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Miami Marlins Pitcher Sandy Alcantara (22) stares down a batter during the Saturday twilight MLB game between the Atlanta Braves and the Miami Marlins

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Why Marlins should extend Sandy Alcantara now (and what it should cost)

Alcantara wants to stay in Miami. Fish Stripes attempts to create a fair deal for both sides.

Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Almost IMMEDIATELY after this article published Monday morning, Craig Mish reported that a deal is imminent! I think my analysis holds up pretty well...

Speaking to the media at the Marlins’ annual Thanksgiving meals distribution event on Friday, Sandy Alcantara confirmed that he and the team have had ongoing contract extension negotiations. This came just days after the Sports Grid’s Craig Mish characterized those talks as a “stalemate” situation and less than two weeks after Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported that the team is considering whether to shop its veteran starters (including Alcantara).

You can hear it in Sandy’s voice and Mish’s sources corroborate it: the Marlins don’t feel any urgency to get this extension done. After all, they hold three more years of club control over him (via arbitration).

I’m here to tell you that they will regret letting this linger. Extending Sandy Alcantara should be the top priority for the Marlins front office between now and December 1, when the MLB collective bargaining agreement expires and a lockout is expected to ensue.

A long-term deal for Alcantara would represent by far the largest financial commitment that the Marlins have made to any individual player since new ownership arrived four-plus years ago (more details on those calculations later). It’s a risk, but he’s worth it.

Although starting pitching has been the strength of the Marlins during the Bruce Sherman/Derek Jeter era, that unit’s production often gets exaggerated. The discourse I’ve seen conveniently ignores the role that their home ballpark plays in suppressing runs. Since 2018, Marlins starters only rank 18th among MLB teams in innings pitched, 22nd in FanGraphs’ adjusted earned run average and 25th in wins above replacement. They are dead last in walk rate during that span.

Credit Alcantara for buoying the rotation to respectability.

2018-2021 Marlins starting pitching staff, Sandy Alcantara compared to the team’s overall stats FanGraphs

Alcantara’s overall numbers don’t do him justice. Simply put, he was the Marlins’ most valuable player in 2021. He led their pitching staff in every conceivable counting stat while striking batters out and limiting baserunners at career-best rates. He authored several of the team’s most electrifying individual game performances, including 12 strikeouts on Dominican Heritage night and a 14-strikeout complete game.

This recent success looks sustainable. Alcantara’s earned run average bested his fielder independent pitching mark, but that has been the case every single year dating back to his days at Double-A. The movement on his signature sinker makes it inherently difficult to square up, and the velocity he added to all of his pitches in 2021 contributed to extra swinging strikes.

Past injuries are the strongest indicators of future injuries, which should further incentivize the Marlins to extend Alcantara. He has been placed on the injured list only twice in his professional career: in 2018 with an infection around his armpit and in 2020 after testing positive for COVID. No structural issues to worry about.

The main flaw in Alcantara’s game? His batting. Even by pitcher standards, his lifetime -51 wRC+ and 70.7 K% are embarrassing. Thankfully, his responsibilities at the plate will soon go away, as MLB insiders anticipate the implementation of a universal designated hitter rule in the league’s next collective bargaining agreement.

The Marlins on Wednesday introduced their annual Holiday Bundle package, centered around tickets to Opening Day vs. the Braves at LoanDepot Park. Wouldn’t the typical fan be more willing to buy the bundle if they knew Alcantara would be starting that game? Extending him would leave zero doubt.

There is no “Sandy Alcantara 2.0” in the pipeline. Several Marlins prospects have comparable potential, but it’s critical to make the distinction between players’ ceilings and their median career outcomes. Edward Cabrera, Max Meyer and Sixto Sánchez are each universally regarded as top-30 MLB pitching prospects. Eury Pérez will be getting the same industry-wide respect in the near future. However, none of them can be reasonably projected to turn into a top-of-the-rotation workhorse. That’s the hope, not the baseline expectation.

Teammates Pablo López and Trevor Rogers are already thriving in the majors. These are outstanding pitchers who will help the Marlins staff in 2022 and beyond. That being said, it’d be premature to trust either to lead a team with postseason aspirations. Can López complete a six-month season without any shoulder injury setbacks? Can Rogers keep batters off balance deep into his starts with just a three-pitch arsenal? They both have more to prove.

Alcantara defied the odds to get here. He arrived in Miami via the Marcell Ozuna trade with legitimate concerns about his command, secondary pitches and overall efficiency. As recently as the midpoint of his 2019 All-Star campaign, he was plagued by inconsistency. Flipping the script to establish himself as a quality start machine is more a testament to his intangibles—coachability, determination, adaptability, etc.—than it is his natural talent. He’s an anomaly and should be appreciated for that.

Fish Stripes original GIF

There continues to be a misnomer about MLB contract extensions, that they represent a “marriage” between the team and its player. Fish Stripes readers (I hope) aren’t so naive after experiencing the departures of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Dee Strange-Gordon and others. Signing Alcantara long term does not guarantee that he will complete the deal in a Marlins uniform, nor should it! Circumstances can change in a myriad of ways as the years go by. It is entirely possible that, eventually, trading him turns out to be the most appropriate move.

In the meantime, the Marlins have an opportunity to contend. Alcantara is more instrumental to taking advantage of this window than any combination of players they could obtain in exchange for him. Even an organization that has an impressive track record of developing pitchers ought to recognize the importance of locking in a steady rotation leader and lifting the morale of a frustrated fanbase.


What should the structure of a Sandy Alcantara contract look like? Consider these three recently extended pitchers:

  • Aaron Nola (signed February 2019 with Phillies)—At the time of his agreement, Nola was approximately Alcantara’s equal in terms of age and MLB service time. However, any way you slice it, his platform year was more spectacular, resulting in a third-place finish in NL Cy Young award voting. Including signing bonus installments, Nola earned $4.5 million in 2019, $8.5 million in 2020 and $12.25 million in 2021. I think that represents the ceiling for what Alcantara could make by selling his arb-eligible years right now.
  • Antonio Senzatela (signed October 2021 with Rockies)—The length of Senzatela’s deal, which covers six total years (club option at the end), feels appropriate for Sandy. That way, he could lock in life-changing money and still test the open market at age 32. Although a year closer to free agency than Alcantara, Senzatela lacks elite upside. His $50.5 million guarantee would be an underpay for Miami’s Dominican right-hander. The maximum value of his extension—$72.5 million—is a better frame of reference.
  • José Berríos (signed November 2021 with Blue Jays)—This seven-year, $131 million commitment was stunning at first glance, but it’s less applicable to Alcantara than the previous two. Berríos was already entering his final season of club control and therefore had more leverage. I bring it up because Alcantara (121 ERA+ since 2017) and Berríos (117 ERA+ since 2017) are very comparable pitchers in terms of durability and run prevention. Toronto valued Berríos’ free agent years at $20 million apiece on average and granted him the freedom to opt out after the fifth year. I imagine Alcantara’s camp is pushing for that kind of salary and flexibility.

My Sandy Alcantara contract proposal: six years, $75 million guaranteed (2022-2027); up to $3 million per year from 2025-2027 in performance bonuses based on innings, All-Star selections and Cy Young award finishes; no opt-outs or club options

The year-by-year breakdown would be $4M in 2022, $8M in 2023, $12M in 2024, $17M annually (up to $20M with bonuses) in 2025-2027. That’s a max value of $84M.

The backloaded structure allows the Marlins to focus the majority of their spending over the next few years on upgrading the team’s offense. Alcantara, who takes tremendous pride in his “ace” label, can get rewarded for living up to it during the back half of the deal. Both sides show their loyalty to each other by declining to include opt-outs or club options.

Poll

What do you think of this Sandy Alcantara contract proposal?

  • 9%
    Too much for Sandy
    (9 votes)
  • 11%
    Not enough for Sandy
    (11 votes)
  • 78%
    Fair deal
    (74 votes)
94 votes total Vote Now
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