As I’m sure you’ve all heard and read about by now, one of the biggest sticking points for the Jays when speaking about the possibility of signing a player like Prince Fielder is the length of the deal. More specifically, the Jays supposedly have a policy whereby they will not commit to signing a player to a deal that includes a term longer than 5 years. I wrote supposedly, because I entirely believe that this is simply great posturing by a GM and a team that wants to limit the risk they take on when signing their own players and free agents.
Here’s a question for all of you to ponder about: in 1 or 2 years, when Brett Lawrie is knocking the snot out of the ball all over the field and making a name for himself as one of the greatest young players in the game, will the Jays consider making him “an offer he can’t refuse” in order to make sure he sticks around in Toronto for a very lengthy period? I believe the answer to that question is yes, and it’s entirely why I believe that the 5 year cap on deals is simply posturing and could change at any point in time if the situation is right.
The perfect comparison for this kind of situation is none other than fellow AL East third baseman, Evan Longoria. In April 2008, after just finishing his time in the minor leagues, Longoria signed a 9-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. The value of the contract was guaranteed for the first 6 years and held 2 team options for the following 3 years (1 for 1 year, and 1 for 2 years). That contract ensured Longoria would be under Tampa’s control through 2016 if they pick up all options, and ensured that the heart of their club and lineup would remain with them at an affordable rate. Had they decided to go year by year without extending him, it’s quite possible that Tampa would already be talking about when, not if, Longoria would be leaving the club.
Evan Longoria was 22 years old when he signed that deal and had just 1 week of MLB service time under his belt. Meanwhile, Brett Lawrie already completed 150 ABs at 21 years of age and did a tremendous job with a .293/.373/.580 line which included an impressive 21 extra base hits. Most impressive of all was the fact that Lawrie had a 2.8 WAR rating over just 43 games (150 ABs), while Longoria managed a 3.8 WAR rating over his entire rookie season when he played in 122 games (448 ABs). In fact, most people in the industry believe that if Lawrie had played long enough in the majors last season, he would have easily won the Rookie of the Year award and was the most impressive rookie to watch that season regardless of the award.
Here’s a comparison of how each player got to the big leagues:
Brett Lawrie, 19 years old (372 ABs in LoA, 52 ABs in AA)
- 424 AB, 116 hits, 18 DB, 6 TR, 13 HR, 65 RBI, 19 SB, 13 CS, 41 BB, 84 SO, .274/.340/.436
- 228 AB, 73 hits, 8 DB, 5 HR, 30 RBI, 10 SB, 1 CS, 14 BB, 41 SO, .320/.368/.421
- 554 ABs, 158 hits, 36 DB, 16 TR, 8 HR, 63 RBI, 30 SB, 13 CS, 47 BB, 118 SO, .285/.346/.451
Evan Longoria, 20 years old (After 201 more ABs in NCAA, 33 AB in LoA, 110 AB in HiA, 105 AB in AA)
- 248 AB, 78 hits, 14 DB, 1 TR, 18 HR, 58 RBI, 4 SB, 2 CS, 19 BB, 44 SO, .315/.360/.597
- 292 ABs, 103 hits, 24 DB, 8 TR, 16 HR, 61 RBI, 13 SB, 2 CS, 26 BB, 53 SO, .353/.415/.661
- Majors: 150 AB, 44 hits, 8 DB, 4 TR, 9 HR, 25 RBI, 7 SB, 1 CS, 16 BB, 31 SO, .293/.373/.580, 1.9 oWar, 0.9 dWAR
- 485 AB, 145 hits, 29 DB, 26 HR, 95 RBI, 4 SB, 73 BB, 110 SO, .299/.402/.520
- Will play entire season in MLB (2012)
- 25 AB, 5 hits, 1 RBI, 4 BB, 5 SO, .200/.333/.200
- Majors: 448 AB, 122 hits, 31 DB, 2 TR, 27 HR, 85 RBI, 7 SB, 0 CS, 46 BB, 122 SO, .272/.343/.531, 3.2 oWAR, 0.6 dWAR
- Lawrie hit 69 extra base hits between AAA and the Majors at 21 years old, while Longoria managed 55 extra base hits in AA and AAA at the same age.
- Lawrie stole a total of 62 bases while making his way through the minors, while Longoria stole only 18 bases.
- Lawrie actually had a better defensive performance (0.9 dWAR) than Longoria did (0.6 dWAR) despite playing about a third of the time Longoria did his first season in the majors.
The conclusion we can make from the comparison above? Lawrie made it to the majors more quickly than Longoria, in a more impressive fashion than Longoria, included a dimension to his game that Longoria has less of (speed), and also played better defensively once in the majors despite being at an entirely new position! Finally, and most importantly, Lawrie looked great when he made it to the majors, energizing the entire team in a way that a Toronto Blue Jays player hasn’t done in a very long time.
If that’s not a call for an extension, I don’t know what is. The Jays need to wake up and make it their #1 priority to sign Brett Lawrie to an extension before it costs them both arms and legs of the franchise.
The keys for the Rays to get Longoria signed were twofold: he was willing to sign, first and foremost, and he had yet to prove himself at the MLB level. If the Jays want to get Brett Lawrie under control for a VERY long time and make him a home country hero as a Toronto Blue Jays player for the majority of his career, they will have to write off they supposed 5-year maximum when it comes to signing players. Brett Lawrie is worth the investment, and is great enough to become the same kind of cornerstone to the Jays that Evan Longoria has provided the Rays with.
Will they do it? I certainly hope so, because if they decide to wait until after 2012, the price will go up. If they wait until 2013, it will go up even more. Every single time the Jays decide to wait, they’ll be writing a bigger check to him if they can even afford to do so. If ever there was a time to lock up a player early, this is that time. The Jays are bright enough to recognize this, and also know that they will certainly have to exceed a 5-year contract in order to get Lawrie signed with the Jays passed his arbitration years.
Since I entirely believe the Jays would go beyond 5 years to lock up Lawrie long term, the following is also trrue: the Jays are simply posturing when they say that they will not exceed 5-year contracts with any player, so signing Prince Fielder remains a possibility. If the player is good enough and worthy of an investment that takes the Jays beyond a 5-year period, the Jays would surely break away from that “rule” and make an offer to that player. Is Fielder that player? I’m not so sure, and his physique, whether he likes it or not, has a lot to do with it. When someone is trying to get a contract North of $180 million, they have to be able to play D and hit. So when you consider the fact that Prince is likely to wind up being a DH at some point during his next contract, assuming he gets the 8 to 10 year deal he is looking for, you know that you’re not getting half of the equation for a good period of that deal. Again, nothing is certain, but all signs point to his weight being an issue later on in his career.
Need more proof the Jays would go beyond a 5-year deal? I’ll provide you with a scenario that is completely make belief, but that points to what I am trying to establish in this article.
- The cost here would be so steep, especially in terms of the number of top-end prospects the Mariners would demand in return for the King, that the Jays would be forced to ensure they have him locked up long-term. Hernandez is under control only through 2014, so any team trading for him would want to get him under pen and paper for a significant amount of time if they’re sacrificing so many prospects and players to get him onboard. Is 6-years or even 7 in this case impossible if the Jays were to deal for him? I would think not, particularly since Hernandez himself may demand that the length of the deal be that long to sign ANY contract extension at all.
The Jays definitely need to consider extending Brett Lawrie RIGHT NOW, and would be providing the franchise with its own version of Evan Longoria in the process, maybe even a little bit more. The fact that they should be willing to complete such a lengthy deal tells me that nothing is really written in stone when it comes to contract lengths in Toronto. Should the right player be brought in, they’ll likely make the yearly adjustment to the deals offered to that player.
Does this contract length “flexibility” apply to Prince Fielder? Maybe, or maybe not, but there’s certainly a lot of posturing going on. The Jays may be hoping that he bites and goes for a shorter term deal with more money per season than he would get in a longer deal, and that he’d do so to prove everyone wrong about his weight issues and how applicable they will be 4-5 years from now. If that winds up working out in the Jays favour, assuming they make any offer at all to Fielder, then they’ll definitely benefit from the reduced risk that comes from a lengthy contract. However, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see him signed to a 6 or 7 year deal with the Jays, simply because I believe there really is some flexibility when it comes to the Jays 5-year maximum on player contracts.
Going back to Lawrie’s case, I will be seriously disappointed if the Blue Jays don’t extend him for a very, very long time. He is without a doubt a franchise player they need to lock up ASAP, and anything less jeopardizes his length of his future with the Toronto Blue Jays.