Free agents are becoming fewer and less talented because of the new trend of teams locking up their players a year or two before they accumulate six years of service time.
Before the 2012 season, the Reds locked up Joey Votto and the Giants locked up Matt Cain to massive deals. They were both set to become free agents following the 2012 season. The Dodgers, famously, locked up Clayton Kershaw this winter — before he entered potentially his last year in Los Angeles.
For teams with money, it’s easier to accomplish this. For teams pinching pennies, they have to be creative.
- It would buy out his six arbitration years and first year of free agency
- Springer has yet to make his Major League debut
The second one is more interesting to me. With the changing financial landscape of baseball, this could end up being the next new fad. I cannot remember a prospect, who was drafted and came up through a team’s minor-league system, being signed to a Major League deal before he had even made his first plate appearance.
The closest I can recall is the Rays locking up Evan Longoria to a 6-year, $17.5 million deal after logging just six games and 24 plate appearances in the majors in 2008. The Rays are still reaping the benefits of that decision, as Longoria is making a paltry (for his level of production) $30 million in the next three seasons. His new deal (six years, $100 million) doesn’t even begin until the 2017 season. Mike wrote about Longoria’s deal over at ESPN on Friday (Insider required).
Springer was the Astros’ minor-league player of the year after posting a .303/.411/.600 triple slash with 37 home runs and 45 stolen bases between Double- and Triple-A. He’s 24 years old and should have a spot on the talent-lacking Astros’ roster … right? Well, thanks to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams are more inclined to keep their players in the minors until June so said teams get an extra year of arbitration (avoiding Super Two status). That’s another issue for another day.
Twenty three million dollars over seven years is just less than $3.3 million per season — a minuscule sum to pay for a player after his first year or two of arbitration. Some say the Astros’ offer wasn’t good enough, which it really wasn’t (Negotiation 101), but they had the right idea. Signing players to deals in their arbitration years is a gamble — they’re trying to sign third baseman Matt Dominguez to a 5-year, $17 million deal with two options at $8 million and $10 million — but signing players to pre-MLB deals (for lack of a better term) is almost unprecedented. But it’s also something that could be more common (especially for smaller-market teams) as the years progress.
The Dodgers aren’t strapped for cash (breaking news, I know), but I wonder if it would it make any bit of sense for them to lock up these two to pre-MLB debut deals.
Pederson, 22, is the Dodgers’ best position prospect closest to the majors (he’s expected to play at Triple-A Albuquerque in 2014). He was their MiLB POY in 2012 and had arguably a better season in 2013 at Double-A Chattanooga. If there’s any prospect in the system worthy of a deal like this, it’d Pederson.
The only thing that gives me pause isn’t his “inability” to hit lefties (I don’t think it’s entirely accurate), it’s the roughly four outfielders in the majors signed through at least the next four years.
Yes, the Dodgers will probably trade Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier, but there’s no telling when that might happen. Pederson could use some seasoning in Triple-A, but if they came either midway through this season or shortly after the season with a 7-year, $35 million offer, I’m betting Pederson would take it. He could make more via the arbitration process and his first year of free agency — if he performs well. This way, he’s guaranteed $35 million before he hits free agency. I used Shin-Soo Choo‘s arbitration numbers for comparison’s sake. Choo made a little more than $17.5 million in his six years (hey, there’s that Longoria number). Choo is making $21 million in the first year of his 7-year deal in Texas. I’m not sure Pederson will ever be a $20-plus million per year player, but that’s $38.5 million for seven years. So, my 7-year, $35 million proposal isn’t that far out.
This is where it gets awfully interesting. It’s entirely possible my opinion is impacted by Urias’ spring training debut on March 15, but if the Dodgers are going to attempt one of these deals, it might be worth it get it done with him.
Urias will pitch the vast majority of the 2014 season as a 17-year-old (he turns 18 on Aug. 12). Some say he could make his MLB debut before he turns 18. It sounds crazy, but the only things that are seemingly holding him back are his lack of stamina and experience at the higher levels.
Now, Urias isn’t the next Kershaw. The Dodgers don’t have a guy like that. So, he probably won’t make nearly as much as Kershaw did in his first six years (almost $38 million), but perhaps the Dodgers can buy out more years of free agency because Urias is so young.
I’m thinking a 10-year, $50 million deal before he debuts. That would buy out four years of free agency (for argument’s sake, let’s say $15 million per season) and his six arbitration years (approximately $15-20 million), potentially saving the Dodgers $25-30 million in that 10-year span. Not many players who go through the arbitration process can say they made $50 million before reaching free agency.
There’s risk in either deal, but there’s especially more risk in the Urias deal. Pitchers are prone to more serious injuries than their position player counterparts — especially teenage pitchers who have all of 54 1/3 innings in professional ball.
If Urias agreed to such a deal, let’s say next year, he’d be a free agent in time for his age-28 season — prime time for players to hit the market.
The Dodgers probably won’t continue to have a payroll north of $250 million every year. The luxury tax cost would be enough to afford two or three quality players (50 percent tax on the amount more than $187 million after the 2016 season). By that time, Crawford and Ethier should be playing elsewhere, a cheap Corey Seager will have replaced Juan Uribe, someone other than Alex Guerrero could be playing second base and the Dodger rotation could have cheap options in Urias and Zach Lee. The Dodgers will effectively get younger while saving money longer than a team normally would.
Signing players to pre-MLB deals could be the way for the Dodgers to reduce payroll while not only keeping their homegrown players, but their potentially superstar homegrown kids. These deals would require the youngsters to be on the 40-man roster soon after signing them, so if they’d be open to such deals, the Dodgers would have to make sure there’s room for them to play.
Also, it’s a two-way street. Players would need to be willing to sign such deals, and there’s no guarantee Pederson or Urias would be interesting in doing this.
I don’t expect either of these deals to happen, but it’s something the Dodgers should look into with their top-flight prospects (if they aren’t planning to trade them) to (hopefully) save some money in the long run.