Oct 4, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons (19) throws to first base during the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers of game two of the National League divisional series playoff baseball game at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Big Money for Little Time: Part 2

In Part 1 of the “Big Money for Little Time” series, I talked about the inequities between the kind of money that older, foreign free agents (mainly from Cuba and Asia) were getting before even stepping foot in a major league baseball stadium and the amounts of money that players who were acquired through the draft and the July 2 International Free Agent market received in their first seasons in the majors. In Part 2, I’m going to examine how teams, especially the Atlanta Braves and the Tampa Bay Rays, are giving young players with limited major league time big extensions in order to gain some measure of cost assurance as players who are believed to be on the cusp of long-term stardom emerge from their minor league systems.

This table lists some of the recent contracts that were handed out to players with under three years of major league service time.

Player Name
Team
Contract Length (in yrs)
Contract Amount (in millions)
Service time at signing
Freddie FreemanAtlanta Braves
8$135just over 3 seasons
Andrelton SimmonsAtlanta Braves7$581 2/3 seasons
Madison BumgarnerSan Francisco Giants6 (with 2 team options)$35.56 (with a minimum of $24 million in team options for 2018 and 2019)about 1 1/2 seasons
Julio TeheranAtlanta Braves6 (with one team option)$32.4 (plus $12 million option)just over 1 season
Evan LongoriaTampa Bay Rays6 $17.56 games
Matt MooreTampa Bay Rays5 (with 3 team options)$14 (with $27.75 million in options)3 games
Sergio SantosChicago White Sox3 (with 3 team options)$9 including buyout (with $22.75 in options)2 years

The Atlanta Braves have made headlines this offseason by signing three of its young, budding stars to big contract extensions. First it was first baseman Freddie Freeman who had just over three years of ML service time under his belt. In his three full seasons, the 24 year old has been extremely solid for the Braves, hitting for a .466 slugging percentage while getting on base at a .358 clip. The Braves, seeing his big uptick in 2014 (which may very well have been due to a huge .371 BABIP), decided that they wouldn’t wait to see what they had any longer and signed him to an eight-year extension worth $135 million.

Next, it was starting pitcher Julio Teheran. The 23-year-old Columbian had an excellent first full season in the big leagues and Braves GM Frank Wren saw his opportunity to sign Teheran to a long-term deal that fell just short of Madison Bumgarner‘s deal and doesn’t have the two team options but it gets Teheran, who was worth 3.2 rWAR and 2.7 fWAR for his 2013 season, at a reasonable rate until at least the 2019 season. A similar year to 2013 makes even the final year of his contract worthwhile for the Braves.

The pièce de résistance for Wren and the Braves was signing rookie shortstop Andrelton Simmons to a seven-year, $58 million extension. This is one of the most interesting moves that Wren has made because Simmons hasn’t yet had even an average season in the majors with the bat. Simmons won a Gold Glove in 2013 and is considered to be one of (if not the) best defensive shortstops in the game. The 24-year-old Curacao native posted an outstanding 6.8 rWAR (4.7 fWAR), mostly due to his outstanding defense. He did start to show plus power potential by hitting 17 home runs in his first full season and the Braves are counting on some improvement although he could make the contract pay off with his defense alone.

The Rays have gone even further than the Braves, signing star third baseman Evan Longoria to a six-year, $17.5 million contract after just six major league games; the contract was agreed upon before Longoria made his major league debut two weeks into the 2008 season. That contract had options for 2014, 2015 and 2016 which was then superseded by another long-term contract for a lot more money, guaranteeing the 2014-16 option years and adding six guaranteed years (beyond 2016) and $100 million (including signing bonuses) and one additional option for 2023, which will be his Age-37 season.

Additionally, the Rays signed starting pitcher Matt Moore to a five-year, $14 million contract after his initial September call up in 2011. The addition of three team options gives the Rays control of Moore until two years into his free agency eligibility, potentially getting an outstanding bargain at a $10 million base salary for his Age-30 season.

So what does this trend say to young players on the cusp of the major leagues? It is really a message that certain teams are looking to lock players in and are willing to commit to multiple years, provided that the player has shown that he can be star. The average player isn’t getting these deals and so anyone coming up from the minors who doesn’t excel at the major league level within two to three years will have his future decided like everyone else.

That said, it’s also just a few teams who are really trying to lock up their stars but others appear to be jumping on the bandwagon. Mike Trout, probably the best all-around player in the game, is rumored to be in talks with the Los Angeles Angels on a six-year, $150 million-ish extension. Trout, who’s in his final pre-arbitration year, will set a record no matter how much his new contract is for and a six-year contract (if it kicks in for the 2015 season) will buy out his first three years of free agency.

Once again, it is the stars of the game that are setting these milestones while other young players who are, at best, solid contributors will likely have to wait and go year to year. Most minor leaguers never make the majors. Even then, it’s only the elite who become major league regulars and even fewer who become all-stars. While a player could be a journeyman for a while in the minors and come up and immediately make an impact in the majors, the likelihood of that occurrence is very low. For most minor leaguers, their best path to financial security is to survive until their initial seven-year minor league contract is up and be able to leverage a better-paying minor league free agent deal or make the majors and stick there long enough to pick up a big league salary that will grow once they get to arbitration.

Most minor leaguers have a long road before they have a chance to achieve financial stability. Unlike the international free agents discussed in Part 1 of this series, your average, every day replacement player has probably five to eight years of “the grind” in order to get to where they can feel somewhat comfortable (at least financially), particularly if they haven’t received a big signing bonus. It’s another reason why we here at Grading on the Curve are appreciative of the young men following their dreams and their hearts in trying to make it to the big leagues.

Tags: Atlanta Braves Tampa Bay Rays

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