Quality shortstops are a precisous and rare commodity in baseball, and outside of the steroid era, they always have been. There were a total of just four shortstops with at least 4 WAR in 2010, 6 in 2009, and 4 in 2008 - and Hanley Ramirez was the only one to be worth at least 4 WAR in each of those seasons. So in the rare event that a team finds a player they feel can provide long-term production at anywhere near that level, it behooves them to do everything within their ability to do just that.
Alexei Ramirez had a very solid season, posting a .744 OPS which doesn't seem like anything impressive until you consider the MLB average for shortstops was a paltry .690. He also contributed an AL leading (and 2nd best in baseball) +10.1 UZR/150 and was shamefully snubbed of a Gold Glove award by Derek Jeter -5.4 (2nd worst in thr AL). Regardless, the fact that Ramirez was 8% better than average offensively, and provides top-of-the-line defense makes him an immensely valuable player - as evidence by his 3.8 WAR in 2010.
Ramirez has now accumulated a total 6 WAR in the past two season (2.2 in 2009) and that was enough to convince GM Kenny Williams to get his teams shortstop under team control for the forseeable future. The White Sox already held a 2.75m option on Ramirez for 2011 - a product of his initial contract signed as an amateur. After the season however, Ramirez was due for two seasons of arbitration eligibility. A reasonable projection given his average level of production over the past two seasons (3 WAR) suggest he would've made something like 5-6m in 2012, and 9-10m in 2013. As a free agent, he'd likely have been worth 11-12m per season.
Instead, the terms of his deal will call for him to receive 5m in 2012, 7m in 2013, 9.5m in 2014, and 10m in 2010. The team will also have an option for a 5th year at 10m as well. It doesn't take a genius to realize the White Sox will be getting a significant bargain if Ramirez can maintain his level of performance over the duration of the contract.
Of course, that's always the risk with multi-year deals - that a player will get hurt or simply fall off. In Ramirez's case, theres a solid chance of that happening. He'll be 29 in 2011 and the first year of his new deal - 2013 - will be his age 30 season. That's generally considered to be the tail end of a players prime, so the years the White Sox are buying will be the tail end of his prime, and the beginning of his decline years. Thankfully, Ramirez has been a picture of consistency in his years in the South Side with steadily improving defense.
Overall, the deal feels like a good move for both sides. Ramirez is certainly going to be giving up money (maybe 15m or so) if he continues his current level of performance. The White Sox are taking some risk that Ramirez isn't the consistent 3 WAR player he's been the past two seasons. There's some risk taken on each side of the coin, and when a deal is done right, that's what happens.
Corey Ettinger is a proud contributor to both 612Sports.net and 312Sports.com. He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus.