If you hadn’t noticed, Major League teams have decided that the best way to use their current financial windfall is to keep their best players for essentially their entire careers. It wasn’t long ago that single team lifers like Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn were the outliers, but now, it is becoming unusual for an elite player to not sign a mega-contract with his original franchise. Just in the last few years, we’ve seen the following players commit to spending the great majority of their careers with just one Major League team:
Joe Mauer, Joey Votto, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, Felix Hernandez, Matt Kemp, David Wright, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Yadier Molina, Ryan Zimmerman, Justin Verlander, Adam Wainwright, and now Buster Posey.
Maybe not all of these players will stay with their current teams for the duration of these contracts, and a few might end up going elsewhere after these deals expire to squeeze an extra year or two out of the end of their careers. These aren’t necessarily contracts “for life”, but they do cover enough of the prime years of the game’s best players that it ensures that their legacy will be forever tied to one franchise. This represents a significant shift for Major League Baseball since free agency began.
Great players still change teams, of course. Albert Pujols left the Cardinals. Prince Fielder left the Brewers. David Price is almost certainly going to leave the Rays. Robinson Cano might leave the Yankees, though I’ll believe that when I see it. It isn’t true that every great player now retires with the team that brought him to the Majors. But there’s no question that MLB teams are moving to make that the more common occurrence, and fewer stars are waiting to get to free agency before cashing in on massive paychecks.
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