Last week, I wondered aloud where the five-year contract given to Jon Singleton before he appeared in a single Major League game may lead. In reality, the outfielder and the Houston Astros did not get there alone.
Long before Singleton, clubs have been giving players contracts earlier and earlier in their careers. Let’s look at how a few of them are working out.
Specifically, I have been watching three players, all second basemen, who received long-term contracts recently. They are Jedd Gyorko of the San Diego Padres, Jason Kipnis of the Cleveland Indians and Matt Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Based on results in the early going, it is hard to justify their combined 18 to 21 contract years of commitment totaling at least $140 million.
Oldest of the three at 28 years old, Carpenter was a five-year college player at TCU after Tommy John surgery. Drafted by St. Louis in the 13th round in 2009, Carpenter reached the Majors midway through the 2011 season as a third baseman.
Playing six different positions for the 2012 Cardinals, Carpenter cobbled together 340 plate appearances. Continuing a proficiency he displayed in the Minors, where he had a career on-base mark of .408, Carpenter extended his past into his present by logging an impressive .392 OBP. He finished sixth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
Blocked by David Freese at the hot corner and with his club needing help at second base, Carpenter successfully initiated an on-the-fly position change for 2013. Not only did he prove his mettle with the glove, the left-handed hitter went on to lead the league in hits, falling just one short of 200. Carpenter also paced the circuit in runs scored and doubles.
In recognition of his emergence, Carpenter was recognized with his first All-Star selection, a Silver Slugger Award and a fourth-place finish in the National League Most Valuable Player voting.
More importantly, St. Louis validated the performance with a long-term contract offer to a player who had barely two years of major league service. This March, the two sides came to terms on a heavily-backloaded deal that will keep Carpenter in a Cardinals uniform through at least his age 33 season, 2019.
The base commitment is $52 million over six years. Carpenter received a $1.5 million signing bonus, $1 million in 2014, and then salaries of $3.5 million, $6.25 million, $9.75 million, $13.5 million and $14.5 million. In 2020, the Cardinals will have an $18.5 million option on his services, with a $2 million buyout. He gets a $500,000 payment if traded from now through 2017 and $1 million if dealt during the remainder of the contract.
Carpenter would have been first-time arbitration eligible next season, so this deal covers his first two years of free agency, or third if the option is exercised.
With Freese traded away to the Angels, the Cardinals moved Carpenter back to his long-time position of third base for 2014. While many observers expected an even more comfortable hitter at the plate, this season did not start that way.
Carpenter got out of the blocks slowly – very slowly. A month and a half into the schedule, his line was a pedestrian .256/.356/.319/.675. In the month since, Carpenter has improved his season line to .294/.385/.385/.770. Still, that OPS is down over 100 points from 2013. Remember that last point, please.
With five and a half contract years to go, the Cardinals have to hope the 2013 Carpenter is what they will see the rest of the way. Time will tell.
Now 27 years of age, Kipnis was originally drafted by the Padres in the fourth round in 2008 but did not sign until the next season after the Indians re-drafted him in the second round. Like Gyorko, he was a highly-regarded prospect before reaching Cleveland in July 2011.
In his first full year in 2012, Kipnis launched 14 home runs and plated 76 in 152 games. The left-handed hitter increased those totals to 17 and 84, respectively, last season and he earned an All-Star berth. Kipnis’ line was a solid .284/.366/.452/.818.
The Tribe, which originally offered the first multi-year contracts to arbitration-eligible players two decades ago, did it again.
With slightly over two years of MLB service, Kipnis originally had to accept his club’s offer of just over the minimum salary of half a million dollars this season. But just a few days into the 2014 regular season schedule, the team tore up the deal.
In its place was established a new contract for six years, $52 million (sound familiar?) plus a 2020 option for $16.5 million or a $2.5 million buyout. Like Carpenter's, the deal starts low and escalates heavily in the later years. The contract buys out Kipnis’ first two years and perhaps third of free agency.
In 2014, the left-handed hitter has been plagued by bad luck, an oblique strain that cost him almost the entire month of May. Kipnis has just three home runs and 19 RBI in 40 games. His OPS is down 110 points from last season’s .818.
Like Carpenter, Gyorko was primarily a third baseman coming up through the minor leagues only to be blocked at the position and moved to second base as a Major Leaguer. Unlike Carpenter, Gyorko was considered a top prospect since being drafted in the second round in 2010.
The right-handed hitter made the 2013 Padres out of spring training and began his MLB career at the age of 24. A successful rookie season followed, during which Gyorko launched 23 long balls and plated 63 in just 125 games.
Just as Carpenter was sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year vote in 2012, Gyorko finished in the same spot in 2013.
That rookie showing was enough for the Padres. They quickly negotiated a six-year deal plus an option year with the 25-year-old that was announced two weeks into this season. Gyorko is guaranteed over $35.5 million through his first year of free agent eligibility with a salary that escalates by several million annually. San Diego can keep him in 2020 as well for another $13 million or $1 million buyout.
2014 has not been kind to the West Virginia native as he literally limped onto the field. Gyorko managed just two hits over his first six games on the way to a dreadful start that had him at the bottom of all NL hitters.
By June, the Padres were threatening to demote their second baseman to the minor leagues. Not three days later, it was disclosed Gyorko had been suffering from a case of plantar fasciitis in his left foot. It is the same challenging-to-heal malady that ruined Albert Pujols’ 2013.
Gyorko went onto the disabled list on June 6 with a line of .162/.213/.270/.482. One has to wonder if San Diego wishes they had waited a bit longer to pull the trigger on the big contract.
In fact, one might have to ponder the same question for all three. Will Singleton soon join them?
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.