Locking up young players shortly after they reach the majors is all the rage these days in Major League Baseball. It should come as no surprise then that the Oakland Athletics locked up Trevor Cahill on Monday. Looking to build on his breakout season, Cahill signed a 5 year deal worth approximately $30.5 million. Oakland also holds two team options on Cahill valued at $13 million and $13.5 million. Despite Cahill’s 2010 breakout, he’s been a popular regression candidate this season. With that in mind, was Cahill a good candidate for an extension?
There have been a number of young pitchers locked up to similar deals recently, meaning we have a lot of comparable contracts to look at when evaluating this deal. Cahill’s recent extension is shockingly similar to that of Jon Lester, Ricky Romero, Clay Buchholz and Yovani Gallardo. Each one of those pitchers signed five-year extensions for about $30 million (to a tee). Cahill, however, doesn’t compare favorably when he’s put up against those pitchers. By the time each of the above pitchers had signed their extensions, all of them had posted a higher single season WAR than Cahill. Cahill also carries the lowest K/9 rate of all these starters, which isn’t necessarily something to be concerned about with Cahill.
Even if he rates as the worst of the above group (which is, admittedly, a pretty strong group of pitcher), his deal is team-friendly. As many FanGraphs’ readers are aware, 1 win is worth approximately $5 million. Last season, Cahill was worth 2.2 WAR, good for a little over $10 million. For those of you counting at home, Cahill earned more than a third of his new contract in 2010. Even though he’s a candidate for regression this season, Cahill has the skills that should make this deal a bargain for the A’s.
If Cahill can improve on his breakout season, Oakland will have a complete steal on their hands. Only 23, Cahill’s strikeouts in the minors haven’t translated to the big leagues quite yet. If he does manage to find his strikeout pitch, however, Cahill has the potential to be one of the strongest starters in the AL. For a pitcher like Cahill, who was always regarded as a top prospect, it would be foolish to completely count out further improvement.
If Cahill can increase his strikeout rate, Oakland should have no problem exercising his options. As Dave Cameron explained recently, adding team options to the end of a deal often benefits the team. If Cahill turns into a pumpkin, Oakland isn’t bogged down by a terrible contract. If Cahill continues to excel, however, Oakland will severely underpay him over the length of this deal (and the prime of his career).
As with most of these types of contracts, the team comes out on top again. Cahill may have a few more concerns than some of the other pitchers that received similar deals, but that shouldn’t stop him from outperforming his recent extension (barring a devastating injury). The fact that Oakland holds two team options on Cahill further sweetens the deal for the A’s. Even if Cahill is terrible over the course of the contract, Oakland won’t pay him much per season and can decline his option once he reaches that point.
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