Handing Pitchers Huge Multi-Year Pacts Is Pointless

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Keeping Stephen Strasburg on the mound has been a losing proposition under his new contract.Alan Kotok, Arlington, VA, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0

By Dan Schlossberg

Max Scherzer returns to action with the New York Mets in Miami tomorrow but still carries a ridiculous salary that never should have gone to a pitcher — let alone a 37-year-old who refused to take the ball in the last elimination game the Los Angeles Dodgers played in the 2021 playoffs.

Even Steve Cohen, who doles out dollars to anyone who asks, should have known better than to pay $43.3 million per year to a man of such advanced athletic age. Never mind that he won’t even make the 32 starts he signed up to make.

Paying big bucks to pitchers is simply not a wise investment. While Wayne Garland remains the poster boy for bad contracts, Kevin Brown hoodwinked the Dodgers years after that. Brown got seven years but produced only for three.

Stephen Strasburg has been even worse. The 6’5” right-hander, once Washington’s top pick in the amateur draft, has gone 1-4, making just eight starts, since signing a seven-year, $245 million pact with the Nats on Dec. 9, 2019. That’s an annual average of $35 million per year.

No wonder the Lerners want to sell the team.

Getting back to the Mets for a second, consider the case of Jacob deGrom. By the time he’s ready to pitch next month, he will have missed a full year. Yet he’s been vocal about wanting to exercise the opt-out clause in his five-year, $137.5 million deal.

Had Cohen not signed Scherzer, or even kept the veteran’s contract reasonable, he wouldn’t have to worry about deGrom wanting to break the bank too.

They aren’t the only pitchers with ridiculous contracts.

Three of the worst are left-handers David Price, who never justified his seven-year, $217 million pact; Chris Sale, who gave the Boston Red Sox only limited return on his five-year, $145 million deal; and Madison Bumgarner, signed by Arizona to a five-year, $100 million contract even though he was well past his prime.

Baseball history suggests pitchers are more susceptible to injury than anyone else.

The list of those who missed 12-18 months after Tommy John surgery, which involves an elbow ligament transplant, is long. And only one of those — John Smoltz — has reached the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Maybe Greg Maddux had the right idea; he won 355 games, more than any living pitcher, by parlaying perfect location with finesse. He didn’t throw hard, never pitched a no-hitter, and didn’t strike out Tony Gwynn even once in their many encounters. All he did was win, averaging more than 15 victories a year over a 20-year span.

Mr. Dependable, Maddux almost never missed his turn in the rotation, never had Tommy John surgery, and was probably the best free-agent signee in baseball history — with the possible exception of Barry Bonds.

But Maddux was an exception rather than the rule. Most general managers, anxious to add arms, will still pay through the nose for the great unknown, with history staring them in their faces.

Just watch and see what happens when deGrom goes free agent this fall.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ now does most of his writing for forbes.com, where he is a national baseball writer. His byline also runs in USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Latino Sports, and elsewhere. Contact Dan by emailing ballauthor@gmail.com or check out his work at www.danschlossberg.net.

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