- Jim Bowden, Baseball, Insider
Major League Baseball is loaded with more impact stars who are non-arbitration eligible than the game has seen in decades. Although teams can control the salaries of these young stars for the first three years of their service time, it won’t be long before they become arbitration eligible and their salaries skyrocket to record-breaking levels.
The fact is that for young superstar players, the closer they get to free agency, the more likely they are to reach it. So smart teams are locking them up early and buying out their arbitration years in order to save money in the long run.
Signing their non-arbitration-eligible young stars to long-term contracts keeps the players relatively cost efficient. In turn, these young stars net millions of guaranteed dollars early in their careers, which sets them up for life and eliminates any injury and/or baseball risk. And everyone agrees that it’s difficult for a player in his early 20s to turn down approximately $100 million to instead wait four or five more years with the hopes of getting more. It’s a smart play for both the team and the player.
Before this type of action is taken, however, position players must prove to the team they can hit all types of pitches and can sufficiently counter all the adjustments pitchers have when facing them. Teams need to make sure these guys are two-way players (offensively and defensively), low medical risks and that their makeup and character fits the team in the long term. Clubs also have to make sure that long-term security won’t negatively impact these young players' work ethic, passion and will to be the best they can be.
It should be noted that two of the best young starting pitchers in baseball, Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins and Matt Harvey of the New York Mets, should also be under consideration for long-term deals if their respective teams aren’t afraid of the inherent injury risk that often accompanies pitchers.
The deliveries of both Harvey and Fernandez are so clean that both pitchers are solid bets to succeed and stay healthy. Both are No. 1 starters and, in my mind, represent the lowest risks of any non-arbitration-eligible pitchers in baseball. But to be clear, I am not a proponent of signing pitchers to long-term deals until they have logged at least four consecutive years of approximately 200 innings pitched without arm troubles.
Therefore, here are the six position players who match the criteria I laid out above. Their long-term contracts should avoid the three years of salary arbitration and tie up at least two years of free agency, ending no later than when the players are between the ages of 30 and 32.