Richard Justice: ‘Singleton’s Deal Risk On Both Sides’

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HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 03: Jon Singleton #28 of the Houston Astros waits on the field prior to the start of the game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Minute Maid Park on June 3, 2014 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Jon Singleton (Credit: Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, Houston Astros rookie Jon Singleton became the first player to ever sign a multi-year, multi-million dollar extension without having played even a single game in the majors.

Singleton, 22, signed a five-year, $10-million deal that could become eight years and $35 million with various club options.

John Feinstein looks at this contract and has many questions – two, in particular. One, is it a good idea to offer a long-term contract before a player makes his major league debut? And two, will other prospects now sign away their arbitration years and settle, potentially, for far less than their market value?

“Teams have tried to do (this),” columnist Richard Justice said on The John Feinstein Show. “Six years ago, the Rays did it after Evan Longoria had had a handful of at-bats, so it’s a risk on both sides. (Singleton has) never played in the big leagues, (so) you really don’t know, but he projects as a middle-of the order hitter. What the kid gets is financial security, (and) the Astros (could) have him through (his age-30 season).”

Sometimes this arrangement works for both sides; sometimes it doesn’t.

“When the Rays signed Longoria, they told him, ‘Look, if you’re the player we think you are, this is a bad deal for you,’” Justice explained. “Evan’s response was, ‘I’m not walking away from my first fortune.’”

Longoria wound up signing a lucrative extension, so it all worked out. But sometimes, both sides need to gamble a bit.

“There are no guarantees,” Justice said. “That’s how you run a business now when you don’t have unlimited resources. There is a business aspect to everything that happens in professional sports. Basically, the club has the hammer for three years, and after that, the player has the complete hammer.”

“The bottom line is, if Greg Polanco, if Manny Machado – if all these guys – are the players we all think they’re going to be, they’re going to make money upon money upon money,” Justice continued. “But there is a business aspect, and the club has to protect its interests, especially a team like the Pirates. Sometimes they get players ready for the Dodgers and the Yankees – and they want to have Greg Polanco and Pedro Alvarez as long as they can.”

Speaking of the Rays (23-28), might they shop David Price this season?

“They looked at it all winter as far as the contract,” Justice said. “I think David, on the free-agent market, might exceed what they can do. The bottom line is, the Rays have three superstars – their manager, Evan and David Price. Would they like to keep him? They would like to keep him. But I don’t know. It’s a process. It’s clear David loves it there, but the business side of it – he may not be willing to do anything right now.”

And then, of course, there’s Don Zimmer, who passed away Wednesday at the age of 83. Justice shared some of his favorite Zimmer stories, including one that involved Jackie Robinson. Zimmer and Robinson were teammates and great friends, and Zimmer respected the heck out of Robinson for all that he endured during his playing days.

“Zim would start to talk about Jackie Robinson, and he would start to cry every time,” Justice said. “He would say, ‘I am just a nobody from Cincinnati. What does a great man like that see in somebody like me? I don’t get it. I am the luckiest guy on earth. (For) 66 years, I got paid for doing what I love.’”

Zimmer rode on buses in the minors and flew first class in the majors. He dined at great restaurants in New York and raved about a Wendy’s in Columbus, Ohio. He even married his wife at home plate in Elmira in 1951.

“He loved every moment of it,” Justice said. “He was a remarkable man, and in the last years of his life, when he would walk into any ball park, he would light up the room.”

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