Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Young stars who I'd sign long-term now
By Jim Bowden
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.
Trout, 22, is the best all-around player in baseball. He’s a four-tool player; his only below-average tool is arm strength, which he overcomes with quick feet and arm accuracy. His ability to win games with his on-base percentage, power, speed and Gold Glove-caliber defense speaks for itself. He someday will become the highest-paid position player in baseball. It’s only a matter of time.
Harper, 20, already has won the NL Rookie of the Year Award and been to two All-Star Games. He’s proven that he’ll play hurt and hustles like Pete Rose. It’s only a matter of time before he becomes a big home run hitter, racking up 40-plus homers a year. Harper probably will be moved to right field in 2014 (with Jayson Werth going to left field), which will be his long-term position. He has one of the strongest arms in baseball and will be the face of the Nationals for years to come.
Machado, 21, has quickly become one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball. Were it not for Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, Machado probably would win the Gold Glove this year. Machado’s 43 doubles leads the AL, and in a year or two, half of those doubles probably become home runs. He’s a leader and a winner, and has made it clear to the Orioles that he would like to sign a long-term deal with them.
Stanton, 23, has more right-handed power than anyone in baseball not named Miguel Cabrera. The Marlins already have to live with their ill-advised trade of Cabrera to the Tigers in December of 2007 (when they didn’t think they could re-sign him). So they certainly don’t want history repeating itself with Stanton. A long-term contract for Stanton would also be a huge step forward in securing the face of their franchise while gaining back the trust of Marlins fans.
Myers, 22, has brought comparisons to Atlanta Braves legend Dale Murphy. Myers has Hall of Fame talent and while everyone knows about his bat and power potential, he’s shown this year that he’s also a good defender with a strong arm and the athleticism to play all three outfield positions. He illustrated this when he took over center field temporarily after Desmond Jennings went down with an injury in early August. His boy-next-door attitude is refreshing, and his talent is special. The Rays have done well with many of their long-term deals, and an Evan Longoria-type deal for Myers this offseason would be a shrewd move.
While most of baseball was praising the development and potential of Jason Heyward and Atlanta’s offseason acquisitions of the Upton brothers, the truth is that the Braves’ MVP this season -- and their best player going forward -- is Freeman. Freeman, 23, has the best raw swing of any of the Braves, and the results this year have illustrated that point. The first-time All-Star is an above-average fielder, but it’s his leadership and clutch hitting that separates him. A complete player who has taken the torch from retired Braves legend Chipper Jones, Freeman has become the face of the franchise.