As news surfaces that the Yankees will be cutting payroll now and in the future, many teams may be interesting following the business models set by smaller market teams. The Tampa Bay Rays are the best example of operating under a smaller payroll but ensuring prolonged success at the major league level. It begins with drafting and developing the right players and then signing them to long-term contracts before they can even begin to consider free agency. The Rays signed top pitching prospect Matt Moore on a long term extension before he’d even ensured a spot in the rotation. The same thing happened a few years ago when Rays third baseman signed a contract with Tampa Bay after only a handful of at bats at the major league level. If this ends up becoming a trend across all of major league baseball, the following players could find themselves inking multi-million dollar contracts much earlier than expected.
New York Yankees – RHP Michael Pineda
The Yankees long-term rotation looks shaky at best after CC Sabathia. If New York was so confident in Pineda’s ability to pitch at the major league level that they sent Jesus Montero to Seattle, then it may be prudent for them to sign him for longer than the foreseeable future.
Tampa Bay Rays – OF Desmond Jennings
Since they already extended Matt Moore, Desmond Jennings is the next prime target. Some criticized the Rays for keeping Jennings in the minor leagues for so long, but he certainly proved ready to succeed at the top level in 2011.
Boston Red Sox – SS Mike Aviles
As counterintuitive as this sounds, they could find a bargain in this case. Aviles has the potential to hit over .300 with moderate power and excellent speed. He’s slated to be the Red Sox starting shortstop in 2012, but easily could move to either second or third base in the future.
Toronto Blue Jays – OF Colby Rasmus
There are so many young extension candidates on this team it’s difficult to pick one, so I wouldn’t argue against any case of picking another player over Rasmus. But Rasmus does have the highest ceiling of any youngster on the team and could evolve into a perennial MVP candidate in the future. At the every least, you’d have a solid outfielder.
Baltimore Orioles – C Matt Wieters
Such an extension is highly unlikely because of Wieters’ agent Scott Boras, but after an inauspicious start of his career, Wieters has developed into an offensive threat that plays above average defense behind the plate. This is a rare combination in the major leagues and is valuable as evidenced by Joe Mauer’s huge extension.
Detroit Tigers – C Alex Avila
Avila was once a top prospect in the Tigers’ system, his dad is a high ranking official in the Tigers’ system and Avila himself played well enough to keep Victor Martinez out of catcher’s gear. Needless to say, the Tigers should consider themselves fortunate if they were able to keep Avila around long-term.
Cleveland Indians – 2B Jason Kipnis
The Indians newly constructed pitching staff could use a huge boost of offense. Kipnis is the man that could provide that. The fact that he can hit for average, power and even swipe some bases becomes an even more valuable source of offense when you consider you get it from a second baseman.
Chicago White Sox – LHP Chris Sale
Sale didn’t need any time in the minor leagues and was able to come into a major league bullpen and dominate from day one. Sale is looking to transition into the rotation now, and there’s a good chance he could easily turn into a front of the rotation type of starter.
Kansas City Royals – 1B Eric Hosmer
This one is a no-brainer. Hosmer needed very little development time in the minors and became an impact bat almost immediately upon promotion to the majors. It may be a couple of years before he’s anything more than an average major league first baseman, but there’s a very good chance he’ll be a perennial all-star before long.
Minnesota Twins – OF Ben Revere
One of the most pleasant surprises of the disastrous 2011 campaign for the Twins was young Ben Revere. Ben swiped 34 bags in only 117 games and provided valuable defense for an unsteady pitching staff. In the minors, Revere hit a career .326 with a solid .383 OBP, so there’s a good chance he’ll eventually turn into an everyday spark plug for an offense that has Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer.
Texas Rangers – RHP Neftali Feliz
Though there are doubts as to his ability to stay in a rotation, at the very worst the Rangers have a lights out reliever on their hands. Signing the young fire-baller to a long contract could help stabilize a volatile Rangers pitching staff.
Los Angeles Angels – CF Peter Bourjos
No centerfielder in baseball covers the ground this youngster provides. It’s no coincidence that since he took over for Torii Hunter in CF, the Angels have posted the lowest ERA in the AL. The rotation is packed full of fly-ball pitchers and Angel Stadium is spacious enough to keep long balls in the yard. Thus the Angels success is contingent upon Bourjos’ ability to roam CF. Signing him long-term would ensure a future OF with unheard of coverage with speedsters Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos.
Oakland Athletics – 2B Jemile Weeks
The A’s have one of the worst offenses in baseball if not the worst. So Weeks’ progression as a dangerous offensive weapon for Oakland is a breath of fresh air for the team. He has the speed and average to be an elite table setter and gap power to hit in the middle of the lineup. The A’s need him and will need him for the foreseeable future.
Seattle Mariners – DH Jesus Montero
Montero will never be an adequate defensive catcher, but the fact that Seattle will work him in there occasionally makes him one of the most valuable fantasy prospects around. Unfortunately real life baseball is a little different. The Mariners are in the same boat as Oakland, they have little or no offense and adding Jesus Montero to this lineup could result in big things in the future. Short term, Montero won’t be expected to light the world on fire, but long term he could a legitimate .300 25+ HR hitter.