Earlier this month I published an updated version of the “Starter Dollar per Win” analysis that I maintain and update on an annual basis. In that post, I listed some of the worst free agent starter contracts ever signed (among them Kei Igawa, Jason Schmidt, Oliver Perez, Darren Dreifort). However I did not mention Johan Santana among these awful deals because it looked like he could at least finish out the last year of his deal and increase his per-win values.
Last week we learned that Santana has a torn shoulder capsule and is likely to miss the entire 2013 season. This is the last guaranteed year of the 6 yr/$137.5M contract that he signed with the Mets after his fantastic early-career stint with Minnesota and it seems almost certain that he’ll be looking for work elsewhere in 2014, if he continues to play at all (this being a re-tear of the same Anterior Capsule that sidelined him for all of 2011 and his third arm/shoulder surgery overall).
In his 6 years in New York, he had one great season (the first), two entirely missed due to injury, two with good results but still injury curtailed, and one (2012) that was entirely mediocre and injury curtailed after he (foolishly?) threw 130+ innings to chase a no-hitter. That’s not entirely a great return on $137.5M.
Looking at my “Dollar per Win” analysis spreadsheet, and assuming that the Mets are going to pay him a $5.5M instead of his $25M option for 2014 (the $137.5M number only includes guaranteed money and thus already includes this $5.5M buyout), here’s how he ended up performing on a per-dollar basis for the life of this contract:
- 109 starts over 6 years: $1,261,468 per start.
- 72 Quality Starts: $1,909,722 per QS
- 46 Wins: $2,989,130 per Win.
This contract is now officially “Worse” than the infamous Denny Neagle deal (19 wins for a 5yr/$55M deal) and significantly worse than the even more infamous Mike Hampton deal (56 wins for an 8yr/$121M deal) on a dollar per win basis.
The cautionary tale is a familiar one: we all know that pitchers are health wildcards to begin with. But guaranteeing many years and tens of millions of dollars to these injury wildcards is lunacy. (Ken Rosenthal wrote a similar story on 3/29/13 on this same topic). I now count Thirteen 9-figure contracts that have been given out to starting pitchers in the history of the game, and of the contracts that are closer to the end or finished its hard to find any of them that the signing team would do over again.
- Santana, Barry Zito, Hampton, Kevin Brown and Daisuke Matsuzaka were all 9-figure deals that did not live up to the money (Matsuzaka’s 9-figure haul includes the posting fee).
- Matt Cain, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Yu Darvish (again, including his posting fee) are all 1-2 years into longer term 9-figure deals with (admittedly) satisfying levels of performance thus far.
- Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and now Justin Verlander as of 3/29/13 are all starting 9-figure deals in 2013 or later. Adam Wainwright just missed the cutoff; his new deal totaled $97.5M.
How does this affect the Nationals? Well, in 2017 Stephen Strasburg is likely to become a free agent (lets be honest with ourselves; his agent is Scott Boras, his agent is aggressive to the max, wants to explore every possible free agency aspect, and rarely if ever allows his clients to agree to contract extensions, team friendly or otherwise; Strasburg is going to hit the FA market). Based on the list of arms above, and assuming Strasburg doesn’t get re-injured in the next few years you have to think he’s going to be in line for a 9-figure deal of his own. What do you do if you’re the Nats? Do you pay the man, knowing that the likelihood of a 9-figure deal being a good deal for the team is very slim, or do you let him walk and let some other team pay him that money and assume the franchise crippling risk?
At least it isn’t a problem we have to deal with for a few years