With Wednesday's news that the Texas Rangers have agreed to terms on a five-year, $55 million contract that includes a club option for 2018 that can vest with starter Matt Harrison, the club continues to tie up its young starters for the long haul.
I think it's a smart move. For the players, it gives them security knowing they're in the same place for the foreseeable future (and it gives them insurance in case they get hurt or don't progress as expected). For the club, the Rangers get young starters they believe are only getting better and tie them up into their primes at affordable prices. It's a good time to do it, especially after Harrison's past two seasons.
Here's the 2013 rotation as it stands now (in order):
Yu Darvish: 26 years old, under contract through the 2017 season for $56 million (could be free agent after 2016 if he finishes in top two of American League Cy Young voting in two of the next four seasons)
Matt Harrison: 27 years old, under contract through the 2017 season for $55 million (with $13.25 million option for 2018)
Derek Holland: 26 years old, under contract through the 2016 season (with two club options for 2017 and 2018) in deal that could be worth $45 million
Alexi Ogando: 29 years old, can be under club control for four more seasons (arbitration)
The club has Justin Grimm, Martin Perez and Robbie Ross as internal candidates for the fifth spot, and all are pre-arbitration players who recently made their big league debuts. So if any one of them seizes the fifth spot, that final slot also will be under club control for a while.
Right now, the contracts for Darvish, Harrison and Ogando look like good values. And if Holland bounces back and pitches more like the guy who earned that contract after a solid second half in 2011, all will be pitchers younger than 30 who are making reasonable yearly salaries.
The Rangers know well how much free-agent pitchers cost. They paid an additional $51.7 million just to obtain Darvish, and despite a competitive offer, they couldn't land the high-priced Zack Greinke this offseason. Go back two years, and we all remember Cliff Lee getting his big contract from Philadelphia. Free-agent starters are lottery winners, and it's difficult to pay those prices on a consistent basis.
Texas is banking that this young group can be a consistent and solid bunch for the future. If these players are, the Rangers will have locked up the most critical part of the club at an affordable price. Of course, this group must stay healthy and productive for this route to be the smart one. But it's not a huge gamble thanks to the average annual value (AAV) of the top three starters. In other words, the Rangers can be wrong on one of these guys and it won't crush them (like being wrong on a starter you're paying more than $20 million a year, for instance).
It's risky from the standpoint that Darvish, Holland and Harrison still have a lot to prove. Darvish has just one year in the big leagues under his belt, although his ace-like showing in his final eight regular-season starts (and his solid performance under the glare of the postseason lights) is reason to think he's on his way up. Harrison has the longest track record of the trio, and it's just two years of full seasons in the rotation. Holland went from the sensational Game 4 start in the 2011 World Series to a pitcher who struggled and was inconsistent in 2012 (not to mention missing a month with arm fatigue).
But by signing all three to affordable deals now, while they are still young, the Rangers are betting on upside. It goes along with general manager Jon Daniels and his front office's philosophy: Pick out your core players and do what you can to keep them. It's why the Rangers signed Ian Kinsler to a long-term deal, inked Adrian Beltre to handle third base for years to come and are integrating young players into the lineup (and some knocking on the door, even if they start at Triple-A, such as Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt). Find that core (and they'll continue to do that in coming years) and work around it.
On the mound, the Rangers have decided Darvish, Harrison and Holland are part of that core, and they moved quickly the past two offseasons to ensure they'll be here for the long haul -- and in their primes.
What do you think of the club's approach to the rotation? Do you think this can be a top group in the AL for the next four seasons?