Would extension make sense for Mike Soroka, Braves?

Credit: AJC

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Here's a quick by-the-numbers look at the career of Braves pitcher Mike Soroka.

Credit: AJC

As of now, the Braves and starter Mike Soroka are headed to an arbitration hearing next month. That prompted the thought: Whether it’s in the next few weeks or down the line, the Braves would be wise to explore an early extension with their budding ace, who as a Super-Two player will be eligible for arbitration four times.

Soroka, 23, is the organization’s most prized pitcher. He emerged as the Braves’ crown jewel after they spent years of accumulating pitching prospects. In 2019, Soroka’s first full season, he had a 2.68 ERA with a 142:41 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He earned All-Star honors — the youngest pitcher in Braves history to do so — and finished sixth in Cy Young voting.

There wasn’t an encore in 2020, however, because Soroka tore his Achilles in his third start of the abridged campaign. It was an enormous blow to a Braves team that finished one game away from a World Series berth. Their hope is Soroka’s return will help push them over that final hump.

ExploreMike Soroka compared with Greg Maddux

So if the Braves believe he’ll recapture his 2019 form - and they seem confident in such, with Soroka likely to return sometime early in the coming season - there should be motivation for both sides to explore an extension.

A long-term commitment, say four or five years, provides Soroka financial security. While the contract would buy out a free-agent year or two, Soroka would still be positioned to hit the market in his late 20s. For the Braves, they secure one of their more promising young players while having a known number on the books. Cost certainty always is a plus.

What’s the price for a pitcher under these circumstances? It’s difficult to speculate because circumstances are always unique. But we’ll go off recent history and find a reasonable range.

For one, Soroka has accrued 2.146 years of service time. The Braves last signed a pitcher with such little service time in 2014, when they gave Julio Teheran a six-year deal worth $32.4 million after Teheran had just over a year in the bigs.

Soroka’s price will be much higher. The Rays extended Blake Snell for four years, $50 million in March 2019, when the 26-year-old was fresh off winning the Cy Young award. It was the biggest deal given to a player with two years of service, covering the 2019 season, three arbitration seasons and one season of free agency.

Luis Severino, who had 2.170 years of service time, received a five-year, $40 million deal from the Yankees in 2019. Colorado’s German Marquez (2.027) signed a four-year, $42.44 million contract the same year. In February, the Mariners extended Marco Gonzales (2.102) for four years, $30 million.

While Severino had two All-Star seasons under his belt, Marquez and Gonzales had none. Both were proven innings eaters who provided needed reliability for their teams, but they didn’t offer Soroka’s upside. The current financial climate complicates the conversation, but could Soroka reasonably seek an extension closer to Snell’s?

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Braves pitcher Mike Soroka delivers a pitch against the New York Mets during the first inning Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, at Truist Park in Atlanta. He would leave the game with a torn Achilles. (Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Braves pitcher Mike Soroka delivers a pitch against the New York Mets during the first inning Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, at Truist Park in Atlanta. He would leave the game with a torn Achilles.  (Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Combined ShapeCaption
Braves pitcher Mike Soroka delivers a pitch against the New York Mets during the first inning Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, at Truist Park in Atlanta. He would leave the game with a torn Achilles. (Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Soroka has made 37 major-league starts, seeing two of his first three seasons ended prematurely by injuries (he was shut down with shoulder inflammation after five starts in 2018). Snell made 74 starts over three seasons before signing his deal. He had a 1.89 ERA across 31 starts in his Cy Young-winning 2018 campaign.

Would a contract somewhere between Severino’s and Snell’s appeal to both parties? The Braves likely would want to cover the arbitration years and at least one free-agent season. On paper, Soroka’s resume doesn’t yet match Snell’s, but that could change by next winter. Patience could be more desirable.

Perhaps the better time for an extension is next winter, when the MLB-wide financial outlook is clearer and Soroka’s value is more defined. If he puts together a full, heathy season when he returns, his price will go up. Of course, there’s always the flip side, and if Soroka suffers another injury or struggles, that changes the conversation.

An immediate extension would carry some risk and upside – just as Ronald Acuna’s and Ozzie Albies’ contracts did, though neither dealt with injuries beforehand. If the Braves believe in the player, and all indications are that they do, it would be smart to be proactive in getting a deal done. From the player’s perspective, he’d be guaranteeing himself (likely) more than $40 million with his best years still ahead.

It isn’t an easy negotiation, but there’s logic for the team and player. We’ll see if it eventually results in a pact.