Tom Verducci's View

May 08, 2005

KEEPING THE KIDS AT HOME

The always tight supply of young aces on the open market narrowed further in the past three months when the Indians' C.C. Sabathia (right), the Twins' Johan Santana and the Brewers' Ben Sheets signed contract extensions. All three would have been eligible for free agency after the 2006 season. That all three were retained by small-revenue clubs is another indication that baseball's revenue-sharing system is working.

The young ace is the most precious commodity in the game, which is why few reach the open market. The Braves, for instance, locked up would-be 2005 free agent Tim Hudson, 29, with a four-year, $47 million extension before this season, leaving the Marlins' A.J. Burnett, 28, and the Dodgers' Brad Penny, 26, as the top potential free-agent pitchers next winter, though neither has been an ace.

In postponing their shot at free agency, Sabathia, Santana and Sheets signed below-market contracts in exchange for financial security. Had they been free agents last winter, all of them would have blown past the financial neighborhood of the prized free agent of 2004, righthander Carl Pavano. Here's how they compared to Pavano at the time he signed with the Yankees.

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Pitcher Age IP W-L ERA Contract
PAVANO 28 937 2/3 57-58 4.21 4 years, $39.95M
SABATHIA 24 776 54-35 4.12 2 years, $17.75M
SANTANA 25 624 1/3 43-18 3.47 4 years, $40M
SHEETS 26 825 2/3 45-53 3.92 4 years, $38.5M

POTENT COMBINATION

Sure, the Orioles can slug with any team in the majors, but give second-year manager Lee Mazzilli (left) credit for not waiting for the long ball. Mazzilli has given many of his players the green light on the bases and encouraged them to be aggressive. The American League East leader by four games through Sunday, Baltimore ranked first in the league in home runs (39) and in stolen bases (27). The Orioles could become the first team since the 1955 world champion Dodgers to lead its league in what often are mutually exclusive categories.

THREE STRIKES

1. The Athletics have made a habit of slow starts, but their lack of power and speed this season--they were last in the AL in slugging and steals at week's end--is an ominous sign.

2. The Devil Rays' season could turn downright ugly without a starting pitcher--righty Dewon Brazelton (right) has an 0-14 career road record--who can reliably provide innings. Tampa's starters won only four times in the club's first 25 games.

3. Nice start by the Diamondbacks (15-10), but don't get carried away just yet--overall, they've been outscored 114-109.

COLOR PHOTOOTTO GREULE JR./GETTY IMAGES (SABATHIA) COLOR PHOTOBOB ROSATO (MAZZILLI) COLOR PHOTONICK LAHAM/GETTY IMAGES (BRAZELTON)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)