Monday, June 8, 2009

Time to Rethink Long Term Deals for Young Players???

As baseball salaries have become larger and more grotesque, teams sought out ways to lock up young players for a reasonable rate during their prime. Too many times, teams were forced to trade away quality players far too early because they could not afford to pay them. While teams still struggle to pay the large salaries owed to players, the hope behind locking up young players was that teams would be able to keep their talent for a longer period of time. As a result, more and more teams began signing players with only 1-3 years of service time to long term contracts.

Obviously for the players, these contracts offered them both security and significant pay raise in a sport where nothing is guaranteed and injuries are right around the corner.

And for the teams, these contracts allowed them to sign rising stars to affordable, long term contracts that bought out arbitration years and hopefully, a year or two of free agency.

It's very difficult not to like these kinds of contracts because players, teams, and fans all seem to benefit.

However, a number of these contracts have not worked out for various reasons. Here are some examples:

Chris Young, Diamondbacks, 5 years/$28 million
Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies, 6 years/$38 million
Manny Corpas, Rockies, 4 years/$8 million
Fausto Carmona, Indians, 4 years/$15 million
Bobby Crosby, Athletics, 5 years/$12.5 million

With teams rushing to lock up young players, could it be possible that teams failed to identify who was really worth the long term contract.

Remember two things:
1. fluke seasons happen
2. players don't always reach their potential

So even though many teams are/and will be reaping major dividends from locking up their young stars, they must be alerted to proceed with caution. Because the reality is that things might look nice and rosy after a good season, but that's not always the case. The rush to lock up young players before they eventually bolt must be met with tempered expectations and a large dose of questioning.

Ultimately, contracts are a complete crap shoot. After 2007, the Rockies believed that Corpas and Tulowitzki were vital pieces to the future of their franchise, but just two years later, no one knows what to expect now from the Rockies $39 million dollar investments.

So in the end, I'm not questioning the idea of signing young players to long term contracts...these contracts are great for both sides. But rather, I wonder if teams will look at the list of bad contracts and begin to wonder whether player X is really worth the least not yet (patience!).


lar said...

It's a good point, especially considering the list of failed contracts. And, eventually, I think the franchises will figure out what the right balance is (though it'll take a few more big busts for it to swing back to the middle).

A couple of things: it still might be too early to quantify all of those contracts as busts. A fluke injured/poor season or two can be just as likely for a good player as a fluke good season can be for a bad one.

More importantly, though, teams need to learn how to not to be blinded by ROY-level seasons. Yes, Braun and Longoria seem to have been the smart move, but it's pretty rare for a talent to be so obvious so young. Just look at the ROY winners from the past 20 years. If these contracts were en vogue in 1989 or 1998, then Sandy Alomar and Ben Grieve would've been given them.

Overall, I like these contracts. The risk is obvious, and I think teams know that, so I imagine they'll stay relatively low-key. Plus, they tend to generate a lot of good will with the fanbase, especially in the smaller markets.

Jorge Says No! said...

Very good points. I basically agree with everything you said.

Very well done.