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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

February 13, 2013 at 9:41 AM

Plenty of washouts among pitchers signed to big deals, but successes also

maddux.jpg

(Photo of Greg Maddux by Associated Press)

I’m just not going to do it.

On the day Felix Hernandez holds a press conference to discuss his seven-year, $175-million contract, I’m not going to go over all the cautionary tales about the dangers of giving massive long-term contracts to starting pitchers.

I’m not going to be a killjoy and bring up Chan Ho Park (five years, $65 million, produced 22 wins and 5.79 ERA for the Rangers) or Mike Hampton (eight years, $121 million, a grand total of 56 victories and nearly as many injury setbacks) or Darren Dreifort (five years, $55 million, blew out his elbow and missed the entirety of two of those seasons, won a grand total of nine games for the Dodgers) or Barry Zito (seven years, $126 million, 11 games under .500 six years into it with a 4.47 ERA; and yes, two World Series titles with a major contribution by Zito in the most recent one) orJohan Santana (six years, $143 million, looked great for one year until shoulder problems hit, eventually requiring surgery and leaving Santana a lesser version of his former self) or John Lackey (five years, $82.5 million, who started off so-so with the Red Sox and got worse until missing all of last season following Tommy John surgery) or Carlos Zambrano (five years, $91.5 million, who so alienated the Cubs they were willing to eat $15 million to send him to Miami) or Daisuke Matsuzaka (six years, $103 million when you consider the contract and posting fee, won 33 games his first two years and went a brilliant 18-3, 2.90 in 2008 but then succumbed to elbow injuries and Tommy John, winning only 17 games the last four seasons) or Kevin Brown (seven years, $105 million, who had injury issues in two of his seasons with the Dodgers and faded his final two years with the Yankees) or Wayne Garland (a landmark 10-year, $2.3 million deal in 1976, when that number meant something, underwent rotator cuff surgery in 1978 and was released after five seasons).

As I said, I’m not going to do that (nor am I going to mention that I could have written a paragraph just as long with an entirely different set of examples). Instead, let’s flip this coin and show that it is indeed possible to thrive once you get a big-money deal.

Certainly, as an advocate of this signing, I believe it’s a risk worth taking. If you look at this as the second of two five-year deals, you can point to Felix Hernandez himself as being 60 percent of the way to justifying the first one, the original five-year, $78 million contract he signed prior to the 2010 season that produced a Cy Young award in the first year. There’s not a team in baseball who wouldn’t have done the same thing and be thrilled to have Hernandez right now.

I can also point to a few other deals that should give the Mariners some hope. Certainly, the Tigers are delighted with the first three years of Justin Verlander’s five-year, $80-million contract; the Yankees have gotten considerable mileage out of the first four years of the seven-year, $166-million contract they gave CC Sabathia (reworked as a five-year, $122-million contract after three years to keep him from exercising an opt-out).

When it comes to completed long-term contracts, Mike Mussina shines brightly with the six-year, $88.5 million contract he signed in 2000 to leave the Orioles for the Yankees. In those six seasons, Mussina stayed healthy, went 92-53 with a 3.80 ERA to pretty much replicate his Baltimore numbers, and made it — with a lot of help — to six postseasons and two World Series.

Going back a ways, you have Pedro Martinezwho signed a six-year, $75-million contract with the Red Sox in December of 1997, shortly after he was traded from Montreal. It was a record-setting deal, the biggest in baseball at the time, and Martinez was worth every penny. In those six years, he won two Cy Youngs, finished second twice and third once, and was widely regarded, along withRandy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens, to be in the inner circle of the game’s greatest hurlers.

Speaking of which, when it comes to great contract returns, it’s hard to top Johnson’s four-year, $53-million deal with Arizona that produced four Cy Youngs. But here’s one that came close: Maddux’s original five-year, $28-million free-agent deal with the Braves that coaxed him away from the Cubs (again, this was huge money back then), which produced an 89-33 record, 2.13 ERA, three Cy Youngs, one Cy runnerup and one fifth-place finish.

Those are some big cleats to be asked to emulate. When it comes to Felix Hernandez, I’m sure the Mariners will be happy if he stays healthy and continues doing what he did to warrant the big money in the first place.

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