The Homer Bailey Extension And The Pitching Market

Homer Bailey‘s six-year, $105MM extension with the Reds has “shift[ed] perceptions in the market” and “ratcheted up … expectations” for players and their representatives, writes Buster Olney of Bailey, of course, lacked a consistent track record of top-level production when he inked his new deal.

Indeed, as MLBTR’s Steve Adams wrote in the immediate aftermath of the signing, the Bailey deal does not fit the traditional parameters of high-end pitching contracts. Though Bailey had put up two quite productive seasons in a row — he had a cumulative 3.58 ERA in 417 innings over 2012-13 — his prior work was underwhelming and he had never carried ace-like numbers. Instead, Steve explained, the deal was a prime example of a club “betting on trends, skill-set, and age.”

For the rest of the market, however, the notion of comparable contracts — driven, in large part, by past performance — is still a powerful factor (at least in shaping demands and expectations). The reported $70MM offer made by the Red Sox to Jon Lester looked somewhat paltry by comparison to the Bailey contract. And Olney writes that the deal could play a key role in prompting the Cubs to trade away staff ace Jeff Samardzija, who will presumably look to match or top that kind of money. (Though the Cubs insist an extension is still in play, that seems increasingly unlikely; in either event, they probably know the price, which is only going up with the Bailey guarantee and Samardzija’s early season work.)

For his part, Bailey made clear in comments this week that he was quite cognizant of the broader market implications when putting pen to paper. As Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal reports, Bailey said that he was continuing a tradition of players maximizing their contracts to raise the bar for their contemporaries and successors. “Obviously the general public and media can say, ‘These guys are making a lot of money,’ but so are the owners,” Bailey said. “How do we divide the pie?” Interestingly, Bailey said that he waited until another player (pretty clearly, Justin Masterson) had finalized his arbitration situation before his own deal was announced, out of fear that the 2014 salary included in his extension would have a negative impact.

Ultimately, Bailey chose to stay in Cincinnati because that was the place he wanted to earn his big payday. But he made clear that, even for guys who truly want to stay with a franchise, cash is still the primary factor. “The grass may not always be greener on the other side, despite what the checkbook looks like,” he explained. “Money is obviously the biggest issue. There’s no doubt about that. But happiness — it doesn’t matter how much you’re making if, for six months out of the year, you’re on a last place team, you’re miserable.”

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