Locking up talent before free agency catching on in Major League Baseball

storapse@aol.comFebruary 27, 2014 

When the New York Yankees committed to $445 million in long term contracts for seven players during the offseason it was regarded as business as usual for the Steinbrenner family.

It was the end of the austerity plan in New York that lasted all of 12 months. That's what happens when the Yankees fail to make the playoffs for the first time in 19 years and the arch-rival Boston Red Sox win the World Series.

But there was a different reaction in Atlanta when the Braves gave a guaranteed $267 million to four players 25 and under in multi-year contracts.

For years Braves fans have complained about absentee ownership that has failed to spend the extra dollars needed to build a team that can win in the post season.

Last year when Atlanta failed to win a playoff series for the 12th straight year, blame was heaped on general manager Frank Wren and to a lesser extent field manager Fredi Gonzalez.

In all honesty, Wren deserved to be criticized for his poor judgment in signing free agent Dan Uggla to a five-year, $62 million contract in 2011 and outfielder B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75 million contract last year.

Uggla batted .179 during the regular season and was dropped from the roster for the playoffs. Upton wasn't much better, ending up with a .184 batting average.

Unless Uggla and Upton improve greatly on those performances this season, it will go down as money poorly spent.

However, the Braves and Wren embarked on a new path this offseason when, instead of going out and signing free agents, they spent millions on four home-grown stars.

First baseman Freddie Freeman signed a franchise record eight-year, $135 million contract. Starting pitcher Julio Teheran got a six-year $32 million deal; closer Craig Kimbrel is locked up for four years and $42 million; and shortstop Andrelton Simmons is on board for $58 million over seven years.

Signing home-grown, young talent to extended contracts is a new philosophy for the Braves. It is a practice more and more teams are opting for instead of signing free agents stars who are at the peak of their careers.

Maybe the experience the Yankees had with Alex Rodriguez --10 years at $275 million -- has had an impact. When he comes back from a year's suspension in 2015, the aging (40) and injury-prone third baseman will still be owed $61 million through the 2017 season.

The Yankees aren't the only team to over-commit to free agents.

Ask the Los Angeles Angels (Albert Pujols), LA Dodgers (Carl Crawford), or Philadelphia Phillies (Ryan Howard) if they have had any second thoughts.

Not everyone likes this new trend of giving young talented players lucrative, multi-year contracts before they get to free agency or become eligible for arbitration.

Scott Boras, the infamous agent who is most responsible for the ever-escalating baseball salaries and the corresponding increase in the price of tickets, calls the system "corrupt."

No surprise there. The Braves, in the signings of Freeman, Kimbrell, Simmons and Teheran to long term contracts, have taken potential Boras' clients off the market for the near future.

It still remains to be seen if Wren and company have made good decisions with these contracts. The ultimate goal is for all four to be in a Braves uniform when the team moves into its new ball park in 2017.

Could the players have commanded more money if they waited until they were eligible for free agency to sign extended contracts?

Maybe, maybe not.

If this makes Boras unhappy, so be it.

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