Cameron: The escalating trend of paying for prime years

From Dave Cameron at FanGraphs on February 7, 2014:

On Wednesday, the Braves announced that they had signed Freddie Freeman to an eight year, $135 million extension. I’ve already written about the diminishing need for a track record and about whether this deal heralds a coming market correction, but hopefully you’ll indulge some more thoughts about this contract and the changing economic structure of Major League Baseball.

There’s no question that teams are throwing more and more money at players who haven’t reached free agency; this is the 15th extension of $100+ million signed in the last three years by a player who was still under team control for at least another year. Players no longer have to reach the open market in order to obtain nine figure contracts, and as we’ve seen with Joey Votto, Elvis Andrus, and now Freddie Freeman, players don’t even have to get to their walk year to land a monster extension anymore. And while this shift towards big money deals for non-free agents is a new thing in MLB, it might be part of an ongoing trend that is shifting baseball’s payroll distribution back to what it was before “the PED era”.

 The Baseball Databank has historical salary data going back to 1985, so I asked Jeff Zimmerman to break down the overall salary distributions by age group for each year since then, giving us almost a 30 year window into where teams have been spending their money.

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Originally published: February 7, 2014. Last Updated: February 7, 2014.