There is something called The Royals Strategy now. Well, there always was, but it used to be a .gif of two people in a horse costume, repeatedly bumping into a door that reads "PULL." But now The Royals Strategy means something completely different: locking up young players through their arbitration years before they've proven anything in the majors. From MLB's official Twitter feed:
OFFICIAL: Royals lock up SS Alcides Escobar through 2015 with club options for 2016 and 2017.
Alcides Escobar's contract breakdown: $1 mil in '12, $3 mil in '13, '14 & '15, so $10 mil guaranteed over 4 years …
Alcides Escobar's club options are for $5.25 mil in '16 & $6.5 mil in '17. $500,000 buyouts both years. So, could be worth $21.75 mil/6 yrs
You might think this is actually The Rays Strategy, but it's a slight variation. Whereas the Rays have done preemptive extensions for Matt Moore and Evan Longoria before they were established, both of those players were super-prospects. The Royals Strategy is different, in that the players they've targeted -- Escobar and Salvador Perez -- have been players whose future is much more uncertain. Escobar was once a top prospect, but he now has 1183 at-bats in the majors with a .294 on-base percentage. That's pretty ugly.
But he's young, just 25, and his last season in AAA was fairly promising. He was 22, and he increased his walk rate and dramatically cut down on his strikeouts, despite advancing a level. It hinted at a player who might someday be more than just a slick-glove, no-hit type, which he certainly is right now.
The Royals are now committed to paying Escobar an average of $2 million more per season than someone making the major-league minimum over the next four years. That's the risk. The possible reward is that if Escobar breaks out in some way -- or at least becomes an average-hitting shortstop -- the Royals will have him for well below market value. It's a good risk, and if this (and the Perez deal) works out, you'll probably see a lot more extensions for young players who don't exactly project to be stars.