Baseball players, starting pitchers in particular, are a risk-averse bunch. Given the choice between multiyear security and maximized earnings, they almost always choose the former. You can't blame starting pitchers for wanting to lock in an eight-figure payday well before free agency, given the risk of a career-altering injury. Still, I'm surprised that no ace starter has been willing to roll the dice and go year-to-year before hitting free agency in recent memory.
Here's the list of active starters who received Cy Young votes since 2007 and were willing to delay their own free agency with a multiyear contract:
- Felix Hernandez, C.C. Sabathia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Cliff Lee, Trevor Cahill, Roy Halladay, Adam Wainwright, Ubaldo Jimenez, Tim Hudson, Josh Johnson, Roy Oswalt, Justin Verlander, Brett Myers, Bronson Arroyo, Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Javier Vazquez, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, Brandon Webb, Johan Santana, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Fausto Carmona, Jake Peavy, Brad Penny, Aaron Harang, Carlos Zambrano, Jeff Francis
Some were locked up well before free agency, while others signed extensions with just one year to go. And the above list doesn't include guys like Ricky Romero, Gavin Floyd, Wandy Rodriguez, Johnny Cueto, Scott Baker, James Shields, Ricky Nolasco, and Yovani Gallardo.
Most top starters who didn't sign extensions and reached free agency as early as possible did so because of injuries, Erik Bedard for example. Zambrano came very close, going to arbitration all three times and signing his five-year extension a few months before free agency.
A few frontline starters remain on the year-to-year path, such as David Price, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Jered Weaver, and Francisco Liriano. Weaver, a Scott Boras client, seems most likely to be doing so to maximize his earnings. Nothing wrong with that, and we don't know what the Angels offered, if anything. Weaver could be a 30-year-old free agent after the 2012 season, with over $20MM in arbitration earnings in his pocket. John Danks, Matt Garza, Shaun Marcum, C.J. Wilson, and Jeremy Guthrie are also on the year-to-year track currently.
Though they signed multiyear deals, Tim Lincecum and Cole Hamels each left at least one arbitration year uncovered, as well as all free agent years. They've got the best of both worlds, locking in over $20MM without delaying free agency. Edwin Jackson isn't at their level, but he's another starter who snagged an eight-figure contract and remained on track for free agency as early as possible.