Starting Pitcher Contracts And New Money

Seven years, $180MM!  The largest contract ever signed by a pitcher!  I'm no accountant, but I was slightly annoyed to read the common descriptions of Justin Verlander's new deal with the Tigers.  Shouldn't we just be looking at the new, guaranteed money he received, when determining the contract's value?  In what's becoming a common trend, the remaining two years and $40MM from Verlander's old contract were tacked onto the front of his new deal.  I understand why it's done — the $180MM total allowed his agency to claim the largest contract ever signed by a pitcher, topping a $175MM Felix Hernandez deal that involved the same accounting trick.

So to counter that, I've tallied up the ten biggest contracts for starting pitchers, involving only new money and years:

  1. C.C. Sabathia, Yankees, December 2008: seven years, $161MM.  Sabathia signed as a free agent more than five years ago, and while Zack Greinke and Cliff Lee later topped his average annual value, no one has beat his guarantee.  Further illustrating the impressiveness of that contract, it included an opt out after the third season.  So, the deal effectively was seven years and $161MM only if Sabathia felt he couldn't do better on the open market after three years. 
  2. Zack Greinke, Dodgers, December 2012: six years, $147MM.  This deal has the highest AAV for any open market, full season free agent contract.  But Greinke received only $3MM more than Hamels, despite Hamels' deal not being negotiated on the open market.
  3. Cole Hamels, Phillies, July 2012: six years, $144MM.  
  4. Justin Verlander, Tigers, March 2013: five years, $140MM.  
  5. Felix Hernandez, Mariners, February 2013: five years, $135.5MM.    
  6. Barry Zito, Giants, December 2006: seven years, $126MM.
  7. Johan Santana, Mets, February 2008: five years, $124.25MM.
  8. Mike Hampton, Rockies, December 2000: eight years, $121MM.
  9. Cliff Lee, Phillies, December 2010: five years, $120MM.
  10. Matt Cain, Giants, April, 2012: five years, $112.5MM.

Using my method, there was only one other pitcher to receive $100MM+ in new money, and it's the first: Kevin Brown in December of '98.  Who's next in the $100MM club?  Clayton Kershaw comes to mind, especially since he'll only be 27 in the first year of his next contract.  Two strong years plus the open market would give Kershaw that elusive, true $200MM in new money, but the Dodgers probably won't let him get to free agency.  Is there a $100MM pitcher in the upcoming offseason?  Josh Johnson has a shot, with a Cy Young-caliber year.  After 2014, aside from Kershaw, the Tigers' Max Scherzer is a candidate.

The average annual value pitcher contract rankings differ greatly from the total value ones:

  1. C.C. Sabathia, Yankees, October 2011: one year, $30MM.  Only Sabathia has reached a $30MM AAV.  Since he did not technically opt out of his previous Yankees contract, I consider his latest deal to be one year, $30MM in new, guaranteed money.
  2. Roger Clemens, Astros, May 2007: one year, $28,000,022.  This is deceptive, since Clemens signed in May and his contract was pro-rated.  He wasn't actually paid that full amount.  If a pitcher signed on September 1st for $5MM, would you consider him a $30MM pitcher?
  3. Justin Verlander, Tigers, March 2013: $28MM AAV.  Verlander snagged the largest ever AAV on a multiyear deal.  It was the second time he bested Felix slightly, one month after Hernandez signed.
  4. Felix Hernandez, Mariners, February 2013: $27.1MM AAV.
  5. Johan Santana, Mets, February 2008: $24.85MM AAV.
  6. Zack Greinke, Dodgers, December 2012: $24.5MM AAV.
  7. Cole Hamels, Phillies, July 2012: $24MM AAV.
  8. Cliff Lee, Phillies, December 2010: $24MM AAV.
  9. C.C. Sabathia, Yankees, December 2008: $23MM AAV.
  10. Matt Cain, Giants, April 2012: $22.5MM AAV.  

Clemens topped $22MM in '06 on his first pro-rated deal, and Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay also have $20MM+ AAVs.  



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