Last week, the staff of
BaseballEvolution.com put together a list of
five rules for
struggling small market franchises. Rule #5 reads, "Sign your young
players to long-term deals before they become free agents."
Today, The Tampa Bay Rays and Colorado Rockies finalized long-term extensions
with young stars Jamie Shields (7 years, $38-44 M) and Troy Tulowitzki (6 years,
$30 M). Each of those contracts broke previous records for extensions
granted to players with less than two years of major league experience.
As revolutionary as these two specific deals are, these two expansion
franchises, along with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Florida Marlins, have been
hoarding younger, cheaper players for years now in an attempt to engender
sustained success without bankrupting their respective franchises. And all
four of these teams have certainly experienced financial problems before.
Tulowitzki provided solid O
and fantastic D last year
For the Marlins and the D-Backs, their expenditures met with initial success.
The 1997 Marlins set a record for an expansion franchise by buying a World
Series Championship in only their fifth year of operation. The 2001
Diamondbacks then performed the same feat in four years. The 1998 Marlins
followed their championship with an infamous fire sale that would ensure
sub-.400 records for the next two seasons.
The Diamondbacks used deferred salary payments to win in the short term,
which led to an historically futile 111-loss season in 2004, and also handcuffed
the team with undesirable contracts as they continued to spend unwisely before
new general manager Josh Byrnes took the helm in late 2005.
The Rockies and Rays had also gone with the overpriced veterans strategy
early in their franchise histories; they simply did not enjoy even fleeting
success that way. Okay, the Rockies did make the postseason in 1995 as a
Wild Card, but only as a .535 winning percentage team that won one playoff game.
This proved hardly a triumphant victory for a franchise whose fan base
consistently sold out large capacity stadiums; Rockies attendance ranked first
in the National League in the franchise's first seven years of existence.
Webb has become quite a bargain
The Devil Rays, as they were then called, dished out hefty contracts to age
30+ players the likes of Vinny Castilla, Greg Vaughan, Juan Guzman, Roberto Hernandez, Fred McGriff, Kevin Stocker, Jose Canseco, John Flaherty, and Gerald Williams early in their franchise history. They still have yet to win more
than 70 games in the season, and have only finished better than last place in
the AL East once.
All of that is about to change, however. With Shields, Scott Kazmir,
and Matt Garza, the Rays easily have the best young rotation in all of baseball.
They also possess loads of young offensive talent and one of the top minor
league systems in all of baseball. The Rockies and Diamondbacks used their
homegrown talent to meet in the NLCS last year. Young, star players such
as Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, Matt Holliday, and Brandon Webb are locked up
long-term. The Diamondbacks then used surplus minor league talent to
acquire the affordable innings-eater Dan Haren, which ostensibly makes the
D-Backs contenders through 2010, when both his and Webb's contracts are up.
The Marlins surprised
most of the baseball world by competing in 2006, largely with the young
players they acquired in the supposed fire sale of the previous winter.
For the next few years at least, three of these four teams stand poised to
contend for postseason play despite projected 2008 payrolls that rest easily in
the bottom third of all MLB teams. Only the Marlins appear that they will
fall short of contention, as their projected salary of $17 million will be less
than half of the 29th highest team payroll and less than what four individual
players each made last season. While they have stockpiled youngsters as
well as anyone, they have not made the commitment towards keeping that talent
that the other three franchises have. Still, their $30.5 million payroll
of 2007 was enough to win them as many games as the San Francisco Giants ($90 M)
and more than the Baltimore Orioles ($93.5 M).
Are other small market franchises adopting this clearly successful strategy
of emphasizing young, cheap talent? Largely, no. The Cincinnati Reds
recently signed Francisco Cordero to a 4-year, $46 million deal, violating
Baseball Evolution's small market rule #4: "Never pay top dollar for a closer."
The royals insisted on spending $36 million for three years of the 32-year old
Jose Guillen, a known substance abuser who clearly peaked in 2003. The
Blue Jays signed so many veterans to huge contracts last offseason as to
suppress any major dealings this year. The Pirates' new regime has also
elected to make no noise whatsoever, keeping both the cheaper and more expensive
players on their 68-win roster from a year ago.
For whatever reason, the four youngest franchises learned the lessons of
baseball's new economy quicker than those franchises that have been around for
decades. Time will tell whether more of the elder franchises adopt the
strategies of the Diamondbacks, Rays, Rockies, and Marlins. If that
happens, we could see shorter average careers for players, as no one in baseball
will willingly give a mediocre, 36-year old outfielder a lucrative, long-term
For now, newer teams are adapting more quickly to dynamic economic conditions
than older ones are. They should enjoy this edge while they can, because
it may not last.
Send questions or
comments for Keith Glab to
Are you a full member of
FutureBacks.com? If not, then you are missing out on the top
Diamondbacks coverage we provide to our premium members, as well as full
access to over 400 other Scout.com sites.
Join us today!