The Stieb Effect: Are Blue Jays Extensions On The Horizon

Thirty eight years ago this week, franchise icon Dave Stieb signed a precedent-setting 11 year, 16.6 million dollar contract extension. Given the presence of several future franchise players on the current roster, will terms of the new CBA make additional  contract extensions a reality.


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With expectations and positional needs driving speculation about immediate free agent deals getting done before Opening Day, it may seem strange to ponder the possibilities of contract extensions for Toronto’s core players. Yes,  GM Ross Atkins and his colleagues are far more focused on adding to the core of the 2022 roster than aggressively pursue contract extensions for the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Jordan Romano and Alek ManoahThat does not mean Blue Jays fans should not start salivating over the possibilities of such deals and lend their voices to the chorus asking for them to happen-NOW.

 

The anniversary of ace starter Dave Stieb and Toronto agreeing to an 11 year, $16.6 million  contract extension on March 9, 1985 is a historical milestone. The eleven year term of the deal was unprecedented for a pitcher at that time. When you added in the deferred money in the form of a $10 million annuity, the potential total value of the deal exceeded $25 million. For Blue Jays fans, it set an organizational standard for the signing of players to extensions that provided cost certainties during arbitration years and, in many instances, multiple years of free agency.

 

The Stieb Effect

Let’s take a closer look at the Stieb contract. First, consider the environment in which the idea of such a monster deal was hatched. In 1982, Stieb lost a bitter arbitration hearing and immediately demanded a trade. Over the course of the season cooler heads prevailed and the emerging staff ace realized how happy he was playing in Toronto. Especially since the investment the Jays had made in their farm system since being expanded into existence were starting to bear fruit. GM Pat Gillick engaged Stieb’s agent Bob LaMonte in talks about a multi-year extension during the season. These negotiations resulted in a 6 year extension announced during 1983 Spring Training, which paid the righthander $750 thousand in 1983, with $50 thousand incremental raises in each of the remaining years. Though per the established team policy of not offering guaranteed contracts longer than 3 years, 1985 would mark the final guaranteed year of the deal.

 

Gillick and  Team President Paul Beeston were quick to realize that a larger extension needed to be finalized before the end of the guaranteed term of Stieb’s original extension. Stieb had emerged not only as the staff ace in 1983-84, but as one of the best starting pitchers in the major leagues. LaMonte had already discussed the idea of a second extension with Stieb and had began formulating the framework of the new contract. “You can get a lot of money in a lot of places and be an unhappy person,” the agent commented at the time. Before an exhibition game on March 9th, Gillick and LaMonte announced a staggering new extension for Stieb. The contract term of 11 years had never been approached by any pitcher before. While only the first 3 years and $12.6 million were guaranteed, two clauses increased the guaranteed payments. A signing bonus of $700 thousand (spread out over 4 years) and an annuity adding deferred payments boosted the total value despite Stieb only being paid $1 million during the first 3 seasons.

 

While only the first three years of the new extension were guaranteed in accordance with organizational policy, an interesting rider allowed for the 1988 and 1989 salaries to be automatically renewed at $1.5 million per year. If Stieb, already an established 200+ inning starter, pitched more than 225 innings in 1985, 1986 or 1987, then the next two years renewed. Stieb took care of that by tossing 265 innings during the division winning 1985 season. But he did not pitch more than 208 innings in any subsequent season-partly because of injuries but mainly the result of Jays manager Jimy Williams quick hook. The remaining six years of the extension would see Stieb’s salary increase by $100 thousand each year until 1995.

 

Like most long-term deals, the return on investment declined over the last years of the extension. Stieb was shut down in mid-1992 after suffering a serious arm injury and has his 1993 option declined. While he lost $6 million in salary after being released, the deferred annuity payments saw Stieb earn $500 thousand per year until 2015. This brought the total compensation package to nearly $25 million.

 

Extending the Extensions

Gillick made the buying out of arbitration and (sometimes) early years of free agency a central focus of his roster construction-a strategy that paid short and long term benefits. Starting with George Bell in 1998, he locked up Tony Fernandez and Jimmy Key (1989), closer Tom Henke in 1990, Roberto Alomar, Kelly Gruber and Devon White (1992) and John Olerud and Duane Ward (1993).

 

When Gord Ash took over the reins from his mentor, he embraced the concept of buying out arbitration years. His two biggest successes came with the Pat Hentgen (1995) and Carlos Delgado (1999) extensions. Both players outplayed their contract values, though in the case of Hentgen the Blue Jays are still paying the former Cy Young Award winner through 2025. Hentgen was represented by the same agent Dave Stieb employed (Bob LaMonte) and he secured a deferred annuity which has paid him $500 thousand a year since he retired. Typical of the Ash Era, the bad decisions far outweighed the good as evidenced by costly extensions given to Juan Guzman and Ed SpragueEven the good deals Ash made turned sour as he alienated Shawn Green and Shannon Stewart and both left soon after.

 

J.P. Ricciardi also saw the value of cost-certainties during his time stewarding the Toronto front office. He inked Vernon Wells and Eric Hinske to five year extensions that were viewed across baseball circles as very team friendly. Ricciardi also rewarded emerging ace Roy Halladay with a pair of 2 year, $40 million contracts during the 2004 and 2006 off-seasons. Aaron Hill and Alex Rios had their controllable years bought out as well, but their performances ranged from inconsistent to frustrating.

 

Alex Anthopoulos was aggressive right from the start of his tenure. AA targeted Adam Lind and Ricky Romero and both extensions were considered team-friendly cost control contracts. The crown jewel of Anthopoulous engineered extensions was given to Jose Bautista prior to the 2011 season- a 5 year $64 million for a player who was a building block for future playoff teams. Anthopoulous also locked up Edwin Encarnacion in 2012.

 

The Mark Shapiro/Ross Atkins Era  has been surprisingly devoid of significant contract extensions being explored, let alone executed. This is particularly peculiar given that Shapiro came up through the ranks in Cleveland under John Hart and Dan O’Dowd, the architects of the Indians aggressive approach to pre-arbitration extensions. They did make the wise move of buying out 2 arbitration years for Josh Donaldson in 2016. Though the rebuild and payroll reduction goals of the Blue Jays saw Donaldson dealt away instead of signing the MVP third baseman to a long-term deal. Justin Smoak was also extended in 2019. But seemingly the talk of contract extensions brings out the garlic and stakes instead of pens.

 

Will the Blue Jays Start Offering Extensions Again

The Dave Stieb Effect should be as prioritized as free agent contracts and trades now that the new CBA has been hammered out. Even with the newly negotiated Pre-Arbitration Bonus Pool in place, the $50 million annual stipends will only be distributed to approximately 150 players. While players like Vlad Jr. and Bichette most certainly will earn themselves post season bonuses during their arbitration years, that does not exclude them from being contract extension targets. The Toronto front office is no doubt keenly aware of the exploding payroll commitments already on the books for the duration of the current CBA. So while Atkins will have some freedom in negotiating contracts for their young core, more important to a longer competitive window for the club is building cost certainties into future payroll budgets.

 

There is another “effect” in place when discussing long (and short) term extensions for the teams brightest young stars- The Daddy Effect. This is not to say Vladimir Guerrero Sr. and Dante Bichette would interfere in extension talks or dissuade their sons from signing such contracts. But both Guerrero and Bichette had sustained success over their careers and were paid accordingly. The question of established generational wealth for their families is not really a factor for Vladdy or Bo when they consider contract extensions. Both players will probably reap massive financial benefits once they hit the open market as free agents. Each would command longer term guaranteed years at rates that would incrementally reflect their increasing value to the Jays. When management proposes extensions for these two burgeoning superstars, they must gauge how much each enjoys playing in Toronto and if that is motivation enough to discuss extensions. The same could be said for Cavan Biggiothough his sub-par 2021 season no doubt has damaged his value for now.

 

Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. would appear to be the most logical position players to offer extensions. Both are on the cusp of arbitration (Hernandez) and free agency (Gurriel) and both appear to be in the long-term plans for future playoff rosters. In the case of Jordan Romano and Alek Manoah, another effective season will solidify their roles as franchise staples. Do not forget Nate Pearson, who if proven to be able to stay healthy has the highest ceiling of any young Blue Jays hurler.

 

Then there are the prospects who have yet to experience the maj0r leagues. Gabriel Moreno has proven in the Arizona Fall League that his star will shine at Rogers Centre sooner than later. Orelvis Martinez needs only more at-bats at Buffalo or New Hampshire to be ready to impact the Blue Jays lineup. While it is a higher risk to offer young phenoms who have yet to take a major league mound, CJ Van Eck and Bowden Francis are not far away. First round pick Gunnar Hoglund could also prove a prime target should he prove he has fully recovered from Tommy John surgery that ended his senior year in college.

 

Should the Blue Jays seek to duplicate the landmark 11 year contract Dave Stieb signed in March of 1985? Probably not. But Blue Jays fans love them some young stars. Once finishing touches on the 2022 roster are completed, Atkins and Shapiro need to begin engaging as many of their core players in extension negotiations. We all witnessed how long it can take to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement. Let us hope the Toronto front office does not wait too long to lock up the players that have restored our faith in the Blue Jays as pennant contenders again.

 

 

 

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Fek

Jersey born, Pittsburgh resident, baseball lifer. Staff Writer jaysfromthecouch.com. Host THE ON FEK CIRCLE on JFtC YouTube Channel. Regular guest on Jays From the couch Radio Podcast. Established WPPJ Rock-a-thon benefit, which has been broadcast annually since 1981 and has raised for than $500,000 for the Early Learning Institute of Pittsburgh. IBWAA member.