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Analysis: Diamondbacks take necessary risk with Corbin Carroll extension

Jesse Friedman Avatar
March 12, 2023

Thirty-two games into his major-league career, outfielder Corbin Carroll has signed the largest contract extension in Diamondbacks history.

According to MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert, the deal is for eight years and $111 million. It also includes a club option for 2031 and performance escalators that could bring the total value of the deal up to nine years and $154 million.

Carroll was already under control through 2028, so the deal gives the Diamondbacks cost certainty for 2023-28 and tacks on three additional years of club control from 2029-31. For Carroll, the deal gives certainty of life-changing money and still allows him to enter free agency at age 31.

The extension falls in line with a recent trend of MLB teams extending young players very early in their careers. Some teams have gone as far as extending players that have never played a major-league game.

The D-backs didn’t go quite that far in this case, but Carroll is far from a well-seasoned veteran. He has logged just 115 big-league plate appearances. Throw in all of his minor-league experience, and he still has just 772 professional plate appearances. Think about that: In 772 plate appearances, Carroll went from facing relatively poor high school pitching in Washington state to signing a $111 million extension in the majors.

For the D-backs, making such a big investment in a player who has proven so little in the big leagues is undeniably risky. But it’s a risk they arguably had to take.

To illustrate, consider a world in which the Diamondbacks had not extended Carroll. If he were to win the N.L. Rookie of the Year Award in 2023 — as many expect he will — his price tag would escalate dramatically. Just ask the Seattle Mariners.

News of the Mariners’ extension with Julio Rodríguez broke on Aug. 26 of last year, when Rodríguez was slashing .271/.330/.476 with 20 homers, 64 RBI, 23 stolen bases and a 133 wRC+ in his rookie season over 458 plate appearances. At that point, there was no question that Rodriguez was a star — and the Mariners paid handsomely for it. Rodriguez’s deal guarantees 13 years and $210 million, but it can escalate to a record-breaking $470 million.

Granted, Carroll is not the same player as Rodriguez. The Mariners’ center fielder has more raw power, and his ceiling is probably a touch higher. However, Carroll slashed .260/.330/.500 in his first stint in the big leagues last year. That slash line is nearly identical to what Rodriguez had when he signed his $210 million extension. If Carroll were to maintain that level of performance over, say, 450 plate appearances, the Diamondbacks might be looking at a similar price tag.

Instead, the D-backs get Carroll for $111 million. That’s still a lot of money. But, considering the other early-career extensions that have happened over the last two years or so, it’s pretty much right where it should be.

The Atlanta Braves’ extension with Michael Harris at the midway point of the 2022 season is probably the best comparison. After signing the deal, Harris went on to win the N.L. Rookie of the Year Award behind a .297/.339/.514 slash line, 19 homers and 20 stolen bases.

While those numbers look awesome — and the D-backs would be overjoyed if Carroll could do something similar — Harris was never as highly touted of a prospect as Carroll. Harris also had concerning strikeout and walk rates last year at 24.2 and 4.8 percent, respectively. He will need to improve his approach to continue being the player that he was last year. Ultimately, while the Harris contract is a helpful comp, there are good reasons to explain why it came in significantly lower than Carroll’s deal with the D-backs.

To really understand Carroll’s deal, it’s helpful to look at the year-by-year breakdown.

The number that stands out most is $28 million. That’s what the D-backs will pay Carroll in both 2029 and 2030, both of which would have been free-agent years had this extension not been signed. Essentially, the D-backs are gaining cost certainty over the six years of control they already had while also buying out Carroll’s first two years of free agency at $28 million a piece. The deal also gives the team the opportunity to buy an additional year of Carroll in the form of a $28 million club option for 2031.

As of now, $28 million would be the second-highest annual salary any Diamondbacks player has ever earned, trailing only the $31 million per year that Zack Greinke raked in from 2016-18. Greinke earned that contract after 12 years of playing in the big leagues. Carroll earned his deal after just over one month in the big leagues.

That might sound crazy, but what is undoubtedly crazier is the amount of money that Carroll could command if he becomes a bonafide star and hits the open market at age 28. Based on free-agent contracts from the past few years, that price could easily be north of $200 million — even $300 million — and last 10-plus years through Carroll’s upper-30s or even lower-40s. Going on 26 years as a franchise, the Diamondbacks have never made that kind of commitment to anyone.

The Carroll extension represents a healthy compromise for the Diamondbacks. Is it a risk? Yes. Could it also be the only realistic way to keep Carroll in Arizona beyond his rookie contract? Quite possibly, yes.

For now, no one can say for sure whether Carroll will be worth the $28 million per year that the Diamondbacks are committing to in 2029 and 2030, or, to a lesser extent, the money they are committed to over the six seasons. But, if his performance in late 2022 is any indication, it is entirely possible that he is worth that and more right now.

Ultimately, Carroll’s contract looks like a win for both sides. Carroll is guaranteed generational wealth despite having hardly played a month in the majors. The Diamondbacks get two extra years of the fastest man in baseball at what looks like a reasonable price. From what Carroll has shown in his short pro career, it’s hard to believe that he won’t be worth every penny.

Follow Jesse Friedman on Twitter

Top photo: Rob Schumacher/The Republic

Jesse Friedman, Derek Montilla and Jacob Franklin discussed the Corbin Carroll extension live on the PHNX D-backs Podcast shortly after the news broke. Listen to the audio version here.

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