|Recent Winter Meetings have already begun to cultivate a pretty specific yield|
Baseball has seen a varied plurality of economic trends come and go. Right now, early extensions are in vogue. The strategy behind those contracts is obvious, but the results aren't always the proof of a GM's meditative genius. In any event, it's becoming more and more common to lock up players that have distinct roles in their GM's designs on the future -- whether they are "superstars" or not. The Royals locked up Alcides Escobar, the Angels extended most of their infield, the Brewers hooked Jonathan Lucroy, the Rays had their Wade Davis cake and made the Royals eat it too. There's ALEXEI!, Frankie Guitars (Franklin Gutierrez), Gavin Floyd, etc. Then there are the mega-deals like Votto's and Kemp's. Clearly there's a pattern. And it'll probably be rather effective, especially for smaller markets. But the frequency of these deals is beginning to affect one contrasting market's future, one that used to be all the rage itself -- Free Agency.
The market has already seen a few runty crops because of this, but it's going to become even more diminutive in the near future.
That's where dudes like Chris Davis and Jose Bautista are going to have to tip the scales. Guys that don't learn to hit until they are legitimate grown ups (well, as grown up as a costume-wearing bro playing a game can be).
The Cardinals will probably always be better at developing talent than, say, the Royals, but -- with draft slotting, international budgets, and the luxury tax -- the playing field is leveling to some extent. For teams looking to improve through free agency, the pickin's'll be slimmer. So teams will need to do their best to identify the late bloomers. The Bautistas. The Davises. Guys that Keith Law missed. Or that simply weren't good enough to warrant his celebrated attention in their late teens/early twenties.
These guys may be the only prizes left. Of course, if you get a late bloomer of Davis or Bautista's stature, that's a pretty badass prize. But for every Chris Davis there are about three dozen Casey Kotchmen.