According to ESPN, Torii Hunter and the Twins finally have completed a long-term deal, four years for $32 M.
I read that and I thought there was a typo. Hunter won't be 28 until the All-Star break, had a breakthrough year in 2002, and is poised to be one of the best players in the game for the next five years or so.
$8 M per year is a great salary anywhere, even in the majors, but that seems a bit low given his credentials. That's only $500K more than Jeffrey Hammonds made in 2002. I guess he shouldn't complain because at least the Twins offered a multi-year contract.
In the late-'90s teams emulated the success of the Indians and tried to sign their young talent to long-term deals at decent salaries. It seemed a good strategy to gamble on the development of young players. There were some that disappointed, but since the salaries were usually not as excessive as veteran deals they proved not to be too onerous for the team.
This offseason, teams are rarely offering more than a one-year contract. Today Roy Halladay, arguably the best young arm in the AL, re-signed with the Blue Jays. Halladay is 25 years old, was 19-7 with a 2.95 ERA last year, and has been among the league leaders in most pitching categories over the last year and one-half. He also was Toronto's sole All-Star representative. 2002 was his first full season in a major-league rotation, however. He would seem a prime candidate for a long-term contract before he has another big season and sends his stock up higher.
Toronto re-signed him for one year at $3.825 M, ESPN reports. Here is a list of Blue Jays salaries in 2002 that were over $1M (from Baseball-Reference.com):
Carlos Delgado $ 19,400,000
Raul Mondesi $ 11,000,000
Esteban Loaiza $ 6,050,000
Shannon Stewart $ 4,250,000
Jose Cruz Jr. $ 3,950,000
Darrin Fletcher $ 3,825,000
Steve Parris $ 3,775,000
Chris Carpenter $ 3,450,000
Homer Bush $ 3,375,000
Roy Halladay $ 2,583,333
Kelvim Escobar $ 2,300,000
Dan Plesac $ 2,200,000
Felix Heredia $ 1,850,000
Pedro Borbon $ 1,650,000
Note that he won 19 games and got a modest $1.25M increase. That is a 50% bump but he is still woefully under-compensated. Consider that journeyman starter Esteban Loiaza made almost twice that last year and had a 5.71 ERA to show for it, his second over-5.00 ERA in his two years in a Blue Jay uniform. I know what you're thinking: he signed the contract before that performance. Well, he was 10-13 in 2000 with 4.56 ERA before signing the two-year contract. The same goes for the other two pitchers who made more in 2002 than Halladay will in 2003 (Parris and Carpenter). None of those three ever had a season as good as Halladay's 2002 before or since signing with the Jays.
The recent rash of one-year deals causes me to believe in collusion more than anything else. How do teams so quickly change the prevailing theory of locking young players into long-term contracts? And how do they all do it at the same time? I doubt that if one GM were going against the prevailing strategy that he would forewarn his fellow GMs so that they could all follow suit.
This is different from the lack of offers to established free agent players, which I could understand. There is incentive from the last Collective Bargaining Agreement for teams to keep salaries low by not signing overpriced stars. But this is different because these are still under-priced stars in the making, the bedrock that teams have always been built upon.
It's almost as if all these teams are gambling on salaries going down in the coming years. Let's just pay enough this year to keep them happy and then sign them next year for less. How would they all suspect that at the same time and how would they all be brave enough to act upon that suspicion? I find it all highly suspicious, but then again it's in my nature.