Which Young Players Should Be Next To Sign Long-Term Deals?

Yordan Alvarez
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The main reason why the Astros have been able to survive and thrive despite the departure of a large percentage of the core of their 2017 World Series-winning team is their success in developing their young talent. One of the most prominent of these players, Kyle Tucker, had his breakout season in the shortened 2020 and cemented those gains with a .294/.359/.557, 4.9 WAR 2021 campaign that saw him get his first MVP votes. With Tucker heading to arbitration this winter for the first time, the Astros discussed a long-term contract with their incumbent right fielder in recent weeks, but the deal has apparently fallen through.

While it hasn’t worked out, it’s the right idea. Teams want to lock up their best young players, and many players, especially before they get that first big arbitration bump, are interested in mitigating their personal risk. Wander Franco was more likely than not to beat the $182 million he’ll receive from the Rays and the team they trade him to around 2029, but it also provided him some real security, given he’s still a couple years from arbitration. These types of deals can be win-win.

So who should be the next players to get inked for the long haul? Here are my favorite picks. For each, I’ve included their ZiPS projections for both performance and a fair contract; after all, I don’t own a team, so I don’t have the motivation to pitch any absurdly team-friendly agreements like the one Ozzie Albies signed with the Braves. I’ve also omitted Juan Soto since we’ve already talked about him and a long-term deal quite a bit, most recently in Jay Jaffe’s piece before the season that already has the ZiPS projections. If you want a figure, let’s just say 10 years and all circulating US currency.

Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros: Seven years, $128 million

You’ve already struck out with one of your outfielders; why not go after another one? Alvarez isn’t quite as well-rounded as Tucker is, but I think he’s even more interesting in terms of pure offensive talent. If 2021 erased any worrying lingering injury issues, then 2022 should be doing that for any concern that he’d have trouble with a dejuiced ball. Despite the juice being gone, he’s still crushing the pulp that remains, and even our least optimistic projection for him now has him finishing with more home runs than 2021.

The bump in power is the most obvious — his average exit velocity has improved to a stunning 95 mph — but that’s not the only way that Alvarez has improved offensively. His plate discipline has taken a big step up as well, and his walks and strikeouts have almost reached parity this year. That’s the product of him swinging at fewer bad pitches while swinging at more good ones; it’s not easy to move those numbers significantly in opposite directions. And while he doesn’t have much defensive value, he’s nowhere near Todd Hundley awful in the outfield when you want to rest another player at DH. I also suspect that the value of first basemen and designated hitters should have a bit of a bump with the universal DH, now that there are 15 more prime spots for offense-first players with minimal defensive ability.

ZiPS Projection – Yordan Alvarez
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .279 .361 .539 542 92 151 34 1 35 109 67 142 1 146 -1 4.4
2024 .274 .360 .535 529 90 145 34 1 34 107 68 143 1 144 -1 4.1
2025 .270 .358 .529 518 88 140 33 1 33 102 67 142 1 142 -2 3.8
2026 .271 .359 .523 505 85 137 32 1 31 98 66 134 1 141 -2 3.7
2027 .267 .354 .512 490 80 131 31 1 29 94 62 126 1 137 -2 3.2
2028 .265 .351 .494 472 75 125 28 1 26 86 59 119 1 131 -3 2.7
2029 .261 .344 .482 452 69 118 26 1 24 79 55 110 1 126 -3 2.2

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays: Eight years, $174 million

Vladito is making nearly $8 million this year and not in a family hurting for financial resources, so he has a reasonable risk profile to try to wait out free agency and grab a monster deal then. But that doesn’t mean the Blue Jays shouldn’t at least try; it will be a shame if his stay in Toronto is already half over.

While Guerrero’s offensive numbers have come back down since last year’s Triple Crown run, the disappearance of run scoring around the league makes the drop look far more significant than it actually is. In rest-of-career value, ZiPS has him fourth in baseball among hitters, and none of the top three are gettable.

ZiPS Projection – Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .298 .385 .533 580 105 173 30 2 34 100 76 102 3 152 0 4.4
2024 .295 .386 .532 562 103 166 30 2 33 97 78 102 3 152 0 4.1
2025 .292 .385 .530 559 102 163 30 2 33 96 80 104 3 151 -1 4.0
2026 .290 .387 .532 551 102 160 30 2 33 95 82 104 3 152 -1 4.0
2027 .287 .386 .522 536 99 154 29 2 31 91 81 103 3 150 -1 3.7
2028 .285 .384 .513 522 95 149 28 2 29 86 79 96 3 147 -1 3.4
2029 .282 .380 .502 504 90 142 26 2 27 81 75 91 3 143 -2 3.0
2030 .278 .376 .490 486 83 135 24 2 25 76 71 86 3 139 -2 2.6

Dylan Cease, Chicago White Sox: Five years, $75 million

There are three starting pitchers the White Sox should be thinking about long-term: Cease, Lucas Giolito, and Michael Kopech. Giolito will be a free agent after next season, so he may not have much incentive to skip testing the market. Kopech’s injury history and boom-or-bust type abilities make evaluating him very tricky. Cease is the one the Sox should be giving the full-court press in contract talks. His FIP this year is a sterling 2.16, and he’s found those extra strikeouts that ZiPS thought he might have in him. Did I mention that he’s lopped four mph off last year’s opposition exit velocity? If his changeup ever truly clicks consistently, he could be frightening.

ZiPS Projection – Dylan Cease
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2023 12 8 0 3.61 32 32 164.3 130 66 20 74 227 122 3.4
2024 11 7 0 3.54 31 31 160.0 122 63 19 70 218 124 3.4
2025 11 7 0 3.57 30 30 156.3 119 62 18 67 212 123 3.3
2026 10 7 0 3.55 28 28 144.3 110 57 17 62 196 124 3.1
2027 10 6 0 3.57 26 26 136.0 103 54 16 59 186 123 2.9

Julio Rodríguez, Seattle Mariners: Six years, $103 million

Remember when some people were actually worried about him? Seattle’s patience with Jarred Kelenic hasn’t yet paid off, but the team’s aggression in putting Rodríguez on the roster appears to be a bonanza. The first week or so was rough, but since that first multi-hit game, he’s been one of the hottest players in baseball, hitting .330/.385/.466 over 24 games. Not bad for a guy who has played all of six weeks of Double-A ball.

I would have felt this way even before the season. Rodríguez is one of a handful of 22-and-unders to receive a three-WAR projection in ZiPS, a list that consists entirely of stars and Gregory Polanco. I’m pretty confident in J-Rod, and if Seattle can’t ink him to a deal, he’s likely to get more expensive very quickly.

ZiPS Projection – Julio Rodríguez
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .277 .347 .432 502 66 139 27 3 15 63 48 138 25 121 12 3.8
2024 .282 .355 .455 490 68 138 28 3 17 66 50 133 26 130 12 4.3
2025 .276 .356 .455 492 70 136 28 3 18 68 55 140 28 130 12 4.4
2026 .274 .357 .454 489 70 134 28 3 18 67 57 142 26 130 11 4.3
2027 .271 .357 .452 487 70 132 28 3 18 67 59 144 25 129 11 4.2
2028 .269 .357 .448 480 69 129 26 3 18 66 60 145 25 128 11 4.1

Tyler Stephenson, Cincinnati Reds: Six years, $49 million

Let’s be excessively charitable to the Reds for a minute and take them at their word that it’s not about money and that they just want to rebuild from within (hold the laughter for a sec). If they want people to believe that, they ought to put their cash where their mouths are and sign one or both of their best, very young players (Stephenson and Jonathan India). Cincinnati has intentionally lost a lot of valuable players over the last six months or so, and with Joey Votto in the twilight of his career, this team ought to be interested in not being looked at as “the Pittsburgh Pirates, but with awful chili.” Stephenson has crushed the ball this year, his defense is just fine behind the plate, and he’s been one of the team’s few bright spots in a year in which an eight-inning no-hit game that was a loss isn’t even the lowlight.

ZiPS Projection – Tyler Stephenson
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .285 .364 .457 372 59 106 22 0 14 56 42 86 1 114 3 2.6
2024 .282 .363 .462 355 57 100 22 0 14 55 42 85 1 115 3 2.6
2025 .281 .363 .464 349 56 98 22 0 14 54 42 86 1 115 2 2.4
2026 .279 .361 .457 341 54 95 22 0 13 52 41 81 1 113 1 2.2
2027 .282 .363 .464 330 52 93 21 0 13 51 39 75 2 115 0 2.2
2028 .279 .361 .451 319 49 89 19 0 12 48 37 69 2 111 0 1.9

Andrés Giménez, Cleveland Guardians: Six years, $55 million

Only two players in baseball with at least 90 plate appearances have had a bigger bump in exit velocity than Giménez: Jean Segura and Gleyber Torres. Giménez hasn’t turned into a 40-homer hitter or anything, but he’s hitting everything with more authority than in the past, and at age 23, that kind of improvement would not be shocking if it were maintained. He’s become a line drive machine, which plays well in an environment where fly balls are suddenly dying, and he acquits himself well at prime defensive positions. Cleveland has a long history of signing pre-arbitration players to long deals, and Giménez should join other recent signings: Emmanuel Clase and Myles Straw.

ZiPS Projection – Andrés Giménez
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .262 .310 .426 458 58 120 25 4 14 53 23 117 18 102 7 2.7
2024 .264 .316 .439 444 58 117 25 4 15 55 25 118 17 107 7 3.0
2025 .257 .311 .432 447 58 115 25 4 15 55 26 125 15 103 8 2.8
2026 .254 .310 .436 445 58 113 25 4 16 55 27 129 15 104 8 2.8
2027 .251 .308 .434 435 57 109 24 4 16 54 27 127 14 103 7 2.6
2028 .253 .309 .433 423 55 107 23 4 15 52 26 118 13 103 6 2.4

Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays: Seven years, $70 million

I wrote about McClanahan and his improved changeup last week, and his seven-inning shutout of the woeful Tigers unsurprisingly isn’t changing my view of him as a pitcher. The Rays like signing their players early and often, even if they don’t finish their deals in Tampa, and I’d like to see Sugar Shane be the next recipient. The team is also increasingly confident about keeping him in the game; he’s on pace to face the most third-time-through-the-order batters for an under-30 Ray since Blake Snell in 2018. I think ZiPS might even be underrating him a bit.

ZiPS Projection – Shane McClanahan
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO WAR
2023 11 7 0 3.37 29 29 144.0 125 54 19 52 189 3.4
2024 11 7 0 3.37 29 29 144.3 122 54 18 51 188 3.4
2025 11 6 0 3.39 27 27 138.0 117 52 18 49 178 3.2
2026 10 6 0 3.40 25 25 127.0 108 48 16 45 164 3.0
2027 10 5 0 3.35 24 24 121.0 101 45 16 42 158 2.9
2028 9 5 0 3.40 23 23 113.7 94 43 15 40 150 2.7
2029 8 5 0 3.46 21 21 106.7 89 41 14 38 142 2.4





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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JimmieFoxxalorianmember
2 months ago

Rafael Devers! He should be the next young player to sign a long-term deal.

steveo
2 months ago

Well, he’s basically got 1.5 seasons left so he’d want a close to market value contract. More than likely he’s going to hit free agency and get 10/300ish. The Red Sox basically have to give it to him, right? Who else are they going to pay? I’m sure they want Eovaldi back, but he’s not going to get a big deal. Xander seems like a goner after that contract offer that was reported.

Ivan_Grushenkomember
2 months ago
Reply to  steveo

If Devers has to move to 1B or DH they would have to choose between him and Casas, no?

Alan
2 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

In case you haven’t noticed Devers defense has improved drastically

Dmjn53
2 months ago
Reply to  Alan

I wouldn’t put too much stock into 6 weeks of defensive data. A guy that poor defensively in his early 20s is more than likely going to continue to be a poor defender

proiste
2 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

For what it’s worth, Statcast thought he was the absolute cat’s pajamas in 2019. He led all third basemen in OAA that year!

I don’t think the book is totally written on his defense

JimmieFoxxalorianmember
2 months ago
Reply to  steveo

They have a lot of $$ coming off the books in the near future, and it’s become clear Devers is the most likely rock to build Bloomball around, whatever that may look like. The sooner they sign him the better, as his price is only going to increase each day forward.

The team is 13 games behind, and have suffered at the hands of a combo of bad luck on balls in play, unusually poor 2022 showings by 3/4ths of the roster, and a badly managed, low-talent pitching staff (except for Whitlock).

A sound longterm approach may be to lock up Devers today to a massive 10+yr deal , and trade all veterans of value immediately.

The trade deadline will be less impactful with the number of teams that will be on the fence of wildcard possibilities. Hence, the Sox may get more value back now if they are aggressive and make moves. Then after trades, promote Casas and Duran, get them at-bats. They’ve got little to lose in doing so since the team is so bad. Story is starting to hit, but even if everything else goes perfect, and no moves are made, best-case scenario they finish with 80 wins, no postseason, then lose X-man and others with nothing in return to build on. That’s not a very good best-case. I’m expecting Bloom to make some big changes sooner rather than later to improve the Sox long-term outlook, and that starts with signing Devers.

sadtrombonemember
2 months ago

Sincerely, Red Sox Fan

proiste
2 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

It’s a Red Sox fan homer take, but it’s right! They should pay him. He’s younger than a bunch of other guys on this list? Why not?? Who else will they pay??