A new trend appears to be rising in major league baseball. An odd one, and surprising one. For the last 15 years major league baseball has been a game of dollars and cents, well at least dollars, lots and lots of dollars. The teams with the most money have dominated the standings as they sweep up all the talent with unbelievable contracts and take a lot of the pride out of smaller market teams. It seems though, that we may be seeing a change.
Friday, May 16, 2008
In the past the best young players of the game would come into the league and play out their rookie contract, usually earning no more then 500K a year, with a large bonus of course. At the age of 24 or 25 when their options were out, they would sign a 2 or 3 year, sizeable contract, to assure they would stay with the team that developed them and raised them. After their first big contract was up, they would enter the free agent market, a talented and accomplished player between the ages of 26-28, ready to sign a whopper of a deal.
Derek Jeter signed an 11 year 189 million dollar contract at the age of 27. Manny Ramirez signed an 8 year 160 million dollar deal at the age of 28. At the age of 27 Todd Helton signed an 11 year 151 million dollar contract, and the biggest one of all, Alex Rodriguez, signed a 10 year 262 million dollar contract at the age of 26.
Ridiculous amounts of money sure. It was good for the players; they made big time long term deals and didn’t really have to earn it. Players like Mike Hampton, Danny Neagle, Kevin Brown, and Adrian Beltre have never come close to matching the expectations promised with the signing of their deals. It was good for the big market teams regardless of the flops however. The small teams did the lay work, the scouting, the drafting, and dealt with the growing pains, while the big teams snatched them up with super contracts and won championships.
This season however has seen a huge and confusing change. The youngest stars of the games are signing long term deals, for lower amounts of money earlier on. Today Ryan Braun, who recorded possibly the best rookie season ever last year, signed an 8 year 45 million dollar contract before he finished his second full major league season. The numbers are staggering; at the age of only 23 last year Braun hit .324 with 34 homers in only 113 games. The potential contract for Braun three to four years down the line would be huge, even Alex Rodriguez like, yet with his new contract he promises not to be a free agent until the age of 31, and legitimately could be missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars.
Braun isn’t alone. Hanley Ramirez, arguably a greater talent then Braun signed a six year 70 million dollar contract, making him a free agent at 30 and a Marlin for six more years. Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who last year made a huge splash as in their playoff run, singed a 6 year 31 million dollar contract this year as well. Perhaps most surprisingly Tampa Bay prospect Evan Longoria, before even playing a week in the majors, was locked up in the sunshine state for six years at 45 million dollars. It seems the brightest stars of tomorrow are already locked in with low market teams for a good part of the next 10 years.
While nothing is certain yet, this appears to be a good thing for baseball. The smaller markets will no longer have to try to compete in an uphill battle for the players, they won’t have a mere 2 or 3 year window to win with the talent they have developed, and maybe the balance of power will even out. My question however, is what does this mean for the Washington Nationals who have yet to sign up their young star, Ryan Zimmerman.
Zimmerman renewed his contract this season for relatively the same amount he made last year, for about half a million dollars. Will the Nats be smart like the other small market teams and sign Zimmerman up for a long term deal and an undervalued contract? It seems to me they have a rather good bargaining point. Zimmerman is of course a great young player who is the center point of this franchise, but lets be honest he is not playing well. His numbers have never matched that of Ryan Braun or even Troy Tulowitzki, so his contract logically certainly should not exceed theirs. It seems that this has been a touchy subject the Nats just want to put on the shelf until the end of the season, but I think for the best future of the franchise, the Nats should try and get Zimmerman a new deal along the parameters of his peers.