Bernie: The Cardinals and the trick of cost control

2014-02-15T04:40:00Z 2014-02-26T15:18:25Z Bernie: The Cardinals and the trick of cost controlBernie Miklasz bjmiklasz@post-dispatch.com stltoday.com

I'm thinking Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha will be interested in the transaction that was announced Friday morning: the Atlanta Braves gave give their young starting pitcher, Julio Teheran, a six-year contract worth a reported $32.4 million.

The Braves locked one of baseball's best young arms in place through 2019, and there's a $12 million team option for 2020. (So the deal could pay $44 million over seven years, or $6.28 million per season.)

Before agreeing to this contract, Teheran wouldn't have entered free agency until after the 2018 season; the Braves bought out at least one year of free agency (and probably two, with the option).

We've seen some other contracts of this nature in recent years. Toronto gave Ricky Romero five years and $30.1 million. San Francisco gave Madison Bumgarner five years and $35 million. And now Teheran.

Teheran and fellow rookie Miller had similar seasons in 2013. Miller finished with 2.1 wins above replacement and had a 3.67 fielding independent ERA. Tehran posted 2.4 WAR and had a 3.69 FIP. Teheran had a better strikeout-walk ratio and threw 12 more innings than Miller, but they pretty much pitched on even terms in 2013. 

The Teheran deal got me thinking... 

Will the Cardinals approach Miller and/or Wacha and try to buy out a year or two of free agency by offering long-term deals that pays them more in the short term?

Assuming that everyone stays healthy and performs reasonably well, I find it hard to believe that Cards GM John Mozeliak is willing to allow all of the brilliant young arms to enter free agency within a year or two of each other. The Cardinals wouldn't be able to afford keeping them all. 

They could, however, stretch out their young pitchers by staggering their free-agent entry years. And you do that by buying out a couple of years of free agency. 

At some point I think Mozeliak will come up with his own version of a Braves-Teheran move. He did it in the past with Jaime Garcia. Because of Garcia's shoulder troubles, that deal hasn't clicked as well as hoped. But I don't think Mozeliak will lose his desire to try it again with another young starter. 

But with how many?

According to contract information at Cots contracts and other sources, here's what the Cardinals are looking at in the future: 

• Pitcher Lance Lynn and 3B Matt Carpenter can become free agents after the 2017 season. 

• 1B Matt Adams and pitchers Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly can become free agents after the 2018 season.  

• Wacha and Martinez can become free agents after the 2019 season — provided that Martinez spends this season in the majors. 

A question: Are Miller, Wacha, Rosenthal, etc. willing to  to sacrifice a year or two of free agency to get paid more at the front end?

We can't assume that. In an interview last year agent Scott Boras expressed his opposition to the sign-early philosophy.

“My first question (to clients) is always, ‘Why is the team offering this to you? Isn't their evaluation the same as ours? We both think a lot of you,' ” Boras said. “The (contracts) represent discounts that may be more than what the contract is actually worth. So many of our clients don't take those early contracts."

(Rosenthal is a Boras client, by the way.) 

Core players such as Andrew McCutchen (Pirates) and Adam Jones (Orioles) are among those that agreed to deals that bought out their early free-agent seasons. And the Braves are into cost certainty, that's for sure. They made deals with outfielder Jason Heyward (two years, $13.3 million) and first baseman Freddie Freeman (eight years, $135 million) long before they reached free agency.

The Cardinals did the same a year ago with Allen Craig, who signed for five years at $31 million with a $13 million team option for 2018.

At some point the Cardinals will make another attempt to extend their contract control of a talented young pitcher or position player. It will be interesting to watch Mozeliak' strategy. But if he's thinking about locking in a young starter, a loose framework has been established with the deals of Teheran, Bumgarner and Romero. 

Nothing to worry about now. The Cardinals have a collection of exciting young talent, and control their contracts for several more years. Might as well enjoy watching the baby Birds while you still can. But at some point the Cardinals will face a payroll jam in trying to retain all of their young guys, so some preemptive contract moves would make a lot of sense. 

Thanks for reading ...

— Bernie 

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Bernie Miklasz

You've read Bernie Miklasz in the Post-Dispatch since 1989. Now check out a new video "Breakfast with Bernie" every weekday morning. You'll also see more "Bernie Bytes" around the clock as he posts quick-hit commentaries on a variety of topics.

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