MLB Rankings: 8 Young Aces in Need of Contract Extensions

James Stewart-Meudt@@JSMeudtCorrespondent IIApril 19, 2011

MLB Rankings: 8 Young Aces in Need of Contract Extensions

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    It's always a great thing to see teams lock up young players long-term, especially young pitchers. We all know the saying: "Pitching wins championships." Because of that, pitching will always be at a premium in baseball.

    Next year's free-agent class is almost barren when it comes to starting pitching. Teams that need starters are going to be turning over every rock in search of pitchers that might be available through a trade.

    The Boston Red Sox and Oakland A's are two teams that wanted to make sure quality, young starters would be a part of their pitching staffs for years to come. The A's recently locked up ace Trevor Cahill (five years, $30.5 million) and the Red Sox gave Clay Buchholz four years and $30.5 million.

    There are plenty of young pitchers in baseball in need of contract extensions. Either they're close to free agency or are just plain too good to go on without being locked up long term.

    Here are 10 young pitchers with contract extensions in their futures.

Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    The Dodgers gave their young ace a one-year deal this offseason, but then gave another starter, Chad Billingsley, a three-year deal.

    Something's not right there.

    Kershaw is three years younger and just an overall better pitcher. Last season, Kershaw eclipsed the 200-inning mark for the first time in his career (204.1) and struck out a career-high 212 batters with a 2.91 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP.

    The Dodgers, quite frankly, are being cheap. Granted, their ownership situation is second only to the New York Mets in terms of chaotic uncertainty.

    With a good season, Kershaw could get more than $4 million through arbitration after the 2011 season, which is still a great deal for the Dodgers despite the fact that Kershaw is only making $550,000 this season.

    With so many teams choosing to buy out their players' first years of arbitration, it's surprising the Dodgers don't feel the need to do so with Kershaw.

    It goes back to ownership in this situation.

C.J. Wilson, Texas Rangers

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    Remember when I mentioned that teams in need of starting pitching keep their eyes on certain players? C.J. Wilson is at the top of that list.

    What the Texas Rangers do with Wilson will have a huge impact on next year's free-agent class.

    Wilson and the Rangers were unable to get a contract extension done this offseason, though the Rangers did make a push late in spring training to get a deal done. When asked about a new contract, Wilson has said he doesn't want to negotiate during the regular season.

    Clearly he knows how valuable a young lefty like himself will be next season when teams pull out their checkbooks.

    Wilson, 30, is currently 2-0 with a 3.08 ERA in three starts this season. He wants his shot at free agency. Who can blame him?

    But the Rangers are going to want to lock this guy up before he hits free agency. If they came to him midseason with a more-than-generous contract offer, it's unlikely Wilson would turn them down.

    But they might have to overpay to make that scenario happen. If he hits free agency, Wilson will be at the top of the free-agent list.

Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

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    "The Freak" is making $13 million this year, the last season of his two-year contract. Lincecum still has two years of arbitration eligibility left after his season, and if he makes it there, he's likely to set a new record for pitchers.

    Giants general manager Brian Sabean has said he doesn't envision getting into serious talks with Lincecum during the season, but it has to be a huge priority after this season.

    The Giants won the World Series last year on the strength of their starting pitching. They'll need to ensure that pitching is there for them in future seasons if they want to stay in the win column.

    Lincecum has made at least 30 starts for three-straight seasons now, so the long-term risk is minimal for the Giants.

    Letting Lincecum go without a contract and simply keeping him on one-year deals isn't the worst idea; it's certainly the cheapest.

    But there's no reason to risk Lincecum reaching free agency because there's a potentially record-setting contract waiting for him on the other side, and it's probably not coming from the Giants.

    Pay the kid and keep your rotation strong for the next five-to-seven years.

Jaime Garcia, St. Louis Cardinals

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    When Adam Wainwright went down for the season, it was obvious that the rest of the Cardinals starting rotation would have to step up in his absence for any chance at contention.

    Jaime Garcia must have said "no problem," because he's been phenomenal so far this season.

    After posting a 2.70 ERA in 28 starts in 2010, Garcia has picked up where he left off, going 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA while striking out a batter per inning in three starts.

    Garcia is arbitration eligible for the first time in his career after this season. With the Cardinals still trying to keep Albert Pujols in St. Louis long term, it's unlikely they'll give Garcia a contract extension.

    However, if Pujols does not sign a new contract, the Cardinals will have a lot of money to spend, and some of it has to go toward keeping Garcia.

Mat Latos, San Diego Padres

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    You know what Latos signs on baseballs? "I hate SF," referencing the San Francisco Giants, of course, which eliminated his Padres on the last day of the season in 2010.

    Latos made 31 starts for the Padres last season, finishing 14-10 with a 2.92 ERA and 189 strikeouts in 184.2 IP.

    Latos began the 2011 season on the DL because of an inflamed bursa sac in his shoulder and didn't make his debut until April 11. Latos is currently 0-2 with a 5.84 ERA after two starts this season.

    Anytime a pitcher experiences a problem with his shoulder, it's a big concern, so the Padres will want to make sure the Latos of 2010 wasn't just a flash in the pan.

    Like most of the guys on this list, the Padres could just go through arbitration with Latos and leave the long-term options on the shelf for now. But if Latos repeats last year's success, he's a player the Padres have to keep in San Diego long term.

Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

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    The Phillies have built themselves one of the best starting rotations ever seen, but they have a lot of decisions to make after this season.

    One of the biggest in terms of fan opinion concerns one of their aces, Cole Hamels.

    After an excellent 2008 season, the Phillies bought out all but one of Hamels' arbitration years with a three-year contract. They could simply resign to giving Hamels a big raise through arbitration after this season, or they can sign him to a long-term contract.

    Hamels is earning $9.5 million this season, and arbitration could increase that into the eight-digit realm.

    If the Phillies want to sign Hamels to a long-term contract, it's entirely possible they'll have three starting pitchers making upwards of $20 million per season. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are both making big money, with Lee set to receive $21.5 million in 2012 and $25 million each season through 2015.

    Adding Hamels for between $16-18 million for the next five years or so would be a big decision for the Phillies.

    If they're not going to sign Hamels to a long-term contract after this season, it's possible he could find himself the subject of trade rumors.

David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Price is still under team control for four more seasons, but he's arbitration-eligible in each of those years.

    Price recently commented on a long-term contract with the Rays, saying he'd like to stay with the Rays as long as the contract is "realistic." Now, what "realistic" means is open to debate. If Price were to become a free agent in 2016, he'd be looking at a huge payday.

    Price will make $1.25 million this season, but that figure will increase in a big way as a Super-2 guy.

    Price was 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA in 31 starts for the Rays last season. After three starts this season, Price is 2-2 with a 2.83 ERA.

Gio Gonzalez, Oakland A's

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    Now that the A's have given Trevor Cahill a multi-year extension, general manager Billy Beane can turn his attention to the rest of his starting rotation.

    Beane has a preference for buying out arbitration years with multi-year extensions, despite the risk of injury or regression.

    Last season was really a breakout season for Gonzalez. He set career highs across the board, including innings (200.2), starts (33), ERA (3.23), WHIP (1.31) and strikeouts (171).

    A lack of solid production in two seasons prior to that might hurt his value when the A's sit down for a contract extension, but Gonzalez is off to a hot start this season (2-0, MLB-best 0.47 ERA), and he's only going to get more expensive.

    He's also on the verge of becoming a Super-2 player, meaning the A's are looking at four years of arbitration eligibility with Gonzalez, not three.

    Their starting rotation is the A's biggest strength. Keeping it together is essential to keeping a winning product on the field.