We expected a lot of competition at the top of the free agent market for starting pitching, and the results have not disappointed. There was plenty of discussion heading into the winter as to which top arm would make the most sensible investment, and now we can begin to assess that with the knowledge of the deals they’ve signed.
While all of the top four starters have landed guarantees of over $100MM, as expected, there have been some creative contract structures that make it impossible to assess the deals simply by comparing total value. Let’s take a closer look (in order of lowest to highest guarantee; links to posts on signings):
Jordan Zimmermann, Tigers: Five years, $110MM. Full no-trade for three seasons, then 19-team no-trade list for final two seasons. Backloaded annual salary structure. Guarantees age 30 through 34 campaigns.
Johnny Cueto, Giants: Six years, $130MM. Opt-out rights after two seasons; also includes club option if opt-out isn’t triggered. Slightly front-loaded structure in which $46MM of guarantee is payable in first two years. Guarantees age 30 through 35 campaigns.
Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks: Six years, $206.5MM. Significant deferrals ($60MM total) reduce present value to around $194MM. Limited no-trade protection. Guarantees age 32 through 37 campaigns.
David Price, Red Sox: Seven years, $217MM. Opt-out rights after three seasons. Guarantees age 30 through 36 campaigns.
The Zimmermann contract looks relatively affordable, but Detroit won’t easily be able to trade him. Cueto could give San Francisco two good seasons at a good price and then leave, but is the risk worth it? The D-backs get one of the best pitchers in the game in Greinke, but it took a huge AAV to buy up his mid thirties. And then there’s Price, who is an in-prime ace but required Boston to promise the highest-ever total guarantee for a pitcher.
So, which of these contracts looks like the best bet to work out?