In professional sports, smart, forward-thinking organizations have the ability to project ahead, anticipate the future, yet still focus on the present. For Major League Baseball general managers, deciding on which arbitration-eligible players to extend before free agency arrives is a yearly right of passage.
This practice, sometimes referred to as "buying out" arbitration years, was made famous by former Indians and Rangers general manager John Hart. In the early 90s, Hart took over the fledgling Cleveland Indians, a team without a great business model. Prior to the opening of Jacobs Field, Cleveland had little hope for big attendance, revenue to sign outside free agents or the ability to keep homegrown stars.
Hart, upon taking over, was blessed with an abundance of homegrown stars. From Jim Thome to Manny Ramirez to Charles Nagy, the nucleus of a dominant team was being formed.
Instead of dreading the yearly arbitration process and fighting against ascending talents for every penny, Hart began the practice of securing their services with deals to buy out arbitration years. While the team took some risk if those players were injured or didn't live up to expectations, millions of dollars were saved when they became stars.
The Hart model is one that has been copied throughout the years, most notably by the Tampa Bay Rays.
This offseason, six players stand out as candidates for long-term deals. With risk, comes reward for each organization represented.
Without further ado, the arbitration-eligible players who should be signed long-term.
*All projected arbitration salaries for 2014 are via MLB Trade Rumors. Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, unless otherwise noted.