Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 1/28/12

The new trend in Major League Baseball is to lock up your young, cost-controlled talent to long-term deals. In the past, teams seemed hesitant to do that with pitchers, but they're starting to become a little more loose with that idea. In recent years, guys like Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Jered Weaver, and CJ Wilson have all gotten long-term deals as starters, be it from their current team, or another team. Right now, I'm going to present to you a list of ten players who their current teams should seriously consider locking up long-term.

1) Matt Cain, Giants. Cain, who will turn 28 as soon as the season ends, finally blossomed into the pitcher that many thought he would in 2012. The major change in Cain's game in 2011 was cutting his home run rate in half, from a career average of 0.74 per nine innings to a career-low 0.37 per nine innings. He also increased his groundball rate to a career-best 41.7%, while his strikeout and walk rates remained consistent. What that led to was a career low 2.88 ERA, with matching career-lows of a 2.91 FIP and 3.78 xFIP, and a career-high 5.2 fWAR. Despite all that, he won just 12 games thanks to San Francisco's anemic offense. Cain is in the final year of a three year deal that will pay him $15.3 million this season. He'll be getting a raise when he's eligible for free agency this offseason.

2) Matt Garza, Cubs. Sure, the Cubs are in slash and burn mode right now, but they really don't have much pitching. Veteran Ryan Dempster is a free agent after this season, as is newly signed Paul Maholm. Randy Wells and Chris Volstad both have two years of control left after this season, but neither is a top-line piece. Chicago's farm system is also pretty barren. So why not give Garza an extension? He'll be a free agent after 2013, and will probably earn in the neighborhood of $7 to $8 million this season, a raise on the $5.95 million he made in 2011. The move to the National League following the 2010 season did him good, as he posted a career best 5.0 fWAR to go along with career-lows of a 3.32 ERA, 2.95 FIP, and 3.19 xFIP. This is the type of guy that could be a centerpiece for Chicago's rotation, especially at age 28 right now.

3) Zack Greinke, Brewers. Milwaukee gave up a bounty of prospects to acquire Greinke last winter, with two years left under a four-year extension that he signed with Kansas City. Well, that extension is coming to a close after this season, in which he'll make $13.5 million. As the premiere starting pitchers on the market, he'll be in line for a raise, but no team needs Greinke more than the Brewers, who also have Shaun Marcum coming off the books after this season. Greinke's move to the NL was ravaged by bad luck, courtesy of Milwaukee's poor defense, as his .318 BABIP and 69.8% strand rate can attest to. But he struck out a career-best 10.54 batters per nine innings and stayed consistent with his career norm by walking 2.36 batters per nine innings. All of that led to a 2.98 FIP and 2.56 xFIP, much better than the 3.83 ERA he posted.

4) Cole Hamels, Phillies. Here's a fact about Philadelphia's fantastic starting rotation: it's getting old. Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are still two of the best pitchers on the planet, but Lee will turn 34 during the 2012 season, and Halladay will be 35. Both are signed into their late-30s. Contrast that to Hamels, who will be a free agent after this season, and won't turn 29 until after the season ends. During his career, he's never had a FIP or xFIP above 4.00, and he has a career 3.74 strikeout to walk rate. The only knock on Hamels' game is the high amount of home runs he's allowed, 1.09 per nine innings over his career. But he will be one of the prime targets on the market this offseason if he's not locked up, and it won't come cheap, as he's making $15 million this season.

5) Dan Haren, Angels. Haren is in the final year of four-year deal, but the Angels hold an option for 2013 at $15.5 million. Los Angeles has locked up Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson to multi-year deals in the past few months, but Haren (and Ervin Santana for that matter) could only be with the club until next season. Haren is older than most of the pitchers on this list, and will turn 32 late in the 2012 season, but he's simply been one of the best starters in the game, accruing at least 4.0 fWAR each season since he's become a full-time starter in 2005 with the A's. His career peripherals all line up nearly perfectly, with a 3.59 ERA, 3.57 FIP, and 3.55 xFIP. His control is impeccable, with a career 4.04 strikeout to walk rate. Even with his advanced age, Haren could be the type of pitcher that thrives into his late-30s, much like Greg Maddux did, due to his outstanding control.

6) Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks. This one won't happen, due to Kennedy's association with super-agent Scott Boras, but it would make a lot of sense for Arizona. Kennedy isn't even eligible for arbitration yet. But he's been a fantastic pitcher since joining the Diamondbacks, breaking out of his shell massively in 2011. Last season saw Kennedy cut his ERA by a run from 2010, increase his strikeout rate, and decrease both his walk and homer rates. For a Diamondbacks team that has absolutely no pitching locked up long-term, the Kennedy domino falling could be a big first step for them. But by the same token, they could be hesitant to agree to a deal with him due to the glut of young pitching they've got coming up through their minor league system (Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Bauer, etc).

7) Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers. Signing Kershaw to a long-term deal should be the top priority for Dodgers GM Ned Coletti once the ownership situation gets figured out. Kershaw will enter arbitration for the first time this offseason, and the reigning Cy Young winner should get a pretty sizable raise on his six-figure salary from 2011. But just look at the 23 year-old's overall stats. In each of the last three seasons, he's cut his walk rate while increasing his groundball rate and having his strikeout and homer rates remain constant. That led to a 4.59 strikeout to walk ratio (at age 23, keep in mind), a 2.28 ERA and 2.47 FIP, which led to him winning the Cy Young award last season. He's already amassed 17.1 fWAR in his career over just 716 1/3 innings. Kershaw is going to be one of the best pitchers in the game for years to come, and Los Angeles needs to make sure he's wearing Dodger blue for the bulk of his career.

8) Tim Lincecum, Giants. After agreeing to a two year deal this week, Lincecum's free agent debut won't be coming until after the 2013 season. But his resume speaks for itself. He's won two Cy Young awards before turning 28, has accrued an eye-popping 27.9 fWAR in just 1028 innings over five seasons, and helped lead the Giants to a World Championship in 2010. Our own Tim Livingston wrote about giving Lincecum a long-term extension this week, but he's at the point in his career where a 4.4 fWAR season is considered a disappointment. I think that means you're a pretty special pitcher. He'll be 29 when he hits free agency, and with $22 million coming to him in 2013, he could get very expensive, very quickly.

9) Justin Masterson, Indians. When analyzing Masterson, people seem to be failing to realize that he's only been a full-time starter for two seasons. He's known for his crazy groundball tendencies (56.1% for his career), and decent strike zone command (2.16 strikeout to walk ratio since becoming a full-time starter) that makes him an effective, albeit not very sexy, pitcher. But for an Indians team that has absolutely no long-term contracts past this season, it would make sense to lock up their young starter, especially after mortgaging the farm for Ubaldo Jimenez, which didn't work out too well last season. He'll make $3.825 million this year, with two years of control left. Masterson doesn't seem like the guy that would get the nine figure deal from a club, so Cleveland could probably work something out that works well for both the player and the club.

10) Stephen Strasburg, Nationals. Yeah, this is another extension that won't happen due to the presence of Scott Boras. Strasburg's initial rookie contract with Washington expires after this season, and he'll still have arbitration years left to make oodles of money. But I'll be damned if he hasn't completely lived up to the hype and energized a fanbase and franchise. In just 92 major league innings, Strasburg has been worth 3.7 fWAR, has a 1.87 FIP, and most stunning of all, has a 6.11 strikeout to walk ratio. I know it's a very small sample size, and that clubs haven't even had a chance to figure him out yet, but that stretch of pitching to start a career is probably unprecedented. Locking up their young ace should be a priority for Washington, even if it means fighting tooth and nail with Boras to get it done.

Photos courtesy of Daylife.com

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This article first appeared on The Outside Corner and was syndicated with permission.

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