Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sign and Drive

First, Chris Young signed a long term deal. Now, it's Fausto Carmona's turn.

I really like this trend because it bodes well for mid-level franchises. We've seen a slew of long-term deals locking up young, franchise cornerstone players, like Troy Tulowitzki or these two, through their arbitration years with options on their first year of free agency. It's basically trading a year or two of rock-bottom salaries in exchange for cost certainty. While I see the appeal of trying to get bargain basement prices out of players like Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, I think it sends the wrong message to the fans and players. And while I certainly dislike it when young players bitch about money, I do understand when fans complain that their team's management cares more about profits than about fielding a good team (or is simply incompetent, like the recent Pirates).

It is a gamble and I recognize that. But the Brewers are backing themselves into a corner by failing to lock up Braun and Fielder long-term. As other young players receive guaranteed millions, Brewers fans are probably wondering when their guys are going to get deals. And they are right to wonder that. The Brewers don't really have a huge window to win unless the key elements of their team get locked up. Ben Sheets might be gone after this season. Fielder and Braun are set to receive huge bonuses in arbitration and eventually, free agency. Their bullpen may or may not be a mess depending on whether or not Gagne starts trusting his soft stuff. And their fans are probably thinking that this may be their best chance to make a run at the playoffs for quite a while. And if everything goes wrong, all of those new fans that last year's success brought in might just abandon ship, perceiving (and perhaps correctly) that it was a one time deal.

But if they sign the key elements of their team long-term, the Brewers will signal to their fans that they're in it for the long haul. Even if the team doesn't make the playoffs this year, they will have the bedrock for a playoff team for years to come. I think fans respond to that kind of commitment. Just look at the Rays. They have lost for years, routinely buried at the bottom of the monster that is the AL East. But there are signs that their fan base may be awakening and becoming increasingly optimistic about and involved in their team's future. Why do they have that optimism? One element may be that they have a huge amount of talent that is just about ready to break into the majors. But another element is that they recently locked up Carlos Pena and James Shields to long-term deals, committing (for them) significant financial resources into players they recognize as franchise cornerstones.

And you know what? Their fan base is responding. Ray's management, the fans are thinking, may not be such cold-hearted, money obsessed bastards as we thought. Our team has a future, and a bright one at that.

Invest in your team long-term and your fans will invest in your team as well. Simple as that.

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