What the Byron Buxton extension means for Adalberto Mondesi
The hot stove is on fire. The Royals are playing it cool.
With baseball on a collision course for a lockout, teams and players are scrambling to get business done before the current CBA expires this week. Free agents are signing in a November frenzy not seen in years. Trades are being discussed. And extensions are being signed. The latest, and most noteworthy, occurred in Minnesota at the end of the holiday weekend.
Byron Buxton and the Twins agreed to a seven year contract worth $100 million with a full no-trade clause. And some interesting bonus money that can be collected.
Ken Rosenthal @Ken_RosenthalBuxton deal with Twins, per source: Seven years, $100M. Full no-trade clause.
Upon hearing this news, naturally, for followers of the Royals, thoughts turned to Adalberto Mondesi. Makes sense. Mondesi, like Buxton, has had difficulty remaining healthy over the course of his career, but for those brief moments when everything is clicking, has been a breathtaking player.
I completely understand the desire to compare the two. Both are young players who have all the potential to be game-changers on their own. Both have missed substantial time through frustrating injuries.
But for me, that’s where the comparisons end.
Maybe not exactly. Let’s look at each player’s age 23 season. I chose that particular year for each because it’s the only time both Buxton and Mondesi were on the field in a season for more than 100 games.
Buxton’s age 23 season was more productive, both offensively and with the cumulative WAR stat. Both players were below league average offensively. Yet both were electric. Mondesi swiped 32 bags, Buxton 29. Buxton hit 16 home runs, Mondesi 14. Buxton posted a .339 BABIP, Mondesi a .335 BABIP.
At that point, the 2017 season was the best of Buxton’s career. For Mondesi, his breakout actually came a year prior to his age 23 season. In 2018 the shortstop played in 75 games and finished with a 113 wRC+ and 2.8 fWAR.
In fact, up to their respective age 23 seasons, the two players posted similar cumulative numbers. Prior to the 2017 season, Buxton collected 469 plate appearances in parts of two seasons. Prior to the 2019 season, Mondesi had an even 500 plate appearances. Experience-wise, they were both about the same. Production-wise…it was likewise similar. Buxton hit .220/.274/.398 and was good for a 1.6 fWAR. Mondesi hit .238/.273/.406 and posted a 2.0 fWAR.
You can see why the two players are so often comped. Their numbers, rates and experience…along with their tantalizing potential as former top prospects, were strikingly similar through their age 23 seasons.
It’s after their age 23 season’s where their stories diverge.
Buxton appeared in only 20 games in 2018 and was dreadful in his extremely limited action. However, since then he’s been incredibly productive, even in his limited time. Mondesi meanwhile, was awful in the first month of the Covid-shortened 2020 season before he flipped the script and was brilliant in that September. In 2021, he showed flashes, but as you know, was never on the field consistently enough in the first five months of the season to string together any kind of production.
Since Buxton is a year and a half older than Mondesi, the comparison isn’t exactly as tidy, but here’s how the shortstop has done since his highwater mark in plate appearances as a 23-year-old.
Buxton has taken that offensive step forward. Forget about the disparities in playing time for a moment. Buxton owns a 100 point advantage in slugging and an 80 point edge in isolated power. He’s been better than league average offensively since his age 24 season. Meanwhile, Mondesi has remained offensively challenged.
The plate appearances (and total innings played) is about 2:1 in Buxton’s favor. So even if we double Mondesi’s fWAR to bring him up to the experience of the center fielder, he’s still almost half as valuable.
And now Buxton is in what should be the prime years of his career.
I think the desire to compare Buxton to Mondesi and vice versa is similar to most baseball comparisons we see—lazy. Just because both players have had similar experiences on the surface, doesn’t mean those similarities continue through their careers. Injuries, age and potential are fine if those are starting points for comparison. And lord knows, we don’t really have a lot to draw from when it comes to major league experience for either player. Yet, the production—and the experience—we do have, counts. Buxton has been a much better ballplayer. And it’s not even close.
Buxton has three consecutive seasons of above-average offensive production. Mondesi has improved but has yet to perform to a similar standard Buxton has reached in each of the last three seasons.
Knowing this, would you extend Mondesi to something similar? A seven-year contract with a base AAV of around $14 million with escalators and bonuses built in to properly reward the player if he’s able to stay healthy for the full season? I would have been enticed by such a contract following his age 22 season (adjusted for service time considerations), but three years removed, he has yet to prove that he deserves such a commitment. The comp is in what Mondesi could have received. Had he been more productive over his limited playing time. Certainly, there’s still time to get on the right course for the shortstop—Buxton as pointed out above, struggled in his age 24 season and Mondesi is just one year removed from his—but right now…at this moment? There’s no team in baseball handing Mondesi seven years of anything.
Despite his ability to do this:
If the Royals were interested in locking down Mondesi to any kind of extension, I would assume it would buy out his remaining two years of club control, his first year of free agency and then perhaps a couple of club option years. And there would have to be playing time escalators involved, similar to the Buxton contract.
The dollar amount is a little more difficult for me to figure. MLB Trade Rumors projects Mondesi will earn around $3.2 million in 2022. Maybe $10 million would cover his club control years. Then perhaps around $12 million for that first year of free agency and club option years. Let’s round up and say it’s five years and close to $50 million. With bonuses and buyouts and all that. (Disclaimer. I’m not great at this contract speculation.) Would Mondesi do that? Would the Royals?
I’ve made it this far without even mentioning the presence of one Bobby Witt, Jr. on the club. That matters. Is it even necessary to talk Mondesi extension, where there’s a player waiting—and ready—to step in? Both players represent gambles. Which one brings the less risk? The highest potential reward? The answer today is different than the one following Mondesi’s age 22 season.
Of course, the danger (which I’ve written about previously) is that Mondesi plods through the next two seasons, departs as a free agent and then blossoms in a new environment. In that situation, the Royals could conceivably show nothing in return.
Mondesi, by his inability to stay on the field with any kind of regularity, has cost himself security and financial rewards. A contract extension isn’t forthcoming this winter. With the pending arrival of Witt Jr., the window on such discussions may have closed permanently. Whatever happens, 2022 will be a pivotal year for Mondesi to set him on the course for his major league future.
When this offseason started, I had a grand plan to feature looks at several players the Royals could potentially pursue when looking to add to the roster for the upcoming season. After the stasis of the last couple of winters, and with a lockout all but certain, I figured there was plenty of time to do a nice, leisurely and thorough look at these players.
And then November happened.
Seriously. All it takes is the threat of a lockout and major league teams decide to get busy? Potential Royals targets would have included:
All but Cobb are off the board. There was no indication the Royals were in on any of these starters. I’m just saying that there’s a need and these guys, along with Matz, represented a tidy middle-tier of experience and performance that would have enticed any team looking for depth.
I only got around to writing about Steven Matz prior to Thanksgiving. That’s a newsletter fail if you’re keeping score on your inbox. The market is evolving at a rapid rate. The hot stove…the pots are boiling. I mean nothing against Manny Piña, but he got a two year, $8 million deal to be a backup catcher in Atlanta. That’s something I don’t think anyone saw coming.
And now, here we are…a handful of hours ahead of the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement between the player’s union and the league. The only thing the two sides have agreed upon in the last year it seems is to move up the deadline to tender contracts to Tuesday, so players who are cut loose by their current teams have a few hours to latch on with new clubs.
Speaking of the upcoming deadline to tender contracts, the Royals have decisions to make on the following players. Each is listed with their projected salary from Major League Trade Rumors.
Andrew Benintendi – $9.3MM
Adalberto Mondesi – $3.2MM
Brad Keller – $5.2MM
Cam Gallagher – $900K
Scott Barlow – $2.4MM
Ryan O’Hearn – $1.4MM
Nicky Lopez – $2.0MM
The list was originally longer, but the Royals jettisoned Hanser Alberto and Jakob Junis earlier this winter. Looking at the list above, there’s really only one decision to make. Benintendi is a top defender and is a candidate for an extension. Mondesi was discussed above. Keller solidifies the back of the rotation. Gallagher is a servicable (and affordable) backup, especially given the Piña contract and the market for second-string backstops. Barlow was the Royals’ best reliever last summer. Lopez is coming off his breakout season and qualifies as a super two.
That leaves just O’Hearn.
You don’t non-tender O’Hearn because he’s too expensive. You non-tender O’Hearn because you can get his production from just about any random left-handed hitter who has 1,000 Triple-A plate appearances. There is a fascination there (or a long leash or a bizarre commitment) that belies sound baseball judgement. You know what you have and what you have isn’t really worth keeping around if you are looking to improve your standing in an increasingly competitive division. That may sound harsh, but you have to believe the Royals themselves think this…Why else would they have signed free agent Carlos Santana last winter?