There’s “growing optimism” between the Marlins and right-hander Sandy Alcantara about a potential extension, reports Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. It’s a notable turn of events after the Marlins’ initial overtures were reported to be on the light side. Talks between the two sides have been ongoing, per Jackson, and both parties feel there’s progress being made.
It’s not clear when a theoretical deal would come together. Such matters are often reserved for later in the offseason or even Spring Training. Progress being made at this point could lead to a rare but not unheard-of September extension for a key player of this nature, or it could simply lay the groundwork for when the two parties pick things back up early in 2022.
What is clear to see is just why Miami is so keen on the idea of keeping Alcantara for the long haul. The 26-year-old righty has steadily improved in parts of four seasons with the Fish and has now emerged as the workhorse leader on the pitching staff. He’s one of just four pitchers in all of Major League Baseball to have reached the 200-inning threshold in 2021, as teams have been even more guarded than usual with pitcher workloads on the heels of the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. Alcantara, however, isn’t simply a durable innings eater providing innings in bulk; he’s developed into one of the game’s most effective hurlers.
In 200 2/3 frames this year, Alcantara boasts a strong 3.09 ERA with a roughly average 24 percent strikeout rate but near-elite walk and ground-ball rates (six percent and 53.4 percent, respectively). He averages 98.1 mph on his four-seamer and 97.5 mph on his sinker, complementing those high-speed offerings with a changeup and slider that both grade out as above-average pitches (the slider in particular). Alcantara’s 13.2 percent swinging-strike rate and huge 36.5 percent opponents’ chase rate are career-bests over a full season. This year’s ERA may look like a mere continuation of his 2020 success (3.00 ERA in 42 innings), but Alcantara has improved across the board in nearly every underlying rate stat of note.
Alcantara will be eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter, which has been an atypical juncture for starting pitchers to agree to extensions in recent years. As MLBTR’s Anthony Franco pointed out the last time extension rumors surrounding Alcantara surfaced, there are only two starting pitchers in the past half decade who’ve signed an extension when they were between three and four years of service time: Cardinals righty Carlos Martinez (five years, $51MM plus two club options) and Phillies righty Aaron Nola (four years, $45MM plus one club option).
The two contracts fall in the same realm in terms of total value, but Nola’s comparable guarantee over a shorter term was reflective of his superior results and stronger arbitration case to that point in his career. He likely prioritized a shorter deal as a trade-off, securing some early financial security while still being able to reach the market at a young enough age (31) to command a lucrative free-agent pact. Martinez’s deal surrendered considerably more team control but did so for a slightly larger guarantee that still represents a record sum for a pitcher in this service bracket.
On the surface, Alcantara has pitched well enough to stake a claim to set a new record, although it’d register as something of a surprise for a low-payroll club like Miami to set a new precedent in any service-time bracket. On the other hand, Alcantara has established himself as a high-end, foundational piece in the rotation and is now on the cusp of arbitration. That forthcoming arbitration raise gives him some leverage, as he’s all but locked up a notable salary for the first time in his career.
First-time arb-eligible pitchers have been stuck in a rather staggering rut when it comes to arbitration filings, as the repeatedly cited precedent for teams with first-time-eligible starting pitchers is Dontrelle Willis’ $4.35MM mark all the way back in 2006. David Price matched that sum in his own first-time offseason (2012), but the only first-time-eligible starting pitcher to top that mark was Dallas Keuchel ($7.25MM), who only managed to do so on the heels of being named American League Cy Young winner. Perhaps notably, Nola filed at a hearty $6.7MM before agreeing to his extension; the Phillies had countered with a $4.5MM filing figure, which would have nominally moved the precedent forward regardless of a hearing’s outcome.
Alcantara could struggle to move past that clearly dated precedent in arbitration, but he’s pitched well enough to command a salary in the the low-$4MM range at the very least. Even with a step back or a notable injury in 2022, he’d be quite likely to receive a similar salary in 2023, given that a pitcher of Alcantara’s caliber wouldn’t be non-tendered after one poor or injury-marred season. All of that lessens any urgency — at least relative to a pre-arbitration scenario — to take too team-friendly an offer.
Time will tell whether the two parties can hammer out a deal, but it’s notable that the Marlins are making an attempt and are seemingly coming up from their initial proposals. They currently control Alcantara through at least the 2024 season, but even following the Nola trajectory would extend that control through 2026. Of course, we can’t know yet how any tweaks to the collective bargaining agreement might impact the arbitration process and subsequent extension structures, which only adds another layer to a complex set of negotiations.
Regardless, Alcantara looks like a focal point in an increasingly interesting Marlins pitching staff that also features Pablo Lopez, Trevor Rogers, Elieser Hernandez, Jesus Luzardo and Zach Thompson. Notable prospects such as Edward Cabrera, Sixto Sanchez, Max Meyer and Jake Eder (who recently had Tommy John surgery) provide the Fish wish a wealth of high-upside depth — depth that could also set the stage for some offseason trades as the club looks to bolster its core of young position players.