Today, the Astros signed prospect Jon Singleton to a big contract extension before he's played a game in the majors. It's a bit of baseball history, but more than that, it's an undeniably great move for Houston, and a look at the future of how small market teams will attempt to stay competitive.
Singleton, a power-hitting first baseman acquired by Houston from Philadelphia in the Hunter Pence trade, is listed as the third-best prospect in the Astros organization. His contract, first reported by Yahoo's Jeff Passan, contains five guaranteed years plus three team options. The Astros are on the hook for $10 million, but if they exercise all the options and Singleton hits his bonuses, it'll be worth $35 million over eight years, through his age 29 season.
Singleton needn't be much better than replacement-level for this deal to pay off. And that's if it's an isolated thing, which they clearly don't intend it to be. The Astros are among the small-budget teams moving toward giving lengthy extensions to young players, wagering that the risk of prospects not panning out is outweighed by the reward of locking down a star for obscenely cheap. Each prospect that hits more than covers the cost of the two or three that don't.
The problem is convincing the hot prospects to forego those first arbitration and free agency years. The Astros have attempted to lock up George Springer, Matt Dominguez and Robbie Grossman to long-term deals, to no avail. The Pirates were rejected by phenom outfielder Gregory Polanco, who turned down a reported deal that could have gone up to 10 years for more than $50 million. The Rays, too, have had fruitless talks with their prospects.
This is startlingly team-friendly stuff, and agents hate the trend. But it's hard not to see why there are players willing to go along—the risk they run by not signing is absolute. Even if Polanco knows his first free agency payday would likely blow away the Pirates' offer, there's always the chance he doesn't live up to the hype. A pre-big-leagues extension is like an insurance policy—in his case, $25 million guaranteed. That can't have been easy for Polanco to turn down. Singleton didn't turn down his; whatever future earnings he may have forfeited, he just guaranteed himself 10 million dollars.
Polanco is being stashed in the minors until he's no longer eligible for Super 2 status, so the Pirates will have an extra season of him before going to arbitration. Singleton, now under contract, has been informed he will be called up to the majors to make his Astros debut tomorrow night. Funny how that works.