SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- It's the only off day for the Cubs this spring training, and that got me to thinking.
Yeah, I know. Dangerous thing, that.
What got me thinking were the following four contract signings, all of players 25 years old or younger, a couple of whom have almost no major league experience:
Matt Moore of the Rays signed a five-year contract for $14 million after just five MLB appearances, two of them in the playoffs. It contains three option years with buyouts; the Rays are on the hook for a minimum of $18.25 million, but if all goes right for Moore and the team, it could be an eight-year deal for $40 million.
Alcides Escobar of the Royals signed a four-year contract for $10.5 million. It has two option years with buyouts; the Royals will pay at least $11.5 million but it could wind up as a six-year, $22.25 million contract.
Salvador Perez, also a Royal, signed a five-year deal for $7 million after playing just 39 major league games. It, too, has three option years which could make it an eight-year contract worth $21.75 million. Perez got hurt within a few days after signing this deal, but he's expected back by midseason.
And just this week, the Rangers signed Derek Holland to a five-year, $28.5 million contract with two option years. With buyouts, it's worth a minimum of $30 million, or it could wind up a seven-year, $51 million deal.
What does this have to do with the Cubs? Follow me past the jump, dear reader, to find out.
What these teams are doing, clearly, is identifying the young talent that they think is going to be the centerpiece of their teams and locking them up to longterm deals, buying out their arb years and the first years of free agency.
It's clear to me that the Cubs need to do this with Starlin Castro, and rightfreakingnow before his value goes way, way up. Castro will be arb-eligible next offseason, He is already an All-Star (and might be one again this year) and possibly, at his age (he turns 22 on Saturday), just about to break out into stardom or superstardom. If Theo & Jed let it get that far, Castro is likely to get a huge arb raise, and that simply starts a three-year spiral of escalating salaries which would inevitably result in Castro leaving as a free agent, because he'd become unaffordable to anyone but the Yankees.
I'd suggest a contract somewhere along the lines of what Holland got: a five-year, $28 million extension with a pair of option years. The AAV of Holland's deal is a little over $7 million. Fangraphs claims Castro was worth $15.1 million in 2011, which I think might be a little overdone, but still, you can clearly see that if the Cubs offered some big money now, they could save themselves even bigger money later.
Why would Castro take such a deal? Guaranteed money up front for up to seven years; he could get injured, or maybe his performance won't be what we all hope, but he gets paid anyway. The same logic says it's a risk to the team, of course -- injury or poor performance and the Cubs have paid way too much.
But those are the types of risks that the Rays, Royals and Rangers took with their up-and-coming stars. As players like Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo come to the major leagues and become everyday Cubs, the team should do this with them, too.
It is, I believe, a market efficiency, something Theo & Jed would be wise to take advantage of, instead of waiting around for some big name to become a free agent and reward him for good years he had for someone else.
Get it done, Theo & Jed. And the sooner the better.