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What can we learn from Tyler Glasnow’s contract extension with the Dodgers?

What is a Tyler Glasnow worth, anyway?

MLB: World Series-Los Angeles Dodgers at Tampa Bay Rays Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The last piece of the puzzle for the Rays to ship off their $25 million ace to the Los Angeles Dodgers was for the hometown kid — Tyler Glasnow — to sign a contract extension with his new club.

Here’s what that contract extension looks like, and some quick lessons to learn from these dollar amounts:

On first blush seeing this contract: If you think wins cost around $10 million in 2024, this is the fair market value for about 14 wins above replacement over the next five years, and will surely be used as the benchmark for fellow former Rays ace Blake Snell as he looks for his next deal.

Let’s go over each of those expectations.

  • Does a win cost $10 million? Over at FanGraphs, Ben Clemens has done a periodic analysis looking at what free agent classes cost in terms of $/WAR. Back in 2018 that was $9.3 million per win. COVID made that rate dip, and while in the 2021 off-season it appeared to have only climbed down to $8.5 million, I think it’s reasonable to expect that dollar amount is inching above what rates were pre-pandemic now. Also, it’s worth noting that the cost of wins for a team finishing the finer points of its roster tends to be a bit pricier, and the cost of a win a club is willing to spend also varies club to club. The Dodgers are spenders.
  • Is 14 wins a fair expectation for five years of Tyler Glasnow? In the seasons sandwiching his Tommy John year, Glasnow was pitching at a better-than five win pace. If Glasnow continued only throwing 120 IP like he did in 2023, he would accumulate approximately 14 wins by the time five more seasons had passed. The Dodgers benefit here if he throws more than 120 innings as they look to find the heir to Clayton Kershaw in the rotation (non-Ohtani category).
  • How expensive is Blake Snell’s contract going to get? Earlier this offseason Sonny Gray signed for three years, $75 million ($25 million AAV). Glasnow’s deal is slightly richer and slightly longer at $27.3 million AAV. Given his two Cy Young seasons, I would think Snell can probably expect $30 million AAV in this market, but that’s just speculation.

Now let’s circle back around to the Rays.

  • Do the Rays value a win at $10 million? Absolutely not, which is why the largest deal they’ve ever signed in free agency is Zach Eflin’s three-year, $40 million deal. That contract was a gamble then in the same way Glasnow’s is today, as Eflin had totaled less than 200 IP over the previous two seasons combined, but fear not. Eflin has already rewarded the Rays’ faith by accumulating five wins in 2023 on a salary of just $11 million. If the market values wins at $10 million, that’s a surplus of nearly $40 million in value.
  • Was Tyler Glasnow’s contract too expensive for the Rays? No, lol. The Rays should theoretically have plenty of money at their disposal, particularly when you consider that the Rays remaining payroll commitments for 2024 are currently only $90 million, with more deals likely (Randy Arozarena, Brandon Lowe and Yandy Diaz all make $8 million or more and have plenty of trade value). Trading Glasnow was a choice.
  • Why didn’t the Rays want to hold onto Tyler Glasnow at his one year, $25 million contract? Even if Tyler Glasnow was making Zach Eflin money in 2024**, it’s reasonable to expect the Rays still would have traded Glasnow — and for an even better return* — as trading an ace for the next wave of role players is the team’s Modus Operandi. The return is a pitcher with similar risk of throwing only 120 innings and that can pitch for the league minimum at an acceptable level of performance.
  • What do you mean by acceptable? The Rays goal is not another 99-win season, it’s making the playoffs and that only requires being competitive enough in the AL East. Most years, that’s 90-wins, not 100. The Rays have no desire to go “all in” or to try repeating what the team accomplished in 2023.

So what’s the lesson of the Tyler Glasnow contract? The same lesson as always. To steward the Rays roster is to have one eye on the roster tomorrow, and one eye on a rich man’s wallet today. And its an open question as to whether the baseball gods can allow you to look after both at the same time.***

*To balance the value of the returning prospects, we have also learned that the Rays are sending $2 million in cash to the Dodgers, and have also committed to cover Manuel Margot’s $2 million payout if his team option is not exercised for 2025. In other words, what the Rays got back from the Dodgers was about $2 million more valuable than the agreed value of Glasnow and Margot.
**We will be having the same conversation about Zach Eflin when his contract rises to $18 million for 2025.
***Matthew 6:24