Projected Will Smith extension should foreshadow Dodgers trade

Houston Astros v Los Angeles Dodgers
Houston Astros v Los Angeles Dodgers / Kevork Djansezian/GettyImages

All this Will Smith contract extension and trade chatter has to have Los Angeles Dodgers fans' heads spinning. The man has three years of team control left, and this is the discussion surrounding him? Is there really a need to act on either front within the next two years?

That all depends on top prospect Diego Cartaya's ascension. The Dodgers seem willing to bet on him being the next best thing (especially since they were willing to trade Keibert Ruiz), but they're not going to bank on it. Prospects are fungible. Cartaya's pedigree is promising, but things can change rather quickly.

Cartaya has just 175 pro games under his belt and missed all of 2020 due to the pandemic. He played just 31 games in 2021 due to back and hamstring issues. He had a promising 95-game stint in 2022 between Single-A and High-A, but that's not enough to project his future as a major leaguer. He's yet to even hit the upper levels yet.

If you ask anybody with a sense of baseball, Smith's timeline with the Dodgers is nearly perfect. Consider a worst-case scenario in which Cartaya needs all of 2023 at Double-A and then all of 2024 at Triple-A. Smith will still be here at a cost-effective arbitration price.

Consider a best-case scenario in which Cartaya blows up in 2023 and makes a case to join expanded rosters in September, giving the Dodgers a preview of him on the big-leauge roster as a regular in 2024. Smith will have two years of control left and could be dangled in trade talks next winter.

Dodgers insider's contract prediction for Will Smith may foreshadow a trade

So why are we either trying to determine if Smith is a goner or a franchise mainstay at this very moment? There's no rush to decide either of those things right now!

But Dodgers insider Fabian Ardaya took a stab at what a Smith extension might look like if the team feels the need to act soon on this front. Turns out, we had a pretty good comp with what the Atlanta Braves gave catcher Sean Murphy this offseason after he was acquired from the Oakland Athletics, as well as what the St. Louis Cardinals gave free agent Willson Contreras.

Murphy signed a six-year, $73 million extension and Contreras landed a five-year, $87.5 million deal. Murphy's deal, while fair and good, is difficult to analyze, because the Braves continue to get away with highway robbery when signing players to extensions. Smith, objectively, is better than Murphy on both sides of the ball, too. He has a 10.8 WAR over 358 career games vs Murphy's 7.9 WAR over 330 career games. Contreras has double the MLB experience and a 17.8 WAR to show for it. All three players have a positive dWAR as well.

The next question is whether the Dodgers would be comfortable paying somewhere in between a Murphy/Contreras contract for Smith if and when the time comes. That'll be $80 million for a catcher when the Dodgers will have greater needs as time goes on. The future of the starting rotation is in flux. Shortstop and center field are far from etched in stone. Then again, only Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman are signed beyond the 2025 season. The Dodgers will have the flexibility to make it happen.

Will they want to pay a catcher heading into his age-31 season (that's when Smith will be a free agent) that much money, though? Even if Cartaya doesn't take the necessary leap to make the bigs? The Dodgers aren't cheap, but they also don't overpay players. They know when time's up and when they've gotten the maximum production out of somebody.

That's why a Smith trade seems more likely than an extension, unless he's willing to take an unimaginable discount, which we don't foresee.