Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Sign these guys long term right now
By Jim Bowden
Mike Trout is so good, a 10-year deal might not sound all that crazy.
The phrase “timing is everything” might be cliché, but when it comes to deciding to which young superstar he should offer a multiyear contract, a general manager’s timing must be impeccable, as is his organization's evaluation and projection of a player's ability.
Signing players to long-term extensions benefits the team for two obvious reasons: It can save money in the long run and it delays a player’s free-agent eligibility. It behooves any club with good, young non-arbitration eligible players with four or fewer years of service to try to sign its best players long-term. The further a player is from free agency, the lower the deal and the greater the discount.
In other words, the closer the player gets to free agency, the more difficult it is for the team to make a deal. The open market usually compels the player to simply play out the contract and see what dollars will be available to him in free agency. Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano is a year away from free agency and will command more dollars than any extension might bring him, so it makes sense for him to wait.
By the same token, an agent such as Scott Boras operates on a philosophy that revolves around taking as many of his clients as possible to free agency to maximize their return. Thus, young stars such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Elvis Andrus are contract extension candidates, but quite frankly a waste of their general managers’ time based on Boras' track record of representing players.
In the end, if the team can’t negotiate what they perceive is a savings from the arbitration system or can’t secure a free agent year, then they usually walk away. And for most players, free agency almost always is a win.
On the other hand, there are many other young budding stars with whom general managers would be smart to wait another year before offering a contract extension. Waiting another season allows GMs to see if players such as outfielder Bryce Harper or first baseman Anthony Rizzo make adjustments to the league’s adjustments to them, or that a career year isn’t simply a mirage, such as third baseman Chase Headley or right-hander Kris Medlen. It’s just more evidence a player will live up to his potential and lessen the risk of a multiyear deal backfiring.
There are three pitchers eligible for free agency after the 2014 season -- Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, and Clayton Kershaw -- who will receive most of the attention regarding contract extensions. However, here are six other players whom I think teams should try to lock up in multiyear deals before Opening Day. It is the optimum timing for their clubs to save money from the arbitration process and buy out some free-agent years.
Trout was the best and most complete rookie to make his major league debut since Barry Bonds. Despite only one year of data on him at the big league level, I’ve seen enough that I’d sign him to a 10-year deal now. Trout has all the tools and can impact the game with his bat, power, speed, glove and personality. He profiles as a leadoff hitter or as a No. 3 hitter. He hits breaking balls, changeups, fastballs at all eye levels, on the black on both sides of the plate, but can lay off any type of pitch outside the zone. He has years of accolades ahead of him so the price will only go up. Now is the most cost-effective time to tie him up for a decade, which will allow him to go into free agency at the age of 31.
Posey already has won two World Series, an NL MVP, a batting title, the NL Rookie of the Year award, a Silver Slugger and was an All-Star starter. Posey is the best all-around catcher in baseball, a player who hits cleanup with power and has the ability to drive in runs. His ability to call a game is one of the best in the sport. The time to sign him is now because if they wait a few more years, he could end up becoming the first $25 million-a-year catcher in baseball history.
Stanton is the best young right-handed power hitter in baseball, already having belted 93 home runs in his first three seasons. Moreover, Stanton is one of the hardest-working players in the game, who studies and learns. He’s an above-average right fielder with a strong arm and is a good baserunner. Like Trout, Stanton has a chance to be one of the game’s best players over the next decade. If the Marlins can’t get a long-term deal done in the next year or so, they’ll have no other choice than to put him on the trade market and acquire as many building blocks as they can for him.
Heyward burst into the major leagues in 2010, earning an All-Star nod and finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting with 18 home runs and a .393 OBP. After a tough, injury-plagued 2011 campaign during which opposing pitchers had clearly made adjustments to get him out, he rebounded in 2012 with 27 homers and a Gold Glove in right field. The Braves should try to sign him to an extension before he has a monster year like Matt Kemp, Carlos Gonzalez or Andrew McCutchen. With Chipper Jones retired, it’s only a matter of time before Heyward becomes the Braves’ marquee position player.
Lawrie finished his first full season in the big leagues last year hitting .273/.324/.405 with 26 doubles and 11 homers. Those are not the type of numbers that would normally motivate a GM to give his third baseman a long-term deal. However, Lawrie is special. His high energy, passion and intensity occasionally get in the way but only because of his intense desire to win and succeed. He has the type of swing that could someday win a batting title, and his power should eventually allow him to hit 15 to 20 home runs per year. Lawrie will benefit from the additions of Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera in a lineup that already boasts two of the league’s most productive power hitters in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. It will be much less expensive to tie him up now rather than waiting a year or two when his production matches his potential. It's a risk for the club, but it could pay off in the same way Evan Longoria's first contract paid off for the Rays, when they gave him a six-year, $17.5 million deal (with two club options) just a few weeks into his rookie year.
A year ago, the Reds traded three of their former first-round picks -- catcher Yasmani Grandal, first baseman Yonder Alonso and reliever Brad Boxberger -- along with Edinson Volquez for Latos. With a trade of that size and significance -- especially considering what the Reds gave up -- it’s important that the Reds sign Latos to a long-term deal. This past season he won 14 games for the second time in his career. He has logged a minimum of 180 innings pitched in each of the past three years with a steady ERA of 3.49 and WHIP of 1.17 over the past two seasons. Latos has the potential to develop into a No. 1 starter, and the Reds could do as well as they did when they signed Johnny Cueto to a long-term deal in 2011, a contract that saved the Reds millions of dollars.