Thursday, February 22, 2024

Colt Keith extension: Tigers lock up No. 23 MLB prospect before major-league debut, agree to six-year deal

The Detroit Tigers have locked up a member of their core before he even set foot on a major league field. The Tigers and infielder Colt Keith have agreed to a six-year contract extension with three club options, the team announced Sunday morning. The deal is worth $28.6425 million guaranteed and can max out at nine years and $82 million.

This new contract all but ensures Keith will open 2024 on Detroit’s MLB roster at either second or third base. Our R.J. Anderson ranked Keith the No. 23 prospect in baseball earlier this offseason. Here’s his write-up:

Keith is a member of the same family as Curtis Mead and Michael Busch. He can hit (as evidenced by his .287/.369/.521 slash line at Triple-A), but there are enough questions about his defensive home that it’s tough to rank him much higher. The Tigers have given Keith looks at both second and third base, though it’s at least possible that he winds up further down the defensive spectrum. On the bright side, he should still produce no matter where he stands on the diamond. 

A 2020 fifth-round draft pick, Keith, 22, has done nothing but hit since turning pro. He’s a career .300/.382/.512 hitter in the minors and he posted solid exit velocity and barrel rates in Triple-A. The left-handed hitter will join Kerry Carpenter, Riley Greene, and former No. 1 pick Spencer Torkelson in what the Tigers hope will be a lineup that gets them to the postseason soon, if not in 2024.

Keith is the second player to sign an extension prior to his MLB debut this offseason. The Milwaukee Brewers inked Jackson Chourio, the game’s best outfield prospect, to an eight-year extension worth $82 million back in November. Here are the largest contracts ever given to players prior to making their big league debut:

  1. Jackson Chourio, Brewers: 8 years and $82 million
  2. Luis Robert, White Sox: 6 years and $50 million
  3. Eloy Jiménez, White Sox: 6 years and $43 million
  4. Colt Keith, Tigers: 6 years and $28.6425 million
  5. Scott Kingery, Phillies: 6 years and $24 million
  6. Evan White, Mariners: 6 years and $24 million
  7. Jon Singleton, Astros: 5 years and $10 million

Players need six full years of service time to qualify for free agency, though it is often closer to seven full years because of service time manipulation. Keith’s contract buys out six years of team control (three pre-arbitration and three arbitration-eligible) with club options for three free agent years. The deal potentially keeps him with Detroit through his age-30 season.

Keith will receive a $2 million signing bonus and be paid $2.5 million in 2024, $3.5 million in 2025, $4 million in 2026 and 2027, and $5 million in 2028 and 2029. The club options are worth $10 million in 2030 ($2.6425 million buyout), $13 million in 2031 ($1 million buyout), and $15 million in 2032 ($2 million buyout). There are also salary escalators.

The Tigers went 78-84 last season, which was good enough for second place in the AL Central. They have added several quality veterans (Mark Canha, Kenta Maeda, etc.) to their young core this offseason. In that division, Detroit has a chance to contend for a postseason berth this coming season.

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