Dodgers, Will Smith “Working On” Long-Term Extension

Dodgers, Will Smith “Working On” Long-Term Extension

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The Dodgers announced today that they have signed catcher Will Smith to a ten-year extension which runs through 2033. It is reportedly a guarantee of $140MM with no opt-outs for the Apex Baseball client, though with deferrals. Smith will get a $30MM signing bonus, a salary of $13.55MM in 2024, salaries of $13MM from 2025 to 2027, $9.5MM from 2028 to 2032 and $9.95MM in 2033. The deferrals will be paid out at a rate of $5MM annually from 2034 to 2043 and the deal will have a competitive balance tax hit of $12.2MM. Because this deal overwrites Smith’s previous $8.55MM salary for the 2024 season, the pact is effectively a nine-year, $131.45MM deal in terms of new money.

It’s an early birthday present for Smith, who turns 29 tomorrow and has somewhat quietly been one of the best catchers in the game in recent years. Dating back to his 2019 debut through the end of 2023, he hit 91 home runs and drew walks in 10.9% of his plate appearances. His .261/.357/.483 batting line coming into the 2024 season translates to a 128 wRC+. Among qualified catchers over that span, only Mitch Garver and Adley Rutschman had a higher wRC+. Each of those two were at 130 but in barely half as many plate appearances.

His glovework has also received strong grades, including 26 Defensive Runs Saved thus far in his career. Statcast considers him to have been roughly league average in terms of blocking and controlling the running game. It’s less enthused about his framing but FanGraphs considers him to be right around par in that department, while Baseball Prospectus considers him to be well above average. His 15.8 wins above replacement from FanGraphs since the start of 2019 are second among primary catchers, behind only J.T. Realmuto.

Smith was going into his second of three arbitration seasons. He made $5.25MM last year and avoided arbitration back in January by agreeing to a salary of $8.55MM for 2024, though that salary has now been overwritten by the aforementioned $13.55MM figure. He would have been eligible for another pass at arbitration in 2025 before qualifying for free agency after his age-30 season, but the Dodgers have locked him up instead.

The structure of the contract stands out as unusual, as a ten-year deal for a catcher is unprecedented. Per MLBTR’s Contract Tracker, which has data going back to the 2009-10 offseason, no backstop has ever signed a deal longer than eight years. Each of Joe Mauer, Buster Posey and Keibert Ruiz signed eight-year extensions, the longest deals for catchers in the past decade-plus.

Catchers generally experience a great deal of wear and tear due to the rigors of the position, which can make it difficult to achieve longevity in the position. In terms of deals three years or longer, the oldest age for the player’s final season was 37, which applies to the three-year deal Carlos Ruiz signed with the Phillies back in 2013 and an extension Yadier Molina signed with the Cardinals. Russell Martin’s five-year deal with the Blue Jays went into his age-36 season, the oldest age for the final season of any deal longer than three years for a catcher.

The Dodgers have committed to Smith for a longer term than any of those deals and later into his career. But in doing so, it seems they were able to compromise in terms of the average annual value and competitive balance tax hit, which is based on AAV. Smith’s AAV will be just $14MM before accounting for deferrals, which lower the present-day value of the deal to $12.2MM. Mauer got a guarantee of $184MM and a $23MM AAV back in 2010. Posey got $166.5MM and a $20.8MM AAV in 2023. Martin’s five-year deal came with an $82MM guarantee and $16.4MM AAV back in 2014.

That is not to suggest that Smith is as good as those players, merely to point out that the guarantee isn’t as unprecedented as the length. While the ten-year span is a new record for catchers, there are 13 deals with higher AAVs listed on the Contract Tracker.

Smith was likely looking at one shot at a life-changing deal when he hit free agency after 2025, but he’ll lock up that money now instead of waiting. Perhaps he is sacrificing some future earning power but he now foregoes any risk of a significant injury cutting into those plans. The Dodgers get to keep a catcher who has established himself as a key piece of the roster while tamping down the luxury tax hit. The length of the deal will keep it on the books for a long time but the modest salary shouldn’t be an albatross for a high-spending club like the Dodgers.

In the long run, there will inevitably be questions that need to be answered about the domino effects of this deal. Smith may need to be moved from behind the plate to a designated hitter role over time but the presence of Shohei Ohtani will prevent Smith from getting any kind of regular role in the DH slot. The Dodgers also have three catching prospects that are considered to be top 100 talents in Diego Cartaya, Dalton Rushing and Thayron Liranzo. As those players approach the majors, the club could be facing a bit of a logjam, though that would be a good problem to have and could allow the Dodgers to bolster other areas of the roster via trade.

For today, it’s a nice bit of security for both the player and the club, cementing a relationship that had a ticking clock with less than two years remaining.

Juan Toribio of MLB.com. first reported that the two sides were working on a deal. Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic first had the ten-year length while Jeff Passan of ESPN had the guarantee. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com added that there is some deferred money. Dylan Hernández of the Los Angeles Times relayed the signing bonus and the lack of opt-outs. Feinsand later provided the full breakdown and the CBT calculation.

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