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Young players and long-term deals

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For all of the talk-radio yammering about salary caps, all of the panic about the Yankees buying back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back championships because they can, there’s competitive balance in baseball. The Twins can compete, the Rays can compete, the Brewers can compete -- any team that develops players can compete. There’s a big advantage for a team that can spend $200M, sure, but it guarantees nothing. Even a team like the

 

San Francisco Giants of 2010

can win a championship with a payroll around $70M.

Okay, fine, so maybe it’s disingenuous to pretend Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito were paid like paperweights because that’s the function they held in the playoffs. But it isn’t hard to see how a mid-payroll can compete, using te players who actually played through the playoffs for the Giants as the template. Develop, develop, develop, because for three years, the players you develop are paid in free t-shirts and bottled water. For three years after that, they’re paid below what they’d get on the open market. And for all six of those years, the team can sever ties with the player at any time. Whereas the Giants will be paying Rowand for the next decade or six, they were able to tell Eugenio Velez, look, it’s not you, it’s me.

Those six years are the key to the competitive balance in baseball. Small- and mid-market teams cherish those precious years of indentured servitude. So my first instinct is to think the Rockies are nuts. They’ve taken two players whom they already had locked up -- Troy Tulowitski and Carlos Gonzalez --and locked them up even more, guaranteeing years that weren’t guaranteed before, duct-taping the fortunes of the franchise to those two players for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. My first reaction: why? Both players were under team control for at least four more years. A lot can happen in four years. Nomarification. Cedenosis. Vernonescence.

What the deals do, though, is guarantee that the Red Sox, Yankees, or other major market bogeymen aren’t going to get their grubby paws on the faces of the Colorado franchise in four or five years. Sure, there’s prudence in going year-to-year. It makes fiscal sense, which in turn leads to roster-building options. But then you wake up one morning, and realize that you have to trade your best player for a handful of magic baked beans or risk losing him for nothing. The Rockies don’t need to worry about that. Their fans don’t, either. Tulo and Cargo, together for the better part of a decade. It’s as much a business strategy as it is a baseball strategy.

While the logical part of me wants the Giants to avoid huge commitments to players already under team control, the fan in me wants the security. I want to know that Timlin, Maca, Bupo, and Briwi will be part of a decade of Giants baseball. It’s too late to sign them to super-bargain, hometown-discount specials, but they’d probably all talk about long-term deals. I still think I err on the side of year-to-year planning with young players, but it’s more than tempting to ape the Rockies’ strategy and tether the franchise to Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Buster Posey, and Pabl...dang it. An arb-eliminating deal to Pabsand last year could have been a disaster. Or maybe when he’s hitting .330 in Fenway in six years, we’ll wonder what could have been. So torn about this now.

Comment starter: head or heart? Do you envy the Rockies’ premature-but-clear commitment, or do you admire the Rays’ method of trying to develop farm-bred replacements for jackpot-bound players like Carl Crawford?