- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
As best we can tell, no up-and-coming 23-year-old star has signed a seven-year contract in the past 12 minutes.
But you'd better check the old transactions column to make sure of that -- because at this rate, every young player in baseball, with the possible exception of Jeff Fiorentino, will be signed for life by the end of the week.
Oh, all right. Not all of them. Hard as it may be to believe this -- in a week when Ryan Braun, Hanley Ramirez, Joakim Soria and Scott Kazmir signed deals guaranteeing them more than $155 million combined -- long-term contracts are not for everybody.
"If you're a team that's out there signing a bunch of players to long-term deals," said an official of one club that isn't sold on that practice, "then you'd better be a team that's winning multiple championships. If you're not, then all that money you're guaranteeing is committed to the wrong players."
Most clubs aren't thinking that way anymore, obviously. But even the teams that love those contracts are finding they can't sign all the players they'd like to sign. So here's a look at some of the high-profile young players who haven't been swept up in baseball's hottest new trend:
Dan Uggla: In the wake of Hanley Ramirez's six-year, $70 million extension, you might expect the Marlins to follow the lead of that sign-'em-all team across the state (Tampa Bay) and lock up everybody in sight. Uh, not so fast.
There are no indications the Marlins have any imminent plans to lock up anybody else. Not Uggla. Not Scott Olsen. Not even Billy the Marlin.
Club president David Samson declined to discuss any of the Marlins' negotiating plans with Rumblings, other than to repeat what owner Jeffrey Loria said at Ramirez's press conference -- that GM Larry Beinfest "hasn't approached us about [extending] anyone other than Hanley."
But cohorts of Samson and Loria say they're actually philosophically opposed to just about all deals like this, unless it's for a "special player" -- and not for any pitcher. So even though Uggla is on pace to become the first second baseman since Rogers Hornsby to have back-to-back 80 extra-base-hit seasons, it looks as though he'll catch Hornsby before he catches Hanley Ramirez.
Ryan Howard-Cole Hamels: Since Howard and Hamels are teammates in Philadelphia, it's convenient to link their situations. But aside from the fact that their GM, Pat Gillick, is a conscientious long-contract objector, they're separate cases.
Howard is a unique player in baseball history, looking for an Alex Rodriguez-type payday. So he and the Phillies barely have been in the same solar system, no matter how long a contract they've tried to talk about.
Then came Howard's historic $10 million arbitration award this spring. And here's the irony in that development: It almost single-handedly terrified other teams into locking up as many young centerpiece players as possible before they even sniffed arbitration. But it pushed Howard and the Phillies only further apart -- with no happy ending in sight.
Hamels, however, has a different set of issues. For one thing, he's a pitcher. And Gillick's long-standing policy is not to guarantee more than three years for any pitcher.
But Hamels also is a guy who never has stayed healthy wire to wire in any of his six professional seasons. So even with Gillick's retiring after this year, the ace he'll leave behind will have to demonstrate more staying power before the Phillies start firing any long-term offers at him.
B.J. Upton-Justin Upton: The Upton brothers are the talk of the industry these days -- in part because of their prodigious skills, but also in part because they haven't joined the sign-on-the-dotted-line parade.
In Tampa Bay, B.J. is the most prominent young player the Rays haven't been able to lock up, much as they'd like to. But Upton's agent, Larry Reynolds, told Rumblings that his client is in no rush to sign.
"Everyone has to look at their situations differently," Reynolds said. "And the most important factors, in my mind, are how well educated is the player [about the market] and how confident is the player in his own abilities. At this point, I just think it's in B.J.'s best interest to take it year by year, and then listen again next year."
In the case of Upton's little brother, however, there has been next to no conversation with the Diamondbacks about a massive contract -- mostly because we're talking about a player who has barely even 100 days of big league service time.
"I think they understand that we're going to play this year out," Reynolds said, "because that's what Justin wants to do -- go out and help the team win and worry about that [contract] stuff next year."
So in a way, we're talking about two distinct situations with their own separate contexts. But not entirely. Clearly, B.J.'s reluctance to jump at the same kind of below-market deal as many of his Rays teammates has implications for Justin, too.
Like Tampa Bay, Arizona has a slew of core players approaching their arbitration years -- and will need to lock up quite a few as economically as possible. If both Upton brothers feel secure enough to go year to year now, it's a good guess they're not going to be either team's idea of a bargain. How that affects their long-term futures will make for one -- uh, make that two -- fascinating sagas.
Russell Martin: You might be surprised that many people now casually refer to Martin as the best catcher in baseball. But though the other young contenders for that honor -- Victor Martinez, Joe Mauer, Brian McCann -- all signed multiyear deals early, Martin has had other ideas.
Dodgers GM Ned Colletti told Rumblings the club approached Martin's agent, Bob Garber, last fall and again this spring about a contract that most likely would have stretched through Martin's first year or two of free agency (i.e., through 2013 or '14). They were told, "No thanks."
So there are no immediate plans to resume that conversation. And there are no indications the Dodgers have approached any of their other young players -- such as James Loney, Jonathan Broxton or Chad Billingsley -- about any similar deals. But presumably, that's only because the club wants to let those players establish themselves. Colletti says his team has no fear of such a contract, as long as it goes to the right guy.
"If you know the person, and you know his priorities, and you know what kind of player he is now, and you know what kind of player you project him to be, and all those things are positive, then it's a great idea," the GM said. "But if you have any doubt about any of that, then you're really rolling the dice."
Zack Greinke: Royals closer Joakim Soria just cashed in on a three-year, $8.75 million extension last week that could grow to six years, $32.75 million. So the logical question is: Where's Greinke's extension? And where, for that matter, is Alex Gordon's extension?
Well, GM Dayton Moore made it clear to Rumblings he would like to "sign as many good players long-term as we can." But he also said he's evaluating every one of his players "case by case." And though he wouldn't discuss specifics, Greinke isn't exactly his most clear-cut case.
On one hand, we're talking about a 24-year-old future ace with a 2.18 ERA. On the other, we're talking about a complicated young man who once had to walk away from baseball with a social anxiety disorder. So what's the right time to lock up a player with Greinke's history? Now? Six months from now? Or never? That's obviously a decision the Royals are still in the process of making.
Prince Fielder: Fielder's reaction, after Braun got his income levels squared away through 2015, was succinct: "I'm just happy for Braunie." The Brewers undoubtedly would have preferred something more like: "Where do I sign?"
But they're dealing with a different animal in Fielder, who has Scott Boras for an agent and more grandiose salary plans in his head.
"The only reason to do these deals," said one GM, "is if you're getting a discount. If you're not going to get a discount -- and a pretty good discount -- there's no reason to do it, because then the team is taking on all the risk."
But that word, "discount," isn't in Boras' dictionary. So when one prominent agent was asked to assess the chances of Fielder's doing a Braunesque deal, he replied: "None. Zero. No chance."
Felix Hernandez: The Mariners already signed Hernandez to one near-record contract -- namely, the $710,000 bonus it took to corral him as a Venezuelan teenager. They've also been aggressive in signing their other young core-group players (à la Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez).
So logically, King Felix ought to be about as high on their contract priority list as anybody on the roster, now that he's approaching his arbitration years. But there's every indication that the Mariners have made a run at signing him -- and gotten nowhere.
GM Bill Bavasi stuck to team policy and wouldn't tell Rumblings the details of his negotiations with any player. But Bavasi did say this:
"Felix has tremendous confidence in his abilities and values his freedom of going year to year more than the security of a long-term deal at this point. And you can suffice it to say that with any young player we think highly of, we broach that subject early on. But long-term deals aren't for everybody."
Because Hernandez can't become a free agent until the winter of 2011-12, his reluctance to sign isn't a big deal -- yet. But it's also an indication that he's a guy who sees a very large payday in his future, and not necessarily in the great Northwest.
Jeff Francoeur: In the spring of 2007, the Braves approached both Francoeur and his buddy Brian McCann with similar long-term offers, contracts that could have tied them up through 2013. McCann said yes. Francoeur said no.
So this spring, the Braves tried again, offering a contract believed to be in the same range as Curtis Granderson's new deal (five years, $32.25 million). Francoeur said no again. Eventually, the two sides couldn't agree on even a one-year contract. So the Braves wound up renewing him (at $460,000).
That makes two years in a row that Francoeur has gone the renewal route. And that sets the stage for a much more intriguing negotiation next year, when Francoeur finally becomes eligible for arbitration. The Braves will be out to keep him from turning into their version of Ryan Howard. And though Francoeur will continue to love being a Brave, and the Braves will continue to work at keeping him around, there's a word for where this is headed:
But Lester, Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury are still works in progress. Papelbon, Youkilis and Pedroia, on the other hand, all have established where they fit in the Red Sox's intricately woven tapestry.
In fact, the club already has made a run at locking up Papelbon and Youkilis -- just without any success. And Pedroia conceivably could have joined that fun, too, if he hadn't been in the midst of changing agents this spring.
The expectation is that the team will try it again with all three next year. But consider the big picture: The Red Sox have had great success lately with persuading players to take discounted offers out of sheer love for playing for their team. They're also a club with lots of money, so they can afford to take the chance on going year to year. And they're big believers in roster flexibility, which is the ultimate benefit of going year to year.
So it's not a sure bet that they'll get any of these guys tied up, unless it's on their terms. That'll make this a team that all other large-market franchises will eye verrry closely as the great Sign-'Em-Up-Young fad of 2008 continues to explode.
Ready to rumble
• Let's go to the videotape: Major League Baseball isn't ready to make any announcements. But it looks as if it's ready to begin experimenting with instant replay in the Arizona Fall League. That could be followed by similar trials next year during the World Baseball Classic and maybe spring training. If all goes well, it's possible, though far from definite, that we could see replay used to decide home run calls as early as next season. What still needs to be figured out is whether baseball would position a couple of replay "umpires" to review plays from the MLB office in New York, or add an extra umpire or replay official in every ballpark. At any rate, for the first time in our lifetimes, the implementation of replay finally looks more likely than unlikely. If you're keeping score, the NFL beat MLB to the video machines by only 23 years.
B.J. and Justin Upton are the first brothers in history who can say they each hit a home run in the big leagues as a teenager. But five other sets of active brothers all hit homers before age 24. How many can you name? (Answer later.)
• Grab your shopping carts: As the frustration mounts in San Diego, it's looking more and more likely that the Padres could kick off their clearance sale any week now. The guy at the top of quite a few shopping lists figures to be Brian Giles, the Padres' OPS leader. An official of one club that has spoken with San Diego went as far as to predict a Giles trade is "likely." But hang on. Giles can block a trade to eight teams, and his $9 million option for next year automatically becomes an $11 million option (or $3 million buyout) if he's traded. Plus, his exit would leave this team with just about zero offense from its outfield. "No," one baseball man said, laughing. "Without him, they'd have no offense, period."
• Straight A's: If you're a trade-deadline-aholic, the team you should be watching closely is Oakland. The A's are looking toward the future no matter how this season turns out. So Billy Beane figures to be one seriously active GM under any circumstances -- and especially if the A's keep slipping in the standings. "That's a good team to stay on top of, because they've got pitching inventory they're willing to deal," said a scout for one team searching for arms.
The names that have circulated most on the rumor mill are Joe Blanton and Rich Harden. But the sense we get is that clubs are watching Oakland's bullpen as closely as they're watching the rotation, with Huston Street, Alan Embree and even Chad Gaudin high on their list. "I think they'll talk about trading any of them," said the same scout. "So I know one thing. I'm going to see this club as much as I can."
• Harden times: Speaking of the A's, here's one NL executive's take on what would have to happen to get him interested in trading for Harden, even if the oft-injured ace strings together eight straight dominating outings between now and July: "I wouldn't give them three quality guys for him no matter what I saw in the next two months, because I couldn't count on him doing that for the next three years. Oh, I think he'll pitch over the next three years. But I think he'll pitch, then break down, then pitch, then break down. So to me, this deal would have to be one piece. It would have to be just a prospect. And it wouldn't be a top-of-the-line prospect. But I bet Billy will get somebody to give him that top-of-the-line guy. There are just enough [GMs] fighting for their job that in a month or two, they might trade anybody."
• Happy Hollidays: Clubs hunting for offense are skeptical of talk that the Rockies could position Matt Holliday as this year's Mark Teixeira and deal him before the deadline. There is clearly a parallel, though, since Holliday also is a Scott Boras client and almost certainly will test the market when he hits free agency after next season. "So if they're ever going to do it," says an official of one interested team, "this is the time. They won't get as much value if they do it next winter. So the only time to trade him is before this deadline. But even if that's true, I doubt they'll do it. They're still not that far out of the wild card (nine games). And they like the player too much."
• DeJesus is just all right: The Royals would seem more likely to trade a relief pitcher or two than a position player before the deadline. But one Royals regular about whom we're starting to hear other teams speculate is center fielder David DeJesus. GM Dayton Moore told Rumblings that at this stage in the Royals' development, "we'll evaluate anything." But though Moore won't talk specifically about any potential deal, he did say, "David DeJesus is a guy you can win with." Also, DeJesus' contract is so club-friendly (with salaries of $3.6 million, $4.7 million and $6 million through 2011), the Royals would need to get a spectacular offer to persuade them to move one of their more consistent players.
• Phenom time: Any day now, the Reds will reach the point in the season when it's probably safe to call up their favorite phenom, Jay Bruce, without worrying about whether he'll accumulate enough service time to qualify for arbitration as a "super two" player after the 2010 season. But one friend of owner Robert Castellini says that always was an overrated factor in the decision to send Bruce to the minor leagues. "He's not into that," Castellini's friend said. "All he wants to do is win -- and as soon as possible." But if that's true, how much longer can the Reds keep Bruce hanging out in Louisville, where he has 10 homers, a .661 slugging percentage, a .369 batting average and as many extra-base hits (24) as Junior Griffey and Corey Patterson combined?
• Tiger tales: As frustrated as the Tigers might be, clubs that have talked to them say they have almost no roster flexibility to maneuver their way out of their current funk. They're contractually locked into their position players just about all over the diamond. So as one baseball man put it, this team is pretty much stuck with having "to go with what they've got right now. They're committed to these players." Nevertheless, here are four big questions we keep hearing about the Tigers:
2. Isn't it time to consider releasing Gary Sheffield and DHing Cabrera?
3. What are they going to do with Dontrelle Willis, who still hasn't solved his control crisis during his rehab outings?
4. Is there any chance they'll trade a guy like Jeremy Bonderman to fill other holes?
The best answers we can muster: 1. Sheffield's presence in the DH hole makes that impossible. 2. They're not ready to shred the $24 million or so they still owe Sheffield through next year. 3. Good question. 4. Bonderman doesn't appear available, but they'll undoubtedly get asked about him between now and July 31.
• The best trades never made: Instead of finding himself throwing that no-hitter in Fenway this week, Jon Lester easily could have been wearing a different uniform. And not just a Twins uniform. If the Red Sox had traded for Johan Santana last winter, Lester almost certainly would have wound up in that deal. But four years ago, the Red Sox actually did include him in a trade -- for A-Rod -- only to have it fall through during A-Rod's famed contract snafu.
The Red Sox had agreed to swap Lester and Manny Ramirez to Texas for A-Rod. But they also would have replaced Lester in their prospect pool by making a companion trade with the White Sox: Nomar Garciaparra for Magglio Ordonez, Brandon McCarthy and left-hander Arnie Munoz. McCarthy was viewed at the time as a comparable prospect. Doesn't seem like it now. Does he?
• Adjust your pinstripes: When people talk about the decline of the Yankees' offense, they seem to focus on the absence of A-Rod and Jorge Posada or wonder why other guys haven't hit. But scouts who have followed the Yankees keep pointing out that's not their only issue. They've also dramatically changed their offensive MO under Joe Girardi.
Two years ago (under Joe Torre), they stole 139 bases. Last year, they stole 123. This year, they have fewer steals (16) than Jacoby Ellsbury -- and they've been thrown out 11 times. So at this rate, they'll threaten the biggest one-year stolen-base dropoff in the history of the franchise -- from 123 to 56.
"The only way they score runs now is on home runs," said one scout. "They have trouble running and manufacturing any kind of runs. They're very station to station. Not a very athletic team."
• The clause that wasn't: The Marlins kept it quiet, but it turns out they pretty much agreed on that extension with Hanley Ramirez weeks ago. So what held it up? A two-month fight about a no-trade clause. The Marlins eventually won that tug o' war, because a no-trade clause (or any other perk outside of award bonuses) can't be found anywhere in Ramirez's deal.
• Who's No. 1: Ask most people to name the best left-handed pitcher in the National League, and they'd answer Johan Santana. But a scout who has seen Cole Hamels twice this month has a different answer: "Hamels probably has better stuff than Santana," the scout said, "because he's got a better breaking ball. The only thing that's keeping Cole Hamels from being a premium, premium guy is health."
• The name game: For all the hoopla about the federal government's efforts to move ahead on plans to subpoena those 104 players who tested positive for steroids in 2003, don't expect those names to show up in the headlines anytime soon. The players' union is still appealing, for one thing. But even if the union loses every appeal, according to one baseball official familiar with the case, it still would be at least a year before those players would get subpoenaed.
Rumblings' scouting bureau
Once again this week, the best scouts in the business give us snapshot views of what they've been watching:
• Miguel Tejada: "I'll tell you what. Miguel Tejada's a winner. He's not just swinging the bat. He's playing defense better than a lot of guys who are supposed to be better defenders than him. He loves to play, and it shows. He's a winner."
Here are the five sets of brothers who all homered before age 24, courtesy of the Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR's David Vincent: Dmitri and Delmon Young, J.D. and Stephen Drew, Jerry and Scott Hairston, Cesar and Maicer Izturis, Willy and Erick Aybar.
• Ryan Zimmerman: "He's got some holes now he didn't have before. He's really changed his approach. He used to use the whole field. Now, you look at his spray chart, and he pulls everything. You spin a ball or get it out over the outer half of the plate, and he can't handle it."
• Clay Buchholz: "Of all the guys on that staff, he's the guy I'd be concerned with. He's got a live fastball, but he's not using it. He wants to throw all his breaking stuff and all his off-speed stuff all of a sudden, and I don't understand why. I think some kids feel like the league's caught up with them, so they have to change. But I don't think this kid has to change as much as he has."
• Greg Smith: "This guy might have pitched the best game I've seen pitched all year, in terms of executing quality pitches."
• Prince Fielder: "This guy is so big now, he jiggles. He's enormous. Hey, he's a great hitter. But he's huge."
Headliner of the week
From a recent edition of the relentlessly brilliant parody site/mag, The Onion:
Nomar Garciaparra Tells Wife To Meet Him On Disabled List At 8 p.m.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.