Dave Dombrowski has never been one to bend to the trends among other GMs in baseball. When teams began stockpiling players who draw walks and get on base at a high clip, Dombrowski grabbed sluggers with the ability to "drive runs in." When teams started focusing on defense, Dombrowski signed Prince Fielder and moved Miguel Cabrera to third base. Now, teams are doing all they can to extend their young talent beyond arbitration years at a discount, offering long-term security in return.
We saw an astounding number of young players sign contracts like these last offseason, including four from the Atlanta Braves alone. The Tigers' division rivals have gotten in on the act, meaning that Salvador Perez and Jason Kipnis will continue to torment us for years to come. Meanwhile, Dombrowski has continued to remain aloof to baseball's newest fad. Since 2009, the Tigers have only extended one club-controlled player beyond his arbitration seasons into free agency: Justin Verlander.
Granted, some of this is because of a lack of opportunity. There has not been a lot of homegrown talent to speak of in Detroit in recent seasons, and many candidates for possible extensions -- Jacob Turner and Avisail Garcia, notably -- were traded before they contributed significantly at the major league level. However, other candidates like Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, and Austin Jackson have been limited to the typical year-to-year contracts that we see during a player's arbitration years.
This brings us to Nick Castellanos. The highest rated position player prospect to make his big league debut with the Tigers since Cameron Maybin, Castellanos has held his own through 20 games in 2014. He is hitting .233/.275/.397 with three home runs and 14 RBI in 80 plate appearances while playing better-than-expected defense at third base. While far from Trout-esque, Castellanos has shown flashes of the sweet swing that enamored the Tigers enough to hold onto him throughout their trading sprees over the past several seasons. He has looked like a rookie at times as well, especially on the basepaths. The fact that no one is calling him a bust after 20 games is a good sign, and more than we can say about his September call-up last year.
Even if Castellanos' numbers don't improve much as the season goes along, there is still potential for a team-friendly contract extension. Jedd Gyorko had a .745 OPS and was worth 2.5 fWAR as a rookie for the San Diego Padres last season, and he signed a six year, $35.5 million extension in mid-April. Salvador Perez signed a bargain bin contract extension with the Kansas City Royals after just 158 plate appearances in 2011. Rays third baseman Evan Longoria -- the poster child for these early contract extensions -- signed his first contract extension after just six games at the big league level (in Tampa's defense, he was a consensus top-five prospect).
One factor possibly playing a role in the Tigers' reluctance to hand out early contract extensions is the bind that they got themselves into just after the 2006 World Series run. The team dished out contract extensions to several players -- Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson, Brandon Inge, and others all signed within a three-year span -- and most of them did not turn out well.
[Cue Patrick's five paragraph rant in the comments about how those extensions were the worst idea anyone has had since Crystal Pepsi]
Dave Dombrowski's clean sweep of those contracts after the 2009 season set the stage for the current squad's run of success -- though acquiring a pair of players who have accumulated 33.4 fWAR (and counting) in the last four-plus seasons didn't hurt. He and the rest of the front office seem content with letting players work their way through the arbitration process. However, the team's payroll has continued to grow, and there's no telling to what extent the moves made last season were motivated by financial concerns. A contract extension to Castellanos could help stave off future rising costs, or at the very least give the team more of a road map for what to expect in the years ahead.
Twenty games is a bit early to go around handing out contract extensions -- though that Longoria thing really worked out for the Rays -- but I would not mind seeing the Tigers start negotiating with Castellanos at the end of the season. The team obviously expects him to be a big part of their future, and the circumstances are right for a long-term deal between the two sides.
What do you think? Should the Tigers lock Castellanos up into his free agency years?