Would long-term deals help Sox?

Would long-term deals help Sox?

CHICAGO -- Ask John Danks about his desire to pitch for years and years as part of the White Sox starting rotation, even at the stage of his career when a long-term deal isn't necessarily needed, and the 23-year-old southpaw doesn't hesitate for a moment with his response.

He has found a home on the South Side of Chicago.

But ask White Sox general manager Ken Williams about a desire to lock down a multiyear deal with Danks, who becomes arbitration-eligible after the 2009 season, or fellow arbitration-eligible standouts such as left fielder Carlos Quentin or fellow starter Gavin Floyd, and he can only smile and point to the harsh economic conditions as a prime reason to play the waiting game.

"You are way, way too far ahead there," Williams said. "I have to look at how the Dow Jones did today and see the general state of the economy before we start committing large sums of money out there."

There's no need for the White Sox to rush into long-term agreements with players such as Danks, Floyd and Quentin, not with this trio just entering their respective first years of arbitration in 2010. Then again, there are benefits for both sides by possibly buying out these arbitration years and committing these standouts to the team even at the start of free-agent years.

As the plethora of top-notch free agents remaining on the open market currently can attest, the only guaranteed money presently appears to be coming through the arbitration process. The struggling economy could improve in one year's time, but then again, there's a chance that rebound process might take a couple of years, making the next offseason as tenuous as this one -- if not worse.

Locking down key young contributors would give the White Sox some cost certainty while rewarding a player by giving him a little security. That plan was followed recently by the Rockies, when they agreed to terms on a four-year deal with pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez that guarantees him $10 million, with club options for 2013 and 2014. The Rockies also have agreed to deals in recent offseasons with pitchers Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis and Manuel Corpas, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Brad Hawpe, the contracts structured so the players could remain in Colorado after their free-agent years begin.

There is a risk of the player who has a breakout season such as Danks, Floyd or Quentin struggling after that one year. The injury factor also comes into play. The upside is that as a team, you have the core growing together as a unit, keeping the franchise strong for many years to come and serving as leaders for the next young wave.

"In an ideal world, the young core learns the White Sox way of playing from the first day they step on campus after the Draft," said White Sox assistant general manager Rick Hahn, who handles a great deal of contractual work. "They grow up together trough the Minors and stay together for a successful run at the big league level.

"Once you see how they fit, you begin to realize this guy is going to be here and around for a while. Locking him up gives him security as a reward for his success, and at the same time, you lock up payroll certainty and control over free-agent years as a team, in advance of going year to year and maxing out what it's gong to cost you."

Past examples of this specific contractual philosophy exist for the White Sox, from Mark Buehrle in 2004 to past deals for Paul Konerko, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee, Aaron Rowand and even reliever Matt Thornton in 2007. As Hahn pointed out, the White Sox have a history of signing "young, core guys prior to free agency or through arbitration since Kenny Williams took over prior to the 2001 season." It's a plan the White Sox probably will explore again.

Early February, though, is not when those discussions usually take place.

"Historically, you talk about it in Spring Training, in a more relaxed atmosphere," Hahn said. "There has to be a meeting of the minds, with a willingness also on the part of the player and the agent."

With players such as Jim Thome, Jose Contreras, Octavio Dotel and possibly Jermaine Dye reaching the end of their respective deals after the '09 campaign and Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski after '10, the White Sox don't have as much guaranteed money on the books over the next two years. They could elect to go year-to-year with their burgeoning leaders, as they did with All-Star closer Bobby Jenks for 2009, or work out a long-term deal or two.

If Danks had a voice in the process, he knows what basic answer would be provided.

"I would be really happy to spend my whole career in Chicago," said Danks, who had a 12-9 record and 3.32 ERA in 2008. "I love the city, the fans and the manager. It's important to me to feel comfortable somewhere, and I feel comfortable here in Chicago.

"You know, it's still weird to be asked about something like this, and it hasn't really crossed my mind at this point. But when the time comes, I'm definitely all for staying in Chicago."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.