PHOENIX – You may not be able to tell the Diamondbacks without a program so far this season, but that will change. These D-backs are built for the long haul, and they made the biggest financial moves in franchise history over the offseason to prove it.
Paul Goldschmidt’s $32 million contract extension announced over the weekend is only the latest in a series of moves that the D-backs undertook in the offseason to identify building blocks and lock them up.
While ownership committed a whopping $167.5 million to seven key players — a group that includes newcomers Martin Prado and Cody Ross and veterans Aaron Hill and J.J. Putz — they believe the moves make as much financial sense as they do baseball sense.
The sport will become richer all around in 2014, the first year of an eight-year, $6.8 billion TV contract that the league negotiated with FOX and Turner Sports. Each major league team will receive an average of $25 million a year through 2021. So why not spend it, especially at what could be favorable terms in the long run?
“The landscape will change next year,” D-backs managing partner Ken Kendrick said this spring.
“If you are looking at signing people long term, you will have that much more revenue. As clubs get their heads around that, I think the escalation of salaries is going to substantially increase. I think (our) contracts will be looked at as good deals. The contracts of Prado and Hill we gave this year … players like that are going to be a more expensive proposition next year.
“When new money comes into the game, almost all of it goes directly to the players.”
The D-backs’ financial commitment began early last season, when they signed Miguel Montero to a five-year, $60 million deal in late May. Then came the offseason contract extension for Putz, the acquisitions of Cliff Pennington and Prado, the addition of free agents Brandon McCarthy and Cody Ross and the extensions for Hill and Goldschmidt.
Prado will make $40 million over the next four years and Hill $35 million over the next three. Ross will make $26 million over three years, McCarthy $15.5 million over the two.
The D-backs also felt comfortable with those contracts inasmuch as almost all of their deferred salary debt, once about $240 million, is off the books. Bernard Gilkey is to receive $1 million a year through 2017, the last man in line, on a contract he negotiated with the Mets before the Diamondbacks acquired him in 1998.
The roster stability makes things somewhat easier on general manager Kevin Towers, although he certainly will not stop wheeling and dealing if he sees another way to improve the D-backs in the competitive NL West. As a fringe benefit, market-friendly contracts also can be leveraged into other assets down the road.
“We don’t have to worry about free agency. Now we just need to go out and perform and win division titles,” Towers said.
“In looking where the free-agent market is going, I don’t see it getting any cheaper.”
Free-agent signings such as Jason Kubel last year and Ross and McCarthy this winter have not been the norm for the D-backs. While their budget for the 40-man roster this year is about $92 million, they remain a small-market team with small-market constraints, another factor in locking up a core group for the long term.
“That’s the way we are going to compete,” D-backs president/CEO Derrick Hall said. “We are not going to be big players in the free-agent market. We’re going to get players at what we think are reasonable contracts.
“A player like Paul Goldschmidt is someone we want to have locked down. We’re not worried about him either trying to live up to expectations or folding at any point. He is the type of player who is going to prepare, the type of player who works. He respects the game. Loves the game. Enjoys being a Diamondback. That’s who we want.
“You look at that list; they are all very similar. Prado, Hill, Montero. These are players we are not going to worry about.”
The D-backs have not spent as much on player salaries since going over $100 million for the first and only time in 2002. While the team won the NL West on $52 million in 2007 and $55.5 million in 2011, Kendrick is realistic about payroll moving forward.
“Frankly, we’ve reached a point at the point where we are comfortable and confident in our financial stability going forward. The money that we would invest is because we have it to invest. Certainly if a team doesn’t perform well and the attendance falls off and the revenue falls off, then we will have to reflect on that,” Kendrick said.
“We don’t see our finances as an issue. We don’t have unlimited resources, but we have a lot more resources to apply to the major league payroll on the player side than we have had in my entire history of stewardship. It is always about how you play, but it is also about the opponent. We’ve determined that we need to invest more.