More stars could become lifers with long-term deals
Trend of commitments to young talents could continue with Posey, Trout and the like
By Anthony Castrovince
01/17/13 1:00 PM ET
Lifetime commitments have made a profitable business for many photographers, florists and wedding planners of the workaday world. But they're still pretty rare in a sporting world in which fame can be fleeting and stability is not assured.
Still, that hasn't prevented certain Major League clubs from locking in their franchise faces for the bulk -- if not the entirety -- of their remaining playing days.
You saw it years ago when the Rockies signed up for 11 years of Todd Helton and the Yankees went 10 deep with Derek Jeter. The Rox did it again when they committed to Troy Tulowitzki for a decade, and the Brewers followed with a similar deal with Ryan Braun.
In the past year alone, the formula has been followed multiple times. The Reds went all-in on a 10-year extension with Joey Votto that will last at least through his age-39 season. The Mets signed an eight-year pact with David Wright that keeps him under team control through his age-37 season. And Evan Longoria will be 36 when the final guaranteed year of his newly signed extension with the Rays runs out.
Under the right set of circumstances, then, players and clubs have been known to tie the knot, until trade or retirement do they part.
"You evaluate where the team is, the players' appetite for staying there long-term, the security aspect of it, and if it's truly a place he wants to play," one player agent said. "The interest of both the player and the organization have to match up. Teams don't like to lose those cornerstone players."
Maybe -- and it's admittedly a big maybe -- recent and coming increases in media revenue will improve the likelihood of such cornerstone commitments. And when you consider that MLB salaries have risen an average of 4.75 percent per year since 2004, there is value in committing to your stars at present-day prices.
"There are a lot of teams," said another agent, "that have resources they didn't have before, and tying up the core players is a priority."
Then again, there is this to consider:
"That average salary," said one general manager, "has climbed to such a degree that the break point is so different than it was before. There has to be some thought on the part of the player, "If I just wait for two years, the pot of gold on the end of the rainbow is a lot different than it used to be."
So, yes, it's complicated, as are most things on the business side of the game. A guy like Bryce Harper, represented by Scott Boras, is probably more likely to take a wait-and-see approach on his contractual value than to commit to anything just yet. And certainly, as teams mull their extension candidates this arbitration season, most of those considered commitments won't be of the "lifetime" variety.
But a few examples might fit the formula of buying out the rest of a player's perceived peak years, or even the rest of his career. And in conversations with several agents and executives about homegrown players who might not be changing uniforms for quite a while, the following names came up a time or two:
Buster Posey, Giants: In his first three seasons at the Major League level, Posey has won an MVP, a Rookie of the Year Award, a batting title and two World Series. So, yeah, the Giants might want to keep this guy around for a while.
Posey is eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter, so his contractual case is a front-burner topic. Even though he's a catcher, and catchers are inherently prone to durability issues, a 10-year commitment to the 25-year-old is far from out of the question, as one evaluator explained.
"He has an athletic body, so he can eventually be a third or first baseman," the evaluator said. "If he has to change positions, he's still going to hit."
And Posey's impressive 2012, in which he made a rousing return from a debilitating leg injury the previous year, has plenty believing he's going to hit for a long, long time. With arbitration on the way, the Giants just might ensure those hits come in a Giants uniform for the foreseeable future. If talks get into the 10-year territory, as they have for some of the game's other bright young stars, that would take Posey into his mid-30s.
Robinson Cano, Yankees: By any objective measure, Cano is one of the best players in the game today. And under normal circumstances, one would assume the Yankees would want to ensure Cano, entering his free-agent walk year, never dons another uniform.
But when are circumstances ever normal with the Yankees?
As it stands, the club is making every attempt to get payroll under the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million by 2014. And given that they already have major commitments with Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez for at least the next four seasons, there's no telling how aggressive they'll be in attempting to extend Cano at year's end.
So Cano's is clearly a complicated case, made all the more complicated by the fact that second basemen don't age particularly well. But he makes this list because, at the end of the day, he is the best player on one of the game's most lucrative teams, and it would not be at all surprising if he remains with that team the rest of the way.
Felix Hernandez, Mariners: Conventional wisdom leads you to believe that if the Mariners were going to trade King Felix, they would have done so a while ago, because they've been honest about their contention hopes and Hernandez is a trade chip who could have netted them a bounty of bats.
The Mariners have held on, though, because they view Hernandez as the face of the franchise, the rock they are attempting to build around. And Hernandez, who is eligible for free agency at the end of the 2014 season, when he'll be 28, has been adamant in his public remarks that he loves Seattle and wants to stay there.
Plenty of players have backed off such statements in the past, of course, but Hernandez and general manager Jack Zduriencik both appear to be sincere.
"There seems to be a particular interest," one agent said, "in getting a deal done there."
Of course, with pitchers -- even pitchers of Hernandez's caliber -- the 10-year-type commitment simply isn't going to happen. But it might just happen with the next guy on this list.
Mike Trout, Angels: Trout put up some amazing numbers for a rookie last season -- 30 homers, 83 RBIs, 49 stolen bases, 129 runs scored. As first impressions go, his was a stunner.
The more stunning number, though, might be yet to come. Because if Trout demonstrates the ability to near, repeat or, dare I say, improve upon those statistics in the coming years, his paycheck possibilities are stratospheric.
So already, there are some people in the industry who think Trout, still two years shy of arbitration, is worth a long-term look. Granted, it wouldn't be a career-long commitment (he's only 21, after all), but the Angels could certainly buy out a significant portion of his career.
"If I'm them," said one exec, "I'm already talking about a crazy long deal. I don't think anybody knows what his ceiling is. You could be looking at the greatest modern player in the game."
The most money ever committed to a player with a similar amount of service time came was in Braun's eight-year, $45 million extension with the Brewers in early 2008. Given today's rates, and the historic nature of Trout's rookie season, would a similar number of years require a nine-figure investment? It certainly seems plausible.
"If he goes another year [like 2012]," said an agent, "you'd have to think he's one of those [$100 million-plus] guys."
Justin Verlander, Tigers: As with Hernandez, this one's made difficult by his position.
"There is a threshold with pitching," said an exec, "where every guy is going to break down at some point."
That said, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Tigers let Verlander sniff free agency. He's currently eligible for it after the 2014 season, when he'll be 31. His next long-term contract, then, could be his last, and it is not at all unreasonable to suggest that contract will come from the Tigers. They've already been rumored to be exploring the possibility.