Now that GMs understand the old Moneyball, this is what they are doing now:
Baseball writer Tom Verducci recently noted in Sports Illustrated that teams are moving toward “placing more and more value on young players under control.” That is, they are signing their young players to contracts that extend past their years of indentured servitude. Doing so may mean paying a relative premium in the short term, but the team in turn can still afford the player after year six.
Take what the Tampa Bay Rays did with their rookie third baseman Evan Longoria. Since they considered him the cornerstone of their team, they signed him to a nine-year deal that could be worth up to $44 million. Ordinarily, the way a player of his talent (assuming he lives up to it) would earn that much money would be by toiling for a total of, say, $10 million to $15 million for six years and then signing a blockbuster free-agent deal that would pay $13 million to $15 million per year over the next three years and beyond.
As the league slowly corrects the reserve clause inefficiency by paying players what they are worth before they hit free agency, we will see a smoothing of salary distribution throughout players’ careers. Young players will not be as inexpensive and older players will not be as overpaid. Top free agents will become scarcer over time; their hometown teams have found a way to keep them. In a way, this change will be toughest on the big-spending teams that rely predominately on the free-agent market, and whose fans demand that they pursue marquee names.