In what has been one of the most exciting MLB offseasons in recent memory, GMs are now ready to shift their focus to resolving contracts for arbitration-eligible players and then to begin the process of inking their best young players to long-term deals. GMs will focus on these extensions starting now in the hopes of getting deals done prior to Opening Day so it doesn't become an in-season distraction.
It used to be that teams would wait to extend their star players until they were just a year away from free agency, but times have changed. Now that's too late. So they adjusted and began doing it two years out. Now clubs realize that in order to prevent their players from reaching free agency, they must begin the process three to five years out. With so many good young stars getting ready to hit free agency next fall, including Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond of the Nationals, Justin Upton of the Padres and David Price of the Tigers, it’s a reminder to GMs that it would be wise to try and sign their best young players now in order to: (1) avoid letting their stars hit free agency; and (2) save a significant amount of money.
Clubs prefer to have a long track record before awarding these multimillion-dollar deals, but nowadays they just don't have that luxury. Therefore, determining which players should get these deals and the risks that the clubs have to take is tricky. I am a believer that for position players, betting first and foremost on the hit tool is the least risky, though it's important these players don’t have huge holes and can handle the entire strike zone, different velocities and changing speeds of the game’s best pitchers. For pitchers, there is so much risk of injury these days that I would be comfortable signing only true aces.
Based on those criteria, here are the top seven players I think teams should try to extend between now and Opening Day:
Kluber would definitely be the most difficult of all the young players to sign, coming off a Cy Young Award-winning season.