Avoiding Arbitration with MacKenzie Gore
By Andrew Potts
One of the most encouraging storylines of this young 2023 campaign for the Nationals has been the emergence of MacKenzie Gore. In his first full season with the Nationals (and in the majors), Gore has shown that he has what it takes to be an ace southpaw in Major League Baseball.
Gore has pitched 27.0 innings through 5 games as a starter this season. In those starts, he's amassed a 3-1 record, a 3.00 ERA, and has only given up 19 hits. That ERA has him tied for #26 among pitchers, and only 5 other pitchers with more than 3 wins have given up less hits than Gore has.
Gore has certainly been the best starter in the Nationals rotation this year. Josiah Gray's ERA is just a tad lower, but the W/L record and difference in batter production leds to the conclusion that Gore has certainly been the better pitcher. Here's to hoping Josiah can start tallying wins; he's looked pretty good as of late.
As much as it'd be nice to sit here and talk about our future ace with wide-eyed wonder, this is the MLB, and this is a business. So, since we don't have much else going on (salary wise), we figured it be a good idea to touch on Gore's financials, and what it means for the Nationals in the future.
It's not Gore's current financials that we are here to talk about today. Gore is making only $723K this year, certainly far less than some of our other players, let alone pitchers; but that's a conversation for another day.
If Gore continues his above-average play, the Nationals will soon have to think about extending him long term and giving Gore the money that he deserves. Some might look at that as a problem, but I choose to look at it as a good problem. After all, the Washington Nationals have a chance to pay a player who is *currently* playing well. That's a good problem to have, especially as a rebuilding team looking to pay a young star.
What does a MacKenzie Gore extension look like?
Well, my guess is that we have some sort of conversations about arbitration. It's a messy topic that usually, at least from the outside looking in, causes tension between the player and their team trying to settle their contract dispute in front of a jury of arbitrators.
I believe that it's in the best interest of the Nationals and Gore to try and avoid arbitration entirely. Let's compare Gore to a few established pitchers today and see how his numbers match up with theirs before they got their new contracts.
First, let's look at Sandy Alcantara. The 2x All-Star and 2022 Cy Young Winner signed a 5-year, $56M deal with the Miami Marlins in his first year of arbitration eligibility. For reference, that would be in the year 2025 for MacKenzie Gore. The season prior to signing his new deal, Alcantara tallied a 9-15 record, a 3.75 ERA and 171 hits while facing the most batters in the MLB. It is worth noting that he had been an All-Star two years prior.
Is Gore performing better than that now? I think he might be.
It's a similar story with Padres' star Blake Snell. He signed a 5-year, $50M deal with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2019, in his final year of pre-arbitration, which would be next year for Mackenzie Gore. Snell signed that deal coming off of a stellar 2018 campaign, where we totaled a 21-8 record and earned himself a trip to the All-Star Game, a Cy Young title, and an ERA title win.
Is Gore there yet? Not exactly. The takeaway here is this that there is a threshold that Gore can push himself into by continuing to grow as an dominant lefty.
Will I be upset if a deal gets done so early? Not at all. However, today we're talking about a situation that we might be surrounded by in a year or two. After all, Gore is only in his first year of pre-arbitration. However, I can't say with extreme confidence that we have a deal coming in the near future. My gut says we won't see a deal this season.
It is encouraging, however, to know that the Nationals have put their money where their mouth is when it comes to taking care of the young players on the team that have shown to be cornerstones of the team. Just this offseason, the Nats extended Keibert Ruiz on an 8 year deal.
So we know that the Nationals aren't afraid to lock up their own, and I'm confident that Gore will be one of the next in line. The day isn't here quite yet, but rest assured Nats fans, it will.
All statistics and references via spotrac.com, baseball-reference.com, and MLB.com.