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Thursday, February 4, 2010
Another young star gets locked up


Is Justin Verlander worth $80 million over five years? I'll leave that question to my intellectual betters, but this bit caught my eye:


The story today is what this means for the Tigers.

What it means for the Tigers is they'll probably enjoy one of the best pitchers in the league for another five years, at least. I don't know that I would read a lot more into it, though. This isn't as much about the Tigers' commitment to winning as it's about the Tigers knowing well that a year or two from now, they'll have more money than they can reasonably spend.

Consider: Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, and Nate Robertson will "earn" $34.5 million this season. All three come off the books after the season. Meanwhile, Carlos Guillen will make $13 million in 2011, his last season under contract. And Magglio Ordonez ... well, that's complicated. If the Tigers limit his playing time this season -- as they obviously should have done last season -- they'll pay him $18 million and say goodbye. If Jim Leyland writes ORDONEZ in the lineup every day, they'll be on the hook for another $15 million in 2011.

Either way, the Tigers will shed an immense amount of payroll obligations over the next couple of years. They'll still have to pay Miguel Cabrera -- $126 million through 2015 -- and now Verlander, but otherwise the Tigers don't have any significant future obligations. Thanks to a relative paucity of farm products, there aren't any more young players who will command big contracts until Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello put in a few big years.

So, if not Verlander, then who? There simply aren't going to be a great number of high-priced free agents hitting the market over the next few winters.

Which is why Verlander's new deal is bad news for more than just the Tigers' American League Central rivals. This growing trend of teams locking up their young players into their late 20s or even into their early 30s is bad news for (among others) the New York Yankees, too.

Remember when everyone just knew that Joe Mauer would eventually become a Yankee? Well, if it happens, Mauer will probably be 38 years old. If the Rays want, they can retain Evan Longoria's services until he's 31. One of these years, the Yankees might actually entertain the possibility of a new shortstop ... but, oops! Hanley Ramirez is locked up until he's 31, too!

Here's a rough list of the best free agents who might be available next winter:

1. Cliff Lee
2. Josh Beckett
3. Carl Crawford
4. Victor Martinez
5. Javier Vazquez
6. Carlos Pena
7. J.J. Hardy
8. Adam Dunn

Each of those men has his charms, but most also have some limitations and perhaps half will be re-signed by their current teams before hitting the market. I don't have the 2011 list, which I'm sure will include some impressive fellows. But the world of baseball talent simply isn't what it used to be. The rich teams can't just sit and wait for the talent to fall into their laps. Or rather, they can wait, but that talent just isn't what it used to be. Sure, it's still there; Crawford's going to be a real plum next winter. But there just isn't enough to go around.