Long-term deals now becoming norm
With new trend, judging players and value is top priority
The highly touted third baseman of the Tampa Bay Rays, Evan Longoria, plays a grand total of six games in the Major Leagues and signs a nine-year contract on Friday that guarantees him $17.5 million with the chance to earn up to $44.5 million.
Welcome to the new world of talented young players in Major League Baseball.
There was a time when young players were under the microscope during the month of April, with managers and front office executives waiting to see how the youngsters would hold up as opposing teams made adjustments.
That was then, but what is happening now is a totally different story.
Longoria's historic deal, in terms of its length and potential impact on the market, is the third noteworthy deal in the month of April.
On April 8th, the Arizona Diamondbacks announced they had signed outfielder Chris Young to a five-year contract extension through the 2013 season with a club option for 2014.
Two days later, the Cleveland Indians announced they had signed pitcher Fausto Carmona to a seven-year contract with the first four seasons guaranteed.
Young's deal guarantees him $28 million and Carmona's contract assures him of $15 million with the potential to make $48 million. Both players have less than two years of Major League service.
This is all part of a trend in Major League Baseball, where teams are seeking to lock up their young stars, avoid arbitration and in some cases, buy out free agent seasons.
There are risks involved for both the player and the team. If Longoria reaches the potential that scouts have described in their reports to the front office, he will have left money on the table.
On the other hand, from Longoria's standpoint, it's nice to know that your financial future is secured, or should be, at the age of 22.
Teams are fully aware of the financial impact of arbitration. When Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies won his arbitration case in February, he was rewarded with a contract of $10 million.
This windfall came after two-plus years of Major League service for Howard and was a raise of $9.1 million from his 2007 contract.
The interesting part of the contracts for Longoria, Young and Carmona were the words used by the general managers when they announced the deals.
"In his first two years in professional baseball, Evan has displayed the talent, work ethic and maturity that we envisioned when we drafted him in 2006," said Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman.
Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes announced the signing of Young by declaring: "These types of contracts show a lot of commitment on both sides. Clearly, Chris is one of our core players, and his character and talent are both of extreme quality."
At the press conference to announce the Indians' signing of Carmona, general manager Mark Shapiro stated: "This contract secures one of the Cleveland Indians best talents and toughest competitors for the long term. In doing so, it is a great reward for Fausto's hard work and performance and continues to demonstrate ownership's commitment to sustaining a championship team by retaining our most talented players."
Note the traits that are listed -- work ethic, maturity, character, competitor, hard work. When a general manger is going to put his signature on this type of contact to a very young player, he had better be sure he knows and understands the makeup of the player.
Never in the history of the game have so many young players signed significant contacts.
In January of this year, Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, with just one year and 33 days of Major League service, signed a six-year contract that guarantees him $31 million.
It was just a few seasons ago that Tulowitzki was playing shortstop and Longoria third base for Long Beach State.
The scouts who watched the two in action knew they were observing promising prospects. It's doubtful, however, that any scout realized he was looking at a combined potential value of $75-plus million in contracts this quickly.
Scouts often are asked if they would be willing to go a million or two for a first-round selection. The next question might be, "Do you think he'll be worth $30-plus million after he plays a year?"
Judging players, and their value, has never been more important.
Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as executive vice president and general manager. His book -- Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue -- was published by SportsPublishingLLC. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.