The Price of Pitching

With the Winter Meetings ending on Thursday, it has become clear to this onlooker that something needs to be done with modern day contracts, more specifically, mediocre pitchers’ contracts, more specifically, mediocre pitchers with a career .500 winning percentage. Since when did being average at anything mean one would earn more than $10 Million a year? I understand that pitching is normally the crux of success in Major League Baseball, hence the fact that good pitching will always beat good hitting. However, with the recent playoff successes of mediocre pitchers like Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver, other average free agent pitchers have struck gold.

Last off season I scoffed at the Kevin Millwood and A.J. Burnett deals. At the time, $10 million a year was way too much money for either pitcher. Both had experienced a certain level of success at the Major League level and were capable of contributing in the front end of the rotation, but their price tags seemed overt. Twelve months later, pitchers of a lesser caliber are making even more money. Vincente Padilla’s contract still nauseates me, $34 million for an average pitcher who had double digit losses and a 4.50 ERA. I could end up looking like a moron, but I do not see how his performance will ever validate his contract.

The main issue I have is that mediocre pitching is worth three times more than mediocre position players. The Cubs signed Mark DeRosa for approximately $4.5 million a year. DeRosa had an above average season batting .296 and being mentioned as one of the more viable free agents based on his defensive flexibility. Meanwhile, his ex-teammate Padilla has a somewhat comparable year for a pitcher and gets a contract worth more than twice that of DeRosa’s. Furthermore, I would argue that batting .296 represents a more successful year than posting a 4.50 ERA.

Jacque Jones is another prime example. Imagine if he was a free agent, coming off a season where he had 27 homeruns, 81 RBI’s and a .285 average. Most people thought he was overpaid at $5 million per year. He has two years and $9 million left on his contract and that now appears to be a steal. If JJ were a free agent, he could probably find $6-$7 million a year, but that is all. Meanwhile, eleven game winner Gil Meche just received a 5-year, $55 million dollar contract….$1 million dollars a win.

The only calming aspect, if it can even be considered calming, is that superstar contracts seem to have found a ceiling. Moreover, pitching or playing the field does not seem to matter. The four biggest free agents of the off-season were Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee, Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt. It appears that these four men will all earn somewhere in the $16-$18 million range. Those are ridiculous figures, but they are not nearly as alarming as our $40 million dollar man Ted Lilly.

This is when I start to get very angry. As a 27 year old who was once a dominant left-handed Pony league pitcher, I am very upset I did not have the required foresight. I should have sacrificed normalcy and a regular high school experience, I should have done whatever it took to get to the pros. Unfortunately, I was too wrapped up with girls, my driver’s license and Beverly Hills 90210 to realize how much money I was losing. Needless to say, I do not make $10 million a year, and why not, because of Brandon ‘friggin’ Walsh. Anyway….

Baseball has always been an aberration of normal life, especially for starting pitchers. The work year is only 7 months long and you can actually get the day off while you are at work. In fact some guys almost always get the day off while they are at work. Mediocrity is so treasured that players are rewarded for doing what is expected of them with millions of dollars. In most jobs a “Meets Expectations” judgment results in a 1.7% cost of living adjustment.

The problem lies in the fact that there are so few good pitchers. With performance-enhancing drugs and smaller ballparks, pitching stats have skyrocketed over the past few years leaving few superstar pitchers behind. From there, it has been a chain reaction, every level moving up a step from where it belongs. All of a sudden, mediocre is the new above average and below average is now the new average, and while we are at it, 60 is the new 40. As every talent level has been overrated, the pitchers that fall in this category get paid more and mediocrity is now lusted after instead of preferred.

As long as offensive production is at the core of baseball, this problem will never be solved. Until the game returns to a time when the mound was higher, the ball was looser and guys only took vitamins, pitching is going to be exorbitantly expensive. Years will come and go and the average salary will grow and every off-season more mediocre pitchers will make ridiculous sums of money.

In the end, I love this game and many of its players. I will continue to support it, continue to follow it and continue to “wait ’til next year,” there is just no getting around that. However, I will continue to hate myself for having that crush on Jennie Garth.

Thank for reading, feel free to contact me at Brian@chicagocubsonline.com, and until next time….

Stay Classy Cubs Fans.

Quote of the Day

"Always make a total effort, even when the odds are against you." - Arnold Palmer
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