Ask executives around MLB who the best player on the Pittsburgh Pirates is and you’d be shocked to hear a name different from Andrew McCutchen. Neal Huntington made sure to lock up his All-Star center fielder for the next 6 years at a seemingly fair and maybe even cheap price of 51.5 million dollars. McCutchen extends a long line of future superstar players being locked up by their small market teams. Teams like Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh have to identify and secure talent that they already have for as long as possible in order to contend. Agents are eager to get these deals done in case something does happen to these players before they reach their free agency. This trend started seemingly with Evan Longoria in 2008 as the Rays didn’t mess around and made sure to lock up his superstar potential, at a price that they could afford.
Deals handed out since 2008:
Evan Longoria: Signed with Rays for 6 years, 17.5 million for 2008-13. The Rays hold the team options for 11 and 11.5 million for the 2014-15 seasons. Imagine what the price would’ve been for Longoria in arbitration instead. This is the king of the pre-superstar deal.
Troy Tulowitzki: Signed with Rockies for 7 years, 45 million for 2008-14. Tulo performed so well during this contract that he got a 6 year, 118 million extension from 2015-20. The Rockies weren’t going to let their superstar shortstop ever hit the open market.
Clayton Kershaw: Signed with Dodgers for 2 years, 19 million for 2012-13. Dodgers wrapped up the reigning NL Cy Young for 7.5 and 11 million respectively the next two years. A steal when you consider former teammate 35 year-old Hiroki Kuroda got 1 year, 10 million from the Yankees. When the Dodgers get some deep-pocketed owners, don’t be surprised if Kershaw is the next to get a Tulo deal. Until they get new owners, I’m considering the Dodgers a small market.
Felix Hernandez: Signed with Mariners for 5 years, 78 million for 2010-14. Hard to believe that King Felix is already entering his 7th season and is only at 26 years old. His contract becomes a pricey 20 million for 2014, but at a prime 28 years old. His free agent contract on the open market for 2015 and beyond could be twice as much as his current deal. Mariners timing was off as they waited til after Hernandez’ 19-5, 2.45 ERA, 2009 season. They should have identified talent and locked him up sooner.
Justin Upton: Signed with Diamondbacks for 6 years, 50 million for 2010-15. This is the most comparable contract to McCutchen’s. The Pirates are hoping McCutchen develops into a true MVP candidate like Upton did in 2011. The crazy part is Upton is a year YOUNGER than McCutchen. Great deal for Arizona.
Pablo Sandoval: Signed with Giants for 3 years, 17.15 million for 2012-14. When on his game the Kung Fu Panda is a dangerous hitter. With the deal only 3.2 million for this season, it gives the Giants some financial flexibility. While Sandoval’s gets a well deserved raise over the $500,000 he made in 2011.
Elvis Andrus: Signed with Rangers for 3 years, 14.4 million for 2012-14. Without locking up Andrus at this price for their speedster, doesn’t give Texas enough money to make a run at Yu Darvish. I’d rather have Andrus at this price than the Darvish cost all day, every day.
Jay Bruce: Signed with Reds for 6 years, 51 million for 2011-16, with a 13 million team option for 2017. This contract is the most troublesome for me of the bunch. A player that has the power potential of Bruce at price of 5 million is pretty solid for a team that looks to be in contention this season.
Billy Butler and Salvador Perez Signed with Royals for 4 years, 30 million for 2011-14, with 12.5 million team option for 2015 and 5 years, 7 million respectively. The Royals have tried this strategy with success twice. They might have to do it a few more times with Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Mike Montgomery poised to break out.
What’s next for small market teams? With the expanded playoffs, there’s a chance that more of these teams will be buyers, but will need to lock up the right players in order to succeed. Don’t be surprised if the Nationals start making runs at long deals with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper in the near future.