Acuna’s, is loud and cannot be ignored: Atlanta Braves Extension Candidate: Cristian Pache
Cristian Pache Background
Teams usually wait a season or two before moving to extend a player during their team control years. The reasons are not hard to fathom: prospects bust, injuries happen, player development is not a linear process. Still, some organizations have proactively started to explore the possibility as a method for controlling costs. A happy side benefit is that players can then be called up without the teams bothering to play service time games and the players are tied to teams for longer periods which is good for fans.
For example, in November, the Mariners signed AA first base prospect Evan White to a contract guaranteeing the 23 year old $24M and potentially as much as $55.5M over 9 seasons. Given that White is a middling prospect and has no guarantee of MLB playing time in 2020, this was a curious decision for the club. Two factors likely drove the M’s thinking: should White be successful, the contract is a team-friendly bargain, while it also allows the team to budget assets accurately for at least the next 6 years. For White it was a no-brainer — he is guaranteed relative wealth with a chance to earn more later.
White became just the 4th player to sign a long-term guaranteed contract before playing in the majors. All the other have been recent as well. In June 2014 the Astros blackmailed first base prospect Jon Singleton into a $10M deal. Happier contracts were given to Scott Kingery by the Phillies in 2018 and by the White Sox to Eloy Jimenez this past spring. The Jimenez contract is particularly relevant to our topic today and covered the first 6 team control years at $43M with 2 option years at $16.5M and $18.5M.
The Case for Extension Candidate Cristian Pache
Pache, an outfielder from Santo Domingo Centro in the DR, was signed by the Braves at 16 for a $1.4M bonus in 2016. He was already seen as an impact defender in centerfield and scouts believed he would grow into his stringbean body without sacrificing much in the way of speed or defense. Initially, he chopped everything into the ground at the plate but the Braves have been working on a swing modification for the last 2 years which lets him extend in front of the plate and get more balls into the air. As a result, he has progressed from a 50+% groundball rate to 39% (slightly better than league average) this past year.These changes resulted in 11 homers and an 802 OPS in 2019 across AA and AAA. Fangraphs currently has him at #13 on their top prospects list although this will almost certainly go up when the list is updated after the new year.
While 2020 forecasts have Cristian as a below-average hitter, they also see him as the rare +25 fielder in center. The overall package comes in at between 1.5-2.5 WAR depending on source and prognosticator. As a 21 year old, we can live with that production which is essentially what the Nats got out of Victor Robles last year.
Pache is still growing and as his frame continues to fill out he will add more power and hit everything with more authority. Unlike his running mate Drew Waters, Pache has never caught the strikeout bug (14% career, 17% in AAA) while walking at an 8% clip — essentially league average. Despite his speed, he is a poor base stealer but he has good instincts and is considered overall a good baserunner.
The Contract Proposal for Cristian Pache
The better comparison for a Pache extension than that of Evan White would be the contract the White Sox gave Eloy Jimenez. While Eloy is, charitably, a poor defender, his overall value is expected to be high due to his power. His expected overall value tracks fairly closely to Pache’s (one year removed) over the next 5 years. Eloy was the #3 prospect overall and has a skillset that tends to get paid better, but both players are still extremely similar in projected value. Eloy’s contract went $1.83M in 2019, $2.33M in 2020, $4.33M in 2021, $7.33M in 2022 (1st arb year), $10.33M in 2023, $13.83M in 2024 and the 2 option years at $16.5 and $18.5M with $3m buyouts. That’s $43M guaranteed with opt out.
Defense does not get paid as well so I’m proposing something between Eloy Jimenez and the Evan White deal we started with. I’d make it $1M in 2020, $2M in 2021, $3.5M in 2022, then $7M in 2023 (first arb year), $10m in 2024 and $13M in 2025. That is $36.5M for the team control years which is $12.5M more than White and Kingery got. Then add 3 options at $18, $21, and $24M with $3M buyouts for a total $97.5M deal ($39.5 guaranteed with opt out). Various long-term projections (which are conservative with prospects!) like him to put up between 14 and 19 WAR over his first 5 seasons, so the return for the Braves is real. Of course, should he reach his upside, the contract would be a bargain. This contract would leave him a free agent entering his age-30 season while guaranteeing a nice future for both Crristian and the team. Oh, it’s a good deal fairer than the Ozzie boondoggle too :)
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this piece about extension candidate Cristian Pache by Karl, check out some of his writing here on our Top Prospects!