This spring, we've heard about Doug Melvin meeting with representatives of Bill Hall and Derrick Turnbow, looking to put together multi-year deals to avoid arbitration and give the Crew some cost certainty in the years ahead. Nothing has come of that, but Mark Shapiro in Cleveland is giving us something to think about, and not for the first time.
Shapiro put together a six-year deal for Grady Sizemore, their star centerfielder, with a club option for 2012. The Tribe will pay a bit more for this and next one or two years, but if Sizemore continues to be an all-star quality player, they'll have themselves a heck of a deal in the last three or four years of this contract. This isn't the first time Shapiro has acted to lock up his young core, either: CC Sabathia is signed through '08, Victor Martinez is signed through '09 with an option on 2010, and Jhonny Peralta's deal goes through 2010 with a club option on '11.
I don't want to suggest that the Brewers are at fault for not doing more of this: the equivalent young core of Hardy/Weeks/Fielder is a year or two behind their Indians counterparts. Sizemore was one of the best centerfielders in baseball last year, while our guys were struggling in the transition from AAA. But after this season, Shapiro's deals will provide a good benchmark for what Melvin should try to do with, at the very least, a couple of our young infielders.
It's true that they'll be under team control until 2010 or so. So the risk of not signing them long-term probably isn't losing them, but it could mean unpleasant arbitration hearings or nasty payroll squeezes. Imagine if Fielder and Weeks each have monster years in 2009. They could each win Soriano-like ($10m+) contracts in arbitration, account for close to 1/3 of the team's budget right there. Cost-certainty is not only a good thing for the team going forward, but it makes players more tradable. Let's say Alcides Escobar comes charging through the minors looking like the second coming of Derek Jeter. We all love JJ Hardy, but in this hypothetical, he's going to be the second-best SS in the organization in 2009. He'd be a much more attractive commodity if, instead of heading to arbitration in 2010, he were signed to, say, a $6m deal with a $7.5m club option for 2011.
Like I say, this is all very hypothetical, and there are risks a team runs making deals like this. Too many times in baseball history, players have gotten hurt at a young age and never were the same again. The Indians have taken that risk with Sizemore, Martinez, and Peralta. But when $23.5m is the cost of one year of Alex Rodriguez or--gulp--two years of Jeff Kent, it seems like a worthwhile risk. The upside is breathtaking, potentially allowing the core of this Brewers team to stay together for six or seven more years.
All that said, if you could only give a long-term deal to one player after this season, who would you give it to? You can certainly make cases for the long-term prospects of Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, or even Corey Hart (in my opinion the most underrated rookie in baseball right now). Who's your pick?