Lock 'Em Up
The San Diego Padres announced yesterday
that they had signed starting pitcher and former two-sport Princeton star Chris Young
to a 4-year, $14.5 million contract that could go up to five years and $23 million should the Pads decide to exercise a club option.
My first reaction had me scratching my head as to why Young, who is emerging as something of an elite starter, would take such a heavily discounted deal in such a spend-happy environment on starting pitching. But upon further review, the deal makes sense for both sides. Young has essentially locked in his arbitration figures up through 2010, when he would have been eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. He now gets the security to buy himself and his family a nice place in one of the most pleasant places to live in the world and he has guaranteed himself a large chunk of change - something playing year to year would not have afforded him. As Rich Lederer said to me last night, it's not the last $10 million you make, it's the first.
In return for this security, the Padres have a club option to lock Young up for what otherwise would have been his first free agent season for what will in all likelihood turn out to be a significantly discounted price. And in the interim, the Padres get Young's considerable output (he was 6th in the NL in ERA last season) at a mere fraction of the cost of what division rivals will pay hurlers of Young's quality like Barry Zito
or Jason Schmidt
For teams in non-premium markets - heck for all teams - these deals make sense. The player gives up some portion of his unrestricted free agent seasons in exchange for financial security. The club gives up the temptation to optimize return on investment and nickel-and-dime a quality player in exchange for locking him up at what still amounts to a below market rate, all the while harboring goodwill for when the next rounds of negotiations set to kick off at the contract's expiration. All around, pre-arbitration contracts tend to be equitable.
And finally, these contracts are good for baseball in that they are the only real antidote for combating the inequality that a non-salary cap league fosters. If small market teams would hand out more deals like this, the Yankees and Red Sox would lose some of their edge and be forced to build more from within. Teams could lock their best up through their primes, and then extend them again if it is in the budget and worthwhile, or let the Yanks or Sox or Dodgers or Cubs have at 'em through their mid-to-late 30's.
This is by no means a novel concept, but just an under-utilized one. Billy Beane and John Hart understood this concept through the '90s, while Beane continues to employ it. So too do GM's like Mark Shapiro, Terry Ryan, Theo Epstein, Omar Minaya, John Schuerholz, Walt Jocketty and of course, Kevin Towers. Mind you there have been some bad pre-arb lock-ups too, but what follows is a list of young players offering up some serious bang for their buck.
Name POS Annualized Salary 2006 OPS+/ERA+
Albert Pujols 1B $14.29 Million 180
Johan Santana SP $10 Million 151
Joe Mauer C $8.25 Million 144
Grady Sizemore CF $4.39 Million 135
Victor Martinez C $4.57 Million 124
Dan Haren SP $3.16 Million 108
David Dejesus CF $2.70 Million 103
Jose Reyes SS $5.81 Million 118
David Wright 3B $9.17 Million 136
Chase Utley 2B $12.14 Million 127
Brian McCann C $4.47 Million 146
Jason Bay LF $4.56 Million 136
Brandon Webb SP $4.88 Million 154
Jeff Francis SP $3.31 Million 116
Jake Peavy SP $3.63 Million 103
Adrian Gonzalez 1B $2.38 Million 125
And here is a list of who I believe to be the best candidates to lock up right now. If their respective clubs are not thinking about how to extend these guys, they should be.
Name POS 2006 OPS+/ERA+
Nick Markakis RF 106 (.896 2nd Half OPS)
Jonathan Papelbon RP 500
Bobby Jenks RP 113
Jeremy Sowers SP 125
Curtis Granderson CF 99
Joel Zumaya RP 232
Mark Teahen 3B/OF 114
Jered Weaver SP 171
Nick Swisher OF 126
Felix Hernandez SP 96
Ryan Howard 1B 170
Hanley Ramirez SS 116
Ryan Zimmerman 3B 111
Prince Fielder 1B 111
Adam Wainwright SP 141 (as RP)
Stephen Drew SS 115
Garret Atkins 3B 138
So there you have it, GM's. Get to work on these guys and you will have some bargain output for years to come.
In the comments section, I would love to know who readers think I missed, and also those players I listed that you feel teams are better suited to wait out and continue to harvest production at the near-minimum.
Salary info courtesy of the invaluable site, Hardball Dollars