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Orioles must decide what the future holds for Schoop

After a career year at the plate in 2017, Jonathan Schoop is off to a slow start in 2018. But with his free agency clock ticking, the team must decide what is more worthwhile: an extension or a trade.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

All the attention right now may be on Manny Machado and potential trade partners, but there’s another middle infielder on the team whose situation must be addressed. Sooner or later, a decision about Jonathan Schoop’s future will have to be made. He will be a free agent after the 2019 season.

Let’s start at the beginning of his professional baseball career. Schoop was signed by the Orioles as a 17-year-old free agent out of Curacao in 2008. He spent about five seasons in the minor leagues, accruing a batting line of .268/.333/.410.

Schoop had a rough introduction to the major leagues in 2014 at the age of 22, his first full season after a cup of coffee the year prior. The first half of 2014, he hit .221/.259/.324. In the second half, he hit .191/.221/.399. The Orioles stuck with him through this poor production at the plate.

One of the bright spots in his rookie season was his home run total, which was 16. He showed a good base of power production with room to grow. It didn’t take very long to show that improved power.

In 2015, Schoop made great strides in his triple slash line numbers (.279/.306/.482), while nearly replicating his home run total from the year prior. He had 15 homers this time around. But Schoop only had 305 at-bats, his playing time shortened by a knee injury early that season that forced him to miss a significant number of games.

Schoop put on a strong showing in 2016, his age 24 season. In 615 at-bats, he hit .267/.298/.454 with 25 home runs and 82 RBI.

He took his game to another level in 2017, putting up a .293/.338/.503 slash line with 32 home runs and 105 RBI. He also earned his first trip to the All-Star game and came in twelfth in MVP voting.

At the start of play Wednesday, Schoop was hitting .236/.265/.385 with five home runs and 15 RBI. Not quite up to the standard he set last year. But he did miss a big chunk of time this year with an oblique injury.

On-base percentage has never been a big part of Schoop’s game. In four seasons, from 2014-2017, he’s had 13, 9, 21 and 35 walks. He has four walks in 148 at-bats so far this year. His career on-base is .298, to go along with a .262 career batting average and .447 career slugging percentage.

But do these numbers merit the possibility of a lucrative long-term contract with the O’s?

Recently, Jon Meoli had a very good piece in the Baltimore Sun about Adam Jones’ reflections on his previous contract extension with the O’s. In that article, Jones had this to say on the topic of resigning current Orioles players (Schoop specifically):

“It’s a good question. Obviously, I’d like to see some other guys stay here. But the reality of it is, is the reality that we don’t know. We don’t know the books. We don’t know their thought process of the ownership. As players, all we can do is appreciate the opportunity we’ve got on a given day. … Obviously, we’d want Schoop to return. Obviously, Schoop’s the main guy you think of, because he’s a year out. You can’t get Manny. That’s just reality. He has to field all the offers. He has to. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You have to. Schoop, I think is in the same boat, but I think you can get him now. But it ain’t going to be easy either, because he’s a damn good player.”

Last season, Jonathan Schoop had the second best wins above replacement (5.1) of all major league second baseman, according to ESPN. Jose Altuve was the only player ahead of him. Among second basemen in 2017, Schoop was also fourth in OPS at .841, fifth in average at .293, second in home runs with 32, and first in RBI with 105.

But are the Orioles willing to pay Schoop like a top tier second baseman? And how will his final numbers at the end of this season impact his future value?

According to Sportrac, the top five highest paid second basemen in 2018 are as follows:

  • Robinson Cano - $24 million
  • Daniel Murphy - $17.5 million
  • Ben Zobrist - $16.5 million
  • Dustin Pedroia - $16.125 million
  • Jason Kipnis - $13.67 million

Jonathan Schoop is tied with D.J LeMahieu of the Colorado Rockies for 12th on the list, with a salary of $8.5 million this season.

Another interesting note is that Jose Altuve, arguably the best second baseman in the game, is making $9 million this year. Baseball Reference lists his salary for next season at $9.5 million, and then it jumps to $29 million per year from 2020-2024.

Like Manny Machado after this year, many think Schoop is destined to test free agency after next year. Schoop didn’t get his first seven-figure payday until last year, at age 25, when he made $3.475 million. From 2014-2016, he made $500,500, $515,000 and $522,500, respectively. He is due for a big payday.

Because Jonathan Schoop has more than one and a half seasons until free agency, a contract extension is not out of the question if the Orioles want to go that route. But a trade is not out of the question either, considering the Orioles’ position in the standings and the potential return Schoop could bring.