ARLINGTON, Texas -- Orioles right-hander Bud Norris on Tuesday defended a tweet that gained national steam after it called the unprecedented extension signed by Houston Astros prospect Jonathan Singleton "terrible."
The 22-year-old Singleton, one of the top prospects in the game, was called up on Monday and signed a five-year extension with $10 million guaranteed. The deal could be worth up to $30 million over eight years if the Astros pick up three club options.
The deal is the first ever long-term extension signed to a player before making his major league debut. It gives Singleton financial security early, but he also gives up the possibility of making more money through the arbitration process and eventual free agency if he lives up to his promise. With Singleton under club control for eight years, he won’t be able to test the free-agent market until he's 30.
Norris, who was acquired by the Orioles from Houston before the trade deadline last year and played his first 4 1/2 seasons with the Astros, tweeted: “Sorry but this Singleton deal is terrible. Wish [that] Jon listened to the union and not his agent.”
The tweet drew mixed reviews, and since 140 characters don't always frame an opinion well, I went to Norris before Tuesday's game against the Texas Rangers to ask him if he wanted to clarify what he said. He was more than happy to oblige.
“I was lucky enough to see Jonathan Singleton play in the minor league system with the Astros, so I know what kind of caliber player he is, and I think he’s going to be an extremely good player at the big league level,” Norris said. “I hope nothing but the best for his career.
“That being said, I feel it was somewhat unfortunate because they tried to lock up so many players to these team-friendly deals, as we call them in the business, and I know from a union standpoint, when you have the rookie career development program, they ask all the rookies not to sign these. They want you to come up and go through the process. That’s why we have a system intact as far as three years of service time, and then you go through the arbitration process and get to be paid for what your statistics show and prove that.”
Norris, who starts tonight against the Rangers, pointed out that the Astros have tried to lock up their top young players -- George Springer, Matt Dominguez and Robbie Grossman -- to extensions, exchanging higher up-front money for what could be club-friendly deals down the line. But in previous cases they've been turned down.
“I think it’s kind of interesting the way it all happened, and I thought they might have been holding [Singleton] hostage in Triple-A somehow,” Norris said. “It goes down to [being] the agent’s fault.”
After Norris’ tweet, former big league pitcher Mark Mulder echoed Norris’ sentiments, tweeting that Singleton either “doesn't believe in himself to be great or he has a terrible agent who wants the 4%.”
In the effort of full disclosure, Norris said that Singleton’s agent used to represent him, but he didn’t know that when he sent out the tweet.
Norris hasn’t been shy in sharing his opinions about his former team. In a Houston Chronicle story last month, he called the Astros “the outcast of Major League Baseball.” But Norris also saw firsthand the team’s fall. He was drafted by Houston in 2006, one year after the Astros went to the World Series, and played for teams that averaged 97 losses a year his first four seasons before he was traded to the Orioles.
“I’m not trying to stir the pot,” Norris said. “I’m done with Houston. I really hope that they get back. I really have an appreciation for the city and the organization, but that being said, what I said was that I personally just wish he had waited. Your talent should do the talking and you do go out there and let the numbers speak for themselves and get paid accordingly. That’s what I’ve tried to do my entire career, and that’s what a lot of players are trying to do. That’s why we have the system intact and that’s why we should go through the system.”
Norris, 29, averaged $450,000 his first three years with the Astros before making $3 million in his first arbitration-eligible season. He is making $5.3 million this season with the Orioles and becomes a free agent after the 2015 season.