With left-handers Jose Quintana and Chris Sale now both signed to long-term contracts, the White Sox have two rotation anchors locked into affordable salaries for the rest of the decade.
It's not hard to see the upside for the Sox in making those deals. Sale is among the very best pitchers in the game, and Quintana has quietly been up to the task of No. 2 starter. Both guys are young enough to desire some security, and the Sox have some cost certainty and the flexibility that comes for paying their two best pitchers low annual salaries.
Locking up players before they reach arbitration, with teams sometimes getting discounted free agent years, isn't new. It was sometimes called the Cleveland Model after the Indians of the 1990s gave young players like Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel long-term extensions instead of taking them to arbitration year-to-year.
More recently, the Rays reaped huge rewards by signing third baseman Evan Longoria to a massive bargain of a contract very early in his career. Longoria's been so good that Tampa Bay went to the next step of extending him again so they can keep him through the 2023 season if a team option is exercised. His new deal is still looked at as a bargain for the Rays.
So if it's been going on for so long, how is this trend now accelerating?
Just look at what the Astros are trying to do right now. In addition to offering a long-term deal to a player who hasn't even reached the majors yet, they've been rumored to be offering their third baseman Matt Dominguez a five-year contract with team option years at the end.
Nothing has officially happened yet with Dominguez, so we're not entirely clear on the Astros' thinking here. One thing for sure is that Dominguez isn't the type of player we usually think about for these early contract extensions.
Dominguez is 24-years old and has a .248/.290/.410 career batting line in 750 plate appearances. He was a first-round pick in 2007 and has an OK glove, but his minor-league career as a hitter (.256/.323/.409) suggests Dominguez is pretty much everything we can expect him to be. That's a capable third baseman who in a good year won't poison your lineup with his bat.
Maybe there's something I'm not seeing here, and he'll surprise almost everyone and become an All-Star-type player. Frankly, I'll be surprised if Dominguez is just still in the majors after his 30th birthday.
Even accounting for how crummy the free agent market has been for third basemen in recent seasons -- Juan Uribe was the (booby) prize there this offseason, Kevin Youkilis and Jeff Keppinger the last -- locking up your own fringe players doesn't yet look like a great idea.
The five years and $17 million the Astros allegedly have on the table for Dominguez is more than Uribe, Youkilis or Keppinger received. Dominguez would make less annually, and offer Houston a pair of option years at around $9 million each if he did get better.
But there's still the reality that Dominguez isn't any better. Or that he goes the way of Mark Teahen, Sean Burroughs, Josh Fields or Kevin Orie, all of whom began their careers with more promise than Dominguez, and none of whom spent their 20s getting better.
Locking in mediocre-to-bad players doesn't really give a team good value. Even if a contract like this gave a team some sort of performance floor -- which it can't guarantee -- and some cost certainty, should the Astros ever look like a contender again, Dominguez's spot will probably still look like an area that could be upgraded. Except then the upgrade is even more expensive when you have to pay the incumbent to go away.
Teams are still smart to be exploring ways to lock up their young players before being priced out of the market for their talents. They might still want to consider where to draw the line when it comes to big deals and continuing to go year-to-year.