Given how much the front office has cried poverty this off season, I got thinking about some ways by which the Astros could control costs. The best strategy I can think of, besides have a great farm system, is contract extensinos given to players very early in their pro careers. Just the sheer proliferation of this strategy in the last few seasons is already altering the mechanics of the free agent market. Once the current crop of extended talent (Sizemore, Braun, Tulo, Crawford, etc.) reach the free agent market, they'll be old. Early thirties players have no where to go but down, but they'll be taking ludicrous bids for their value. If the Astros don't want to fall behind on another learning curve (previous failure: refusing to pay above slot money for draft picks and thinking that was OK), they need to get busy. So why not buy out arbitration years and the first one or two years of free agency from Hunter Pence and Wandy Rodriguez?
Pence could easily be extended for $Next to Nothing/year for the next five to seven years if we we are to be proactive in the process. So far, Pence has contributed $25.5 million in value to the Astros for pennies on the dollar. Assuming that Pence is only bound to get better at plate discipline, that kind of an extension could wind up providing the Astros tens of millions in surplus value, and also give Pence guranteed money—something a mid-twenties guy with a smoking hot girl friend has to desire. Even if Pence stalls out at where he is, I imagine a five to seven year extension wouldn't cost the Astros more than $15-20 million, and there's no way he wouldn't exceed the total value of that contract.
Wandy, who according to Cot's, only has slightly over three years of service time, is a no brainer for an extension too. There's no risk in a 3-5 year extension if he can provide solid number two/three pitching during the life of it. Maybe the first year or two of the extension he's slightly over compensated compared to what arbitration would garner him, but that first year or two of free agency would be a steal.
The strategy is all about longterm cost-containment—something the Astros have proved themselves to be woefully inadqueate at accomplishing. This kind of cost containment, coupled with brighter future in our farm system, could really open up the possibilities for making selective and wise free agent signings to maybe turn something like the 2013+ Astros into not just a contender, but a cost-effecitve one at that. Although Pence and Wandy seem like the obvious choices for extensions, to me, at present, the Astros need to focus on making this a priority from here on out—just look at the Ray's contracts...they're pretty much all cheap, cheap extensions.