"“Adley Rutschman is the best baseball boy.” – Josh Linn"
Since making his MLB debut in May, Adley Rutschman has slugged and hugged his way into the hearts of Orioles fans and has evoked debate about where he ranks among the league’s elite catchers in the process. His defensive prowess was unquestionable from day one and the metrics have proven it. No Orioles hitter has been more productive since his debut. Among his contemporaries at the position, only Phillies catcher JT Realmuto has accumulated more WAR since the day Rutschman became an Oriole.
Considering Rutschman’s rare skillset and recent comments from GM Mike Elias suggesting a desire to increase the Orioles payroll in the off-season, sitting down at the negotiating table to discuss a contract extension is of paramount importance to the club. Contract extensions for players with one year of service time or fewer have become more common in the modern era of baseball, with Evan Longoria’s six-year extension with the Rays in 2008 being one of the first examples.
The Orioles should begin contract discussions with Adley Rutschman as soon as possible, but what should they expect the cost to be?
There are a few reference points from which an educated guess as to the value of a potential extension for Adley Rutschman can be formed. The first of which is the most recent high profile extension given to another precocious talent, Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco. Franco agreed to an 11-year, $182 million deal following the 2021 season, nearly doubling Ronald Acuña Jr.’s $100 million dollar re-up that was signed in 2019 (sidenote: what wizard working for the Braves keeps locking players in at ridiculous discounts?). Franco was four years younger than Rutschman is currently, but both became productive players almost immediately and have similar ceilings.
Another is the list of the league’s highest-paid catchers. The current top earner at the position is the aforementioned Realmuto, who inked a 5 year, $115 million contract in the winter of 2021. The average annual value (AAV) of $23.1 million sits comfortably above fellow bag getters Salvador Perez ($20.5m) and Yasmani Grandal ($18.25m). Realmuto is the most similar to Rutschman in terms of current ability, though Realmuto signed his deal headed into his age-30 season and was available in the free agent market with his price ostensibly driven higher by competing offers.
After carefully combing through the information, I present to you an educated guess as to what Adley Rutschman’s potential contract extension could look like:
- 2023: $6,000,000
- 2024: $7,500,000
- 2025: $12,500,000
- 2026: $18,000,000
- 2027: $24,000,000
- 2028: $24,000,000
- 2029: $27,500,000
- 2030: $27,500,000
Total: 8 years, $147 million ($18.375 million AAV)
Rutschman will earn a full year of service time if he finishes in the top two in AL Rookie of the Year voting and considering his play, that is beginning to look like a formality. In that case, this extension would negate the remaining two years of making the minimum and his three arbitration years as well as “buying out” the first three years of his would-be free agency; the additional salary in 2023 and 2024 alone would pay Rutschman roughly $12 million more than he would earn playing for the minimum salary.
An eight year deal would also see Rutschman become a free agent at the age of 33 and while not guaranteed, it is entirely plausible that Rutschman will still be a valuable player who could continue to play and earn more money.
This would be the third most expensive contract for a catcher in history, trailing only Joe Mauer and Buster Posey. The AAV would be third behind Realmuto and Perez among current players, though it’s important to consider that their respective teams didn’t have the benefit of buying out cost-controlled seasons. The contract would be three years shorter and $35 million less than Wander Franco’s deal, however the AAV would be $2 million higher.
Adley Rutschman has already cemented himself as a cornerstone of the Orioles franchise and is just beginning his upward trajectory towards superstardom. His value is only going to increase and it would be prudent for Elias to attempt to secure Rutschman long term now before the cost grows and the temptation of free agency becomes too much to resist.
Birdland saw a similar story unfold when the previous front office chose not to negotiate an extension with Manny Machado and was later forced to trade the upcoming free agent for pennies on the dollar, but the tenor of the Elias front office has stood in stark contrast to his predecessor, and hopefully that leads to a different tact being used when it comes to the Orioles latest prodigious talent.