The curious case of the Jonathan Schoop extension

The Detroit Tigers are well into their lengthy rebuilding process, and the results are finally starting to show. A young core of Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning leading the rotation. Exciting infield prospects like Willi Castro and Isaac Paredes. A boatload of lethal reinforcements waiting in the wings like Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene and Dillon Dingler. And of all these intriguing names, the Tigers handed a two-year, $15 million contract extension to veteran infielder Jonathan Schoop Saturday afternoon.

Usually during a team’s rebuild, they will sign a proven veteran to a one or two year contract in the hopes of flipping them at the trade deadline for prospects. That surely must have been the original thought with Schoop, but he’s proven so valuable in 2020 and 2021 that Detroit decided to hang on to him. Over his 151 games with the Tigers, Schoop has batted .286/.331/.470 with 26 homers and 87 RBIs, a well above average slash line while contributing solid defense around the infield.

One of the more surprising aspects of this is Schoop’s age. He’s been in the league since 2013, but he’ll only turn 30 this October. Given his consistent production and solid veteran leadership, there was a chance he could have made some good money this offseason. Instead, he’ll look to help pioneer the Tigers into a new era of Detroit baseball.

Schoop’s representatives, The Boras Corporation, were able to leverage a 2022 opt-out clause in his extension, which gives him some real flexibility. Schoop’s prime may be fading, but his consistency is definitely appealing to several teams. If he plays well but the Tigers trend backwards next season, Schoop could opt out and test the market. A deal along the same lines of Sonny Gray’s three-year, $30 million extension seems quite feasible if Schoop decides to opt-out.

The Tigers believe their rebuild is almost over, and while their current 54-59 record doesn’t look pretty, look at where they’ve come from since the start of the season. Detroit started 2021 with an awful 9-24 record, but have quietly bounced back with a 44-35 record since then. At this pace, the Tigers have a real chance at their first winning season since 2016, with Schoop being a major factor.

Even with Schoop playing well and the Tigers trending upwards, his extension is still a little perplexing. Locking up a potential franchise cornerstone like Mize or Skubal secures players that a team can build around, and it’s fans can embrace. Schoop has been a solid piece, and while the money on his contract isn’t insane by any means, committing money to him and giving him the option to leave in just one year seems contradicting. That’s not a knock on Schoop by any stretch; he’s earned his chance to make some real money after having to settle for small one-year deals each of the past three seasons.

The Tigers are rumored to pursue some big name additions this offseason to finally complete their rebuild, so they might have wanted to save some money from an extension of some of their younger players which would have certainly cost more. But with the White Sox looking stronger than ever and the Indians still lingering around, the time to come out of a rebuild is not ideal. It would take some big name additions, immediate dividends on young stars and a little bit of regression from Chicago and Cleveland for the Tigers to be instantly competitive in the AL Central.

Whatever the future holds for both sides, Schoop made out well with this extension. He’s getting a nice salary boost now, and has the opportunity to cash in on his success very soon. The Tigers hang on to a player who has helped them out on the field and in the clubhouse tremendously, which is a plus for them in the short term. But when the dust settles, Detroit might be left with more questions than answers.

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