AL Notes: Kwan, Bieber, Varsho, Pearson

After a great rookie season, Steven Kwan Zack Meisel of The Athletic says he is open to discussing a long-term contract extension with the Guardians.

Kwan finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting last year, posting a .298/.373/.400 line with six home runs over 638 plate appearances. Much of his value was on the defensive side of things, as Kwan collected 21 Saves and 10 Above Average Outs from his work in left field, contributing to a 4.4 fWAR rookie year. It was the rookie year for a player who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2018 draft and did not appear on any top-100 prospect lists.

Anyway, Kwan is now an ambassador for the Guardians and he says “it’s mental” even discussing a long-term extension. Kwan picked up a full year of service for the Guardians last year, meaning he has two more seasons of pre-arb control and then three years of arbitration before hitting free agency after the 2027 season. any time soon, Kwan could still technically be optioned to the minors, in which case his free agency could be pushed back.

As for what a contract extension would look like, Ronald Acuna Jr.the most obvious comp that immediately comes to mind after signing an eight-year, $100MM contract with Atlanta after posting 4.1 fWAR in nearly a full year of service time. Acuna was the consensus top prospect in all of baseball entering his rookie year, so there was a little more hype and certainty surrounding his future. On the flip side, that deal was widely considered extremely team-friendly at the time, given Acuna’s upside as an elite five-tool player. Regardless, it’s an interesting starting point to start thinking about what a potential extension for Kwan might look like.

Here are some additional notes from around the American League:

  • Sticking with Cleveland, and one player who seems unlikely to be getting an extension is starting pitcher Shane Bieber. Ace Cleveland said reporters it would be “I love to entertain that, but right now, I’m going to focus on what I can control and that’s my job on the field.” Bieber has two years left of club control and is coming off a season in which he threw 200 1/3 innings of 2.88 ERA ball, finishing seventh in AL Cy Young voting. That means any extension for Bieber will be significant, and likely well above the biggest contract Cleveland has ever given, Jose Ramirez‘ five-year extension, $124MM.
  • Moving north of the border to Toronto, and acquiring a headline trade Dalton Varsho to be a big part of the Blue Jays plans this season, but it looks like he’ll be playing almost exclusively in left field. According to The Athletic’s Kaitlyn McGrath, Varsho currently has no plans to get in any spring training games for the Blue Jays. Of course, Varsho could catch periodically in an emergency, but it’s unlikely that he would approach anything close to the 55 games he caught for Arizona over the past two seasons. That’s not a big surprise, given the Toronto trade Gabriel Moreno to get and have Varsho Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen this season to handle the catching duties. Varsho hit .235/.302/.443 with 27 home runs while earning 17 Outs Above Average from his outfield in Arizona last year.
  • McGrath’s report also confirms that former superior expectation Nate Pearson being taken up as a relief this spring. Although he won’t be starting, it looks like he will play a bigger role, rather than just a relief role, against McGrath. Pearson, who was a top-10 prospect in all of baseball, has been limited to 33 mostly hitless big league innings since starting 2020, and didn’t pitch at all in 2022 as a late strain limited him to 15 2/. 3 innings minor league. McGrath reports that Pearson was sitting at 96-97 mph, with a fastball that reached 100 mph.

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