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Cubs Wed Apr 03 2013

Contract Extensions Reaffirm Cubs Approach

Cubs_200.pngIn the wake of mammoth contract extensions given to Justin Verlander, Buster Posey, and Elvis Andrus -- not to mention a slew of other player in the last 18 months -- the internet has been flooded with analysis on what these deals have done to free agency as we know it. To summarize, free agency is dying of neglect, dead, bad, boring, and evolving.

Regardless of the words used to describe it, the trend is crystal clear: Premium free agents aren't hitting the market very frequently anymore. It also affirms the strategy that Theo Epstein and company are employing as the only way to succeed in the future.

There are number of reasons why this is happening, but it breaks down to be pretty simple for both the player and team. Talented stars receive guaranteed money now instead of waiting until they hit the open market after their sixth professional season (rather than risk potential injury), while the team locks up a player during years where he's far more likely to produce a high rate of return. It's the time value of money for guys like Starlin Castro, and a no brainer for the Cubs when looking at an age vs. production curve.

Free agency has always been an inefficient way to build a contender. People point to the Yankees as a team that spent whatever it took to get the best players, but the reality is their championships in the late 90s were built around the 'core four' of Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. Since their payroll began to explode they've only been able to win one title, and the repercussions for the Steinbrenners' sins are now being felt. Their roster is filled with broken down players on the hook for large amounts of money, while their minor league system flounders with few impact players close enough to help in the near term. With a barren free agent market staring them in the face, New Yorkers should get used to a Yankees team that won't make the playoffs.

Castro is already locked up for the foreseeable future, and the Cubs set their sights on extending Jeff Samardzija during the spring, but have yet to come to an agreement. His opening day gem (8IP, 9K, 2H, 1BB) didn't lower his asking price, and a few months of consistent performances could yield him the deal he seeks. Anthony Rizzo will almost certainly be the next in line for an extension offer this winter if he can approach his full season stats from 2012.

By paying players during their age 25-30 (prime) seasons, teams like the Cubs can avoid the vast uncertainty and likely decline that comes in a guy's mid to late 30s. For an example, look no further than the fella playing left field. Sure, he had a bounce back season in 2012, but it's unlikely that he'll be able to repeat it. An eight-year, $136 million contract wasn't exactly a great investment in hindsight. That's the kind of mistake the new regime would like to avoid making in free agency.

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