Which 2024 Extensions are Worth the Price?

Which price is right?

The 2024 MLB offseason is nearly over. And while storylines like Shohei Ohtani’s signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Corbin Burnes‘ trade to the Baltimore Orioles, and the Boras Four’s extended free agency dominated the conversation, several key players this offseason signed extensions to tie them to their current teams. There’s been every type of deal, from veterans signing what could be their last contracts, young stars signing through their arbitration and primes, and veterans forgetting their walk year to remain where they are.

But which deals were worth making? And which can stand the test of time? More importantly, what can the past tell us about the future ahead of these players and their clubs?


José Altuve


Extending José Altuve to a five-year contract extension worth $125 million is a no-duh decision for the Houston Astros. Altuve is one of the franchise greats, third in franchise fWAR, and top-10 in almost every major offensive category: Fifth in HRs, seventh in RBI, third in doubles and runs scored, and fourth in games played. For his efforts in bringing Houston its two World Series championships, Altuve will have a jersey amongst Minute Maid Park’s rafters and a statue outside its walls within years of his retirement. Deservedly so.

Altuve’s extension isn’t just a result of his career’s entirety. He remains one of the greatest players of his generation, with a .294/.374/.513 slash, a .887 OPS, and 16.0 fWAR over 377 games played over his last three seasons. Only nine players have more fWAR than Altuve, while only 12 others have a higher OPS during that time. The four players ahead of Altuve on both lists are former MVPs Aaron Judge, Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts, and three-time All-Star Juan Soto.

Altuve can be many things to the baseball world: A pariah, a cheater, a villain, a player whose previous accomplishments invite doubt, and a culprit in a stained World Series. But to the Astros, he’ll remain a leader in the locker room, something that’s crucial for Houston’s young players like Jeremy Peña.

Altuve is and continues to be a master of the sport, even at 33 years old. But for how much longer? Questioning Altuve’s ability to age gracefully is one of the few hindrances ahead of his extension. It’ll kick in after the 2024 season and won’t end until Altuve is 39. Signing him until that point leaves the door open that this extension catches him at the back end of a magnificent career, not the continuation of it.

The physical mileage on the veteran’s body is one specific challenge Altuve and the Astros will contend with throughout his extension. Altuve’s been playing professional baseball since 2007, playing 414 minor league games before his Major League promotion on July 20, 2011. Since then, Altuve’s played an astounding 1668 regular season games and 103 postseason games, some of the most in baseball.

The only active players to play in more regular-season games than Altuve since his 2011 debut are Carlos Santana, Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, Elvis Andrus, and Andrew McCutchen. One other difference between Altuve and these players is their defensive positions. McCutchen played 98 games as a DH last season and expects to play the position just as much this year. Freeman, Goldschmidt, and Santana will play first base for their respective teams, a far less physically taxing position than second base.

Additionally, there is no evidence that Altuve will change positions to accommodate his age. Since turning 30, Altuve’s only DH’d four times out of 371 games. All indications point toward him remaining at second base long-term, ranging to his right and left, diving and jumping, and continuing to add miles on a body that’s already played 13,963.1 innings.

Tale of the Tape since 2011

It’s equally worth mentioning how close Altuve is to these players in games played, but far away he is in age. Altuve is currently 216 regular-season games away from reaching Santana in first. That’s despite Altuve being four years and 28 days younger than the veteran first baseman. When factoring in postseason games played to that equation, Altuve is only 143 games away from Santana’s total since 2011, less than a season’s worth. He’ll start the 2023 season with all this baggage as a 33-year-old and close it with presumably 145 to 155 more games on his legs. Then, he’ll have to do it again for five more years.

Another complication to Altuve’s long-term health is his stature. The Mighty Mouse isn’t just the shortest player among his peers. At 5’6, he and Tony Kemp are the shortest active players in baseball. Compared to the other long-tenured stalwarts in the game, Altuve is four inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter than McCutchen, the next closest player to him in regular-season games played. Wondering if Altuve’s body can withstand five more years at 145 to 155 games a season is a legitimate question. An oblique injury in 2023 already limited him to 90 games, a career low.

Thankfully for the Astros, Altuve’s 2023 doesn’t point to signs of regression. He slashed .311/.393/.522 with a .915 OPS, 17 homers, and 51 RBIs with a 154 wRC+ and a 4.0 fWAR. His .311 batting average and .393 OBP were his highest in a single season since winning the 2017 AL MVP. And while Altuve’s .915 OPS dipped compared to his 2022 performance, that slide speaks more to Altuve finishing fifth in AL MVP voting that season.

Due to his oblique injury, Altuve failed to qualify for most major statistical leaderboards. If he qualified, however, Altuve’s .915 OPS would’ve ranked ninth among all active players. Obvious metrics aside, Altuve’s exit velocity meagerly increased from 84.8 in 2022 to 85 MPH in 2023, while his hard-hit rate saw a similar increase from 29.9% to 31.4%. In other words, Altuve is still hitting the ball plenty hard at his age. Father time hasn’t touched him yet in that regard.

The only concerning spike is the second baseman’s groundball percentage, which shot from 39.9% to 47.6%, the fourth-highest increase in baseball per Baseball Savant. For other players, this might be a red flag. But for Altuve, this isn’t a new trend. From 2017 to 2910, the veteran posted a GB% of at least 46.4%. In those seasons, Altuve won two Silver Sluggers, made two All-Star teams, hit .321/.385/.517 with the 20th-best OPS, and won the American League MVP. He probably knows what works.


Zack Wheeler


If extending Altuve is a no-duh decision for the Astros, what do you call the Philadelphia Phillies extending Zack Wheeler to a three-year, $126 million extension?

Since moving to the City of Brotherly Love in 2020, Wheeler has been one of the best players on the planet. His 19.3 fWAR leads all pitchers, his 2.90 FIP is fourth, he’s tied for seventh with his 675 strikeouts, and his 3.06 ERA is 11th. Though he’s yet to win an NL Cy Young for his efforts, Wheeler has finished within the top six of voting twice in the last four seasons. He’s transformed from a question mark on the mound to one of the sport’s triumphant exclamation marks.

This signing was never a sure thing back in 2020 after injuries marred the first half of Wheeler’s career with the New York Mets. A UCL tear during the 2015 spring training kept Wheeler sidelined until April 7, 2017. The right-hander would make just 17 starts that season due to two other ailments and end the season with a 5.21 ERA. He would respond in 2018 and 2019, posting 3.65 ERA and 107 ERA+ and rebuilding his value, but his potential remained untapped. That is no longer the case. Nor are there fears of injury. The right-hander has started 101 of a possible 107 starts with the Phillies. He’s embodied nothing short of consistent brilliance.

As good as Wheeler has been in the regular season, he’s been even better in the postseason. His 2.48 ERA is second among all pitchers, with a minimum of 30 innings pitched over the last two postseasons. Ranger Suárez is the only pitcher with a better ERA. Yet at 33.1 innings pitched, Suarez barely eclipses the threshold and barely touches Wheeler’s 63.1 innings pitched in the postseason, the most in the sport.

The ace twirls gem after gem in the playoffs, whether it’s a seven-inning shutout against the San Diego Padres in the 2022 NL Championship Series or limiting the Arizona Diamondbacks to just one hit over seven innings in a crucial game five to hand the Phillies a 3-2 series lead in the 2023 NLCS. Wheeler is nothing short of a miracle worker in the postseason and a key reason for Philadelphia’s back-to-back NLCS appearances. Tying him to the club until 2028 isn’t just right. It’s necessary.

Doing so, admittedly, comes at an exorbitant cost. The Phillies will pay Wheeler’s $126 million starting in 2025, with a payroll and luxury tax salary clocking in at $42 million a season. The only pitchers with a higher AAV in 2024 are Ohtani, Max Scherzer, and Justin Verlander. Yet signing Wheeler now, even at this cost, can save the Phillies in the future.

The 2025 starting pitcher market has its highlights: 2021 NL Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes, 2020 AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber, two-time All-Star Walker Buehler, and All-Star Max Fried. Past them, however, there’s a drop. Signing Wheeler now guarantees his spot in the rotation until 2028. It ensures that no matter what, one of the best active postseason pitchers will be on Philadelphia’s team. There is an intrinsic value in that. Letting Wheeler test free agency and possibly sign elsewhere would’ve left Philadelphia vulnerable to desperately needing one of Burnes, Bieber, Buehler, Fried, or another high-caliber pitcher. Keeping Wheeler now avoids that problem in its entirety. They have their guy.

None of this is to suggest Wheeler is impervious to regression. His 3.61 ERA in 2023 is easily his highest since 2019, his last season with the Mets. Even Wheeler’s second-worst ERA since then, a 2.92 in 2020, is separated by a 0.69 difference. 2020 also has the complexity of the shortened season and a schedule that only lets teams play others in the same geographic region. Likewise, Wheeler’s ERA is not the only 2023 statistic to face inflation. His FIP went from 2.89 in 2022 to 3.15 in 2023, while his hard-hit rate increased from 34.7% to 36.5%.

While this could point toward a regression or a tiring arm, Wheeler’s arm has seen far less stress when compared to other pitchers his age, ironically due to his injury history. Gerrit Cole, also 33, is up to 300 starts and 1,859 innings in his career. Kevin Gausman, a recent addition to the 33 club, has appeared in 298 games with 1,537 innings pitcher. Nathan Eovaldi, a new 34-year-old, has 265 games and 1,401.2 innings under his belt. Wheeler is far behind all three in terms of mileage, giving his body less stress and increasing the likelihood of his contract and career aging gracefully.

Whether that comes true is anyone’s guess. But all the Phillies can do is whatever gives them the best chance of realizing their aspirations. Re-signing Wheeler and, arguably, resetting the starting pitcher marker is just the cost of doing business.


Bobby Witt Jr.


A player like Bobby Witt Jr. signing an 11-year, $288.8 million extension following his second MLB season shouldn’t be a shock. The San Diego Padres set the precedent, giving Fernando Tatís Jr. a 14-year extension after his third season. The Seattle Mariners extending Julio Rodríguez in the back half of his rookie season only doubled down as a concept. Smart teams identify, develop, and keep their young stars before they can even sniff arbitration. What is a shock, however, is the Royals, a notoriously small-market team whose Opening Day payroll hasn’t eclipsed $100 million since 2019, joined the trend.

That’s not to say extending Witt is befuddling. That sentiment has more to do with the team than the player. Witt broke out in 2023 and emerged as one of the most exhilarating players in the sport. He hit 30 home runs, an MLB-high 11 triples, stole 49 bases, improved his defense, and finished seventh in AL MVP voting ahead of veteran superstars José Ramírez, Yordan Alvarez, Adolis García, and Aaron Judge. Witt is a unique talent and the reward the fan base deserves after finishing fifth or fourth in the AL Central every year since 2018.

There is no reason not to extend Witt. Thankfully, Kansas City realized that sooner rather than later. The 23-year-old’s price tag will only increase as he ascends the ranks of stardom. It’s entirely possible the Royals got a steal considering how Witt ended his 2023 season.

Getting to this point was not linear. Witt started the first half of 2023 admirably following his rookie campaign. He nearly matched his steals in 60 fewer games, increased his batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, OPS, BB%, and HR% while decreasing his K%. Progress occurred, just not at an exponential rate that befits the extension Witt would sign. His .257 batting average and .742 OPS in the first half of the 2023 season left a longing for something else. He’d entered his rookie season as a consensus top-five prospect. Yet a year and a half later, he was 84th in OPS behind players like Mark Canha, Matt Vierling, Jake Burger, J.D. Davis, and Brent Rooker. Where was the former second-overall pick? Where was the player that warranted an 11-year extension?

The Royals and Witt found that player in the second half of the season. Over his next 68 games, Witt hit .301./343/.563 with 16 home runs, 49 RBIs, 13 doubles, and six triples with a .906 OPS and 22 steals. Everything clicked. Witt accounted for 3.3 of his 5.7 fWAR in those 68 games while ranking fifth in steals, 20th in batting average, 23rd in OPS, and 30th in wRC+ among all qualified hitters. His eruption propelled Witt to that seventh-place finish in the AL MVP voting and would, in part, lead to his extension.

More impressive than his offensive turnaround was Witt’s defensive overhaul. In 2022, Witt finished poorly in Baseball Savant’s outs above average statistic, ranking in the second percentile with -11 OAA, the ninth-worst in baseball. Likewise, Witt prevented -8 runs in 2022, the 15th-worst in baseball. Somehow, the former second-overall pick forgot how to play the field.

In 2023, Witt rewrote that narrative, making play after play at shortstop to the point he finished in the 98th percentile with 14 OAA, 12th in baseball. The only shortstops with a higher OAA in 2023 were back-to-back Gold Glover Dansby Swanson, Willy Adames, and Ezequiel Tovar. The number of runs Witt prevented saw a similar increase, jumping to 10 runs prevented in 2023 compared to the -8 runs prevented in 2022. This sensational turnaround earned Witt every cent of extension, not for what he can do at the plate, but in the field. At just 23 years old, he was a 30/30 hitter and one of the best defensive shortstops in the AL.


The Difference a Year Makes

As Witt remade himself offensively and defensively, the Royals marched through another lost season. They’d finish 56-106 and tie for the second-worst record in the franchise’s 55-year history. In an era of failure earmarked by a 338-532 record since 2018, the Royals found a new low.

To make any of this worth it, Witt’s No. 2 selection in the 2019 MLB draft, his extension, and the team’s abject failure, the Royals need to add more. So far, they’ve done that, spending $110 million this offseason on big-league talent that can meaningfully impact the roster. Adding pitchers Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha, Chris Stratton, and Will Smith and position players Hunter Renfroe, Adam Frazier, and Garrett Hampson raises the Royals’ ceiling in 2024. There’s no doubt of that.

For any of this to work, to matter, it can’t just stop there. Signing Witt to his extension is a step in the right direction. But it has to be Kansas City’s first step in a mile walk back to contention, not their only step.


Mitch Keller


As the Pittsburgh Pirates failed to develop pitchers, they blossomed elsewhere. Gerrit Cole has been an All-Star every year since leaving Pittsburgh. Tyler Glasnow’s 3.03 ERA since 2019, his first full season in Tampa Bay, is 10th in baseball. Joe Musgrove’s ERA in any season with the San Diego Padres surpasses any ERA he had in the Steel City. And that’s just naming a few. Leaving the Pirates and PNC Park is a godsend to any pitcher with a high pedigree.

Mitch Keller could’ve become the next Pirates pitcher to echo that sentiment and excel elsewhere. And perhaps he would’ve if not for a five-year, $77 million deal that’ll keep Keller with a club through the 2028 season.

There are numerous reasons to understand why the Pirates handed him this extension. He saw a mammoth increase in strikeouts in 2023, jumping from 138 in 31 games in 2022 to a career-high 210 strikeouts in 32 starts in 2023. As a result, Keller’s K% increased by 5.4%, the 15th-highest year-to-year increase in baseball, per Baseball Savant. Keller has never been a strikeout artist, previously peaking at a career-high of 20.1% in 2022, which makes his 2023 success even more impressive.

Other notable advanced metrics saw similar jumps in 2023. Keller improved his FB% by 6.2% and elicited softer contact from his opponents, decreasing their HardH% from 37.6% to 35.6% and their LD% from 25.8% to 25%. While Keller only walked five fewer batters in 2023, those five fewer walks came despite 35.2 more innings pitched. As a result, his BB% dropped from 8.7% to 6.7%, the 34th-best decrease in baseball, per Baseball Savant.


A Tale of Two Kellers

What’s more encouraging than Keller’s year-to-year transformation is how he’s improved throughout his career. After a 6.02 ERA from 2019 to 2021, the fourth-worst in baseball among all starters with 170 innings pitched, Keller refined his game in every major statistical category. He’s striking out hitters more, walking them less, and finding a better command over his position.

The Pirates themselves are also to blame for Keller’s early career troubles. During his first three seasons, the Pirates lost 61.2% of their games. Any pitcher would be hard-pressed to develop and progress in that situation. But as Pittsburgh’s pieces came together, so didn’t Keller. By 2023’s All-Star Break, the Pirates were 41-49, their best record that late in the season since 2019. In response, Keller had a 3.31 ERA, 11th in the National League, and became a first-time All-Star.

Extending Keller and forecasting him as a front-line starter who can lead the Pirates out of irrelevance isn’t wishing on a player who never shined. It’s hoping these bursts of light can become a beacon.

Hoping, however, remains the issue for Keller. For all that optimism, there are still reasons to doubt. While the 27-year-old pitched beautifully to open 2023, he closed with a 4-5 record, 5.59 ERA, and 4.52 FIP in his 13 starts following the All-Star Game. Hitters went from struggling against Keller to raking against him, hitting .289/.341/.487 with an .828 OPS. The only pitchers with a worse ERA during the second half than Keller were Jordan Lyles and Lucas Giolito. That’s it.

For perspective, Lyles projects to open 2024 in the back end of Kansas City’s rotation or as a member of its bullpen. Meanwhile, Giolito signed a deal with Boston this offseason that only maxes out at two years. Yet Keller, who was on par with both pitchers in the second half, signed a five-year extension. It doesn’t entirely track.

Neither does the inconsistency throughout Keller’s second half. The Cleveland Guardians, a below .500 team and the 23rd team in OPS scored eight runs against Keller. The Los Angeles Angels scored six runs against him without Mike Trout and with Shohei Ohtani only recording one RBI. But then Keller would throw an eight-inning shutout against the Chicago Cubs, who finished one game shy of the second wildcard spot. How can a pitcher post a 3.31 ERA in one half of the season and a 5.59 ERA in the second half? And which pitcher is he ultimately? The former or the latter?

That’s the question the Pirates will discover over the five years of Keller’s extension. They have to hope they finally picked the right pitcher to stick around.


Brayan Bello


At first glance, extending Brayan Bello to a six-year, $55 million contract reads like a puzzling move for the Boston Red Sox. The 24-year-old finished 2023 with a barely above-average 4.24 ERA, a 107 ERA+, a 4.54 FIP, and a 1.338 WHIP. Bello also showed major regression in limiting home runs, allowing 23 more in 2023 than in 2022, the third-largest year-to-year rise in baseball.

Bello’s advanced numbers don’t leap off the page, either. Of all Baseball Savant’s percentile rankings, Bello only ranks average or great in six of its 15 major categories. The only metrics Bello ranks in the 90th percentile or better are Offspeed Run-Value and GB%. So, why is Boston handing him a $55 million extension this early into his career?

Finding that answer requires a glass-half-full approach.

It’s May 10th. Boston’s in Atlanta to close out a two-game series with Bello and his then 5.71 ERA on the bump. The season is in its infancy, but with former playoff teams like Atlanta and Seattle ahead, that number might grow before it shrinks. Despite the doubts, Bello beats Atlanta’s lineup that Wednesday night. He records the win and allows six hits and two runs over six innings. It’s arguably his best start thus far.

A week later, on May 17, Bello beats Seattle, this time allowing three hits and one run over five innings. These two starts drop his ERA from 5.71 to 4.45. That trend continued through Bello’s next starts against the Los Angeles Angels and the Cincinnati Reds. By May 31, Bello had a 2.67 ERA that month, 19th in baseball, and lowered his season ERA to 3.89.

An even better June followed, with Bello posting a 2.14 ERA with a 2.51 FIP over five starts. Equally impressive is the length Bello provided. He wasn’t feasting on short outings to inflate his ERA. Bello routinely pitched six or seven innings, his shortest outing going six innings against the Tampa Bay Rays. In June, he ranked 10th in ERA and 10th in innings pitched at 33.2, just five away from first.

By the All-Star break, Bello lowered his season ERA to 3.04. Had he qualified, that ERA would’ve ranked ninth in the American League, 16th in baseball, and ahead of 10 pitchers named to the All-Star game: Zac Gallen, George Kirby, Mitch Keller, Shohei Ohtani, Kodai Senga, Josiah Gray, Spencer Strider, Pablo López, Corbin Burnes, and Michael Lorenzen. It was a sensational, albeit short run.


Notable First Half AL Pitching Performances

And therein lies the buy-in Boston requires to understand this extension. Bello closed the season with a 5.49 ERA over his last 14 starts, the fourth-worst in baseball during that time. Though Bello continued to provide length, he struggled to provide quality outings. He’d pitch six or more innings nine times in the second half, but allow three or more runs six times in those games. This drastic decline in production made him statistically one of the worst starters in the game.

However, Bello’s Sept. 20 start against the Texas Rangers and his Sept. 27 start against the Tampa Bay Rays serve as two important caveats. The right-hander allowed a combined 13 runs during those two games, eight to the Rangers and five to the Rays. He entered the two games with a 3.71 ERA on the season and a 4.50 ERA in the second half. He left them with his season-ending 4.24 ERA and 5.49 ERA in the second half. Without them, the baseline perception of Bello’s 2023 could be much different.

That’s how much influence two games have on Bello’s season statistics. They can inflate and reinterpret what, on the surface, was a successful season for a 24-year-old pitcher in his second season in the Majors. That is why the Red Sox extended him. Not because of who he looks like at first glance, but because his ERA was well below 4.00 for 19 of his 28 starts.

Dismissing Bello is understandable. Boston is banking $55 million on 14 starts, but there’s a real chance he will improve in 2024. Should that happen, paying him will be an inconceivable bargain. He would rightfully command more even if he’d waited one more year. But for Boston to sign him now saves them the fear of an increasing price tag and the opportunity to make other moves. At worst, the Red Sox have a rotation starter for cheap. At best, they’ll invite doubters to admit they were wrong.

Josh Shaw

Josh Shaw graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2022 with a Journalism degree. He's written for The New Hampshire, Pro Sports Fanatics, and PitcherList.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Account / Login