Is It Time for the Nationals to Give CJ Abrams a Contract Extension?

Is It for the Nationals to Give CJ Abrams a Contract Extension?

The regular season is underway and we’re now through the first week of games the Washington Nationals front office would be wise to put their focus towards extending one of their young and rising superstars. A handful of teams this offseason did the same with the Detroit Tigers top infield prospect Colt Keith agreeing to a pre-debut extension worth $28.6M over six years and the Kansas City Royals giving $288M to Bobby Whitt Jr., committing the next 11 seasons to their phenom shortstop.

Now, in the past, the term “extension” has not always fared well with the Nats front office. Over the last decade despite a pipeline of superstars that have come through with the likes of Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, Max Scherzer, and Trea Turner, the club has only managed to extend one player from that era: Stephen Strasburg (seven years, $245M). Since winning the World Series the most recent long-term extension that the Nats have made was last spring when Keiburt Ruiz signed an eight-year, $50M extension to be locked in D.C. through the 2032 season. Ruiz’s extension leads to the idea that the next step to cast the contract demons of the past is for GM Mike Rizzo to extend another piece of the Nats young core to a long-term deal with that being shortstop CJ Abrams.

Abrams, 23, was headlined in the haul of prospects amongst the blockbuster trade that sent Juan Soto from D.C. to the San Diego Padres trade in the summer of 2022. When Abrams arrived with the Nats he was a consensus top top prospect in baseball. The then 21-year-old struggled in just 46 games with the Padres slashing a .232/.285/.320 line. After being dealt his post-trade numbers slightly increased giving him the chance to be the teams everyday shortstop. In the last 44 games in D.C., he started slashing to a .258/.276/.327 line seeing 34 more plate appearances than he did with San Diego.

Last season, or mainly during the final half of the year, the youngster took that leap and over his last 88 games he slashed .265/.325/.442 with 33 extra-base hits in 381 trips to the plate. During that time he also stole 41 bases in 43 attempted, which was later turned into a Nats single-season record of 47 on the year. The stolen base numbers mixed with the underrated slugging numbers made Abrams a quality offensive threat being moved to the leadoff spot during that time as well. Across the whole season, he played in 151 games batting .245 with 18 home runs (52 XBH), 64 RBI, and a 2.1 WAR which was good for 14th among all eligible shortstops. Abrams glove work also made levels of improvement, during the 2023 season with a +4 DRS (defensive runs saved), a number putting him in the same conversations with Bo Bichette and Javier Baez.

Given the minimal track record having in a sense one season of being an everyday shortstop under his belt, an extension for Abrams comes with plenty of risk. In the circumstance that Abrams is to break out this year and reaches his ceiling it should be enough to sign him to an extension, the young, talented infielder has shown flashes of success but has struggled with being a consistent player over the course of his first year with the Nats. At the same time extensions for young players have become a normality. With Whitt’s extension from Kansas City this offseason it showed how pricey a long-term deal can become with a player establishing themselves at the big league level. There have also been instances when a player has not “established” themselves and earned a big payday. Top prospect outfielder Jackson Chourio was signed to an eight-year, $82M deal before playing in a big league game with the Milwaukee Brewers. Diamondbacks OF Corbin Carroll who was also linked to an eight-year, $111M extension after appearing in just 32 games in a September call-up during the ’22 season. It takes commitment from both sides and yes, it is risky but that is how you have to roll the dice in this game.

Compared to the other deals that have been passed out to younger talents across the league it’s fair to assume that Abrams would receive a deal north of $60M, giving him the largest guaranteed deal to a shortstop with one and two years of service in the bigs. With Ruiz’s eight-year deal from last spring, it could be a similarly structured contract of around eight years projecting it out to around $60-70M. It seems realistic to get done. Abrams is not set to become a free agent until the end of the 2028 season but a cornerstone piece entering his mid-twenties it would be smart to lock him up during this window before he’s an established star. A long-term deal establishes control over him without the headache of knowing if he will stick around down the line.

Through the first week of games this season, Abrams has brought the momentum from last year. Through six games he’s hitting .333 (8-of-24) with two home runs, and five RBI, he’s scored five times while swiping three bags which were all in one game against Cincinnati. In Thursday’s 7-4 loss against Pittsburgh, he launched a 436-foot home run to deep right center. It’s a small sample size as the seasons just started but it’s encouraging to see the strides he’s taken. Patient at-bats are leading to more walks and more pitches seen. He’s starting to quell any fear that there will be any negative regression this season.

Nothing is guaranteed for a player to automatically sign back in the future and Nats fans know all too well about situations like these. Having to move on from the homegrown star power that this franchise has seen and then lost the last few seasons is not fun. Between Juan Soto turning down $440M before getting dealt to the West Coast and Bryce Harper turning down $300M+ before signing with Philadelphia – don’t mess this one up, Rizzo.

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