The Orioles signed outfielder Adam Jones to a contract extension and became part of the hottest trend in baseball. Teams in every market size are signing players to extensions that buy out arbitration years and keep players off the free agent market.
And it’s not just big-market teams handing out the money. Outfielder Andrew McCutchen got $51.5 million from the Pittsburgh Pirates. First baseman Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds signed for $225 million. The St. Louis Cardinals gave a 31-year-old catcher, Yadier Molina, $75 million. The list goes on and on.
There’s apparent risk with any long-term contract, no matter the player. But baseball’s extension frenzy is a result of the industry being flush with money as local TV contracts get richer. Why else would the Los Angeles Dodgers sell for $2.15 billion after signing Matt Kemp for $160 million?
Teams like the cost certainty and the public relations of extensions. They don’t want to deal with arbitration arguments and free agent prices. Players who sign and give up free agent years understand that they might leave money on the table in exchange for financial security. Teams have to realize that not all players are going to work out.
There are always questions. Will the Reds have enough roster stability and pitching strength to support not only Votto’s contract, but Brandon Phillips’ $72.5 million deal as well? Molina might be the best defensive catcher in the National League and is a fan favorite with the Cardinals, but is the team going to regret paying an aging catcher that kind of money? Are the Texas Rangers being irresponsible for giving a five-year $28.5 million contract to young pitcher Derek Holland? Isn’t anything more than three years with a pitcher a risk?
The Tampa Bay Rays have used the extension strategy to the extreme. They signed Evan Longoria, who eventually became an All-Star third baseman, to a six-year contract with three team options after Longoria had played a handful of games in the big leagues.
Here’s how it has worked for the Rays: Longoria is scheduled to make a club-option $11 million in 2015 and $11.5 million in 2016 at a time when he could have been asking for $20 million a year as a free agent.
But will the Rays be as fortunate with Matt Moore?
Before the season, the Rays signed the lefty pitcher to a contract worth $14 million that could escalate, with club options, to near $40 million. He got that money after pitching nine regular-season innings and making a postseason start.
At 26, Jones’ contract, worth $85.5 million with the possibility of it reaching $91 million, seems like a deal the Orioles had to make. After all the losing, the first two months of the season have given Orioles fans hope, and Jones likely wouldn’t have signed if he didn’t feel the same hope.
Jones said it was important for him to win a championship in Baltimore because the Orioles feel like his team.
The Orioles have potentially a championship nucleus with Jones, J.J. Hardy, Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters and Jim Johnson. Jones ranks with the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton and Kemp as the best center fielders in baseball.
So it’s a good deal for the Orioles. And, considering Jones’ home run total was climbing, the Orioles figured the sooner the better.
Dan Duquette, the Orioles’ executive vice president of baseball operations, said it best at the press conference Sunday:
“Dude rang the cash register every time he hit a home run.’’