How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying: The Carl Pavano Story

Frank RederContributor IJanuary 31, 2009

It's an epidemic really.

Pitchers entering free agency are making a killing.  Their bloated contracts require more gas-x than a forty-something dad with a beer belly after an all day bar-be-que.

The argument could be made that this is what the market has decided is a fair price for this particular skill set.  And while this argument certainly has its merits, many of these highly paid pitchers never live up to their enormous paychecks.

Take Carl Pavano (thanks Cleveland!).

When the Yankee brass and Pavano shook hands over a 4 year $39.95 million deal, the Marlins pitcher was coming off a Cy Young caliber season. He went 18-8 with a 3.00 ERA, but it was his performance in the 2003 World Series that piqued Brian Cashman's interest.  He held the Yanks to one run over eight dominant innings as the Marlins went on to win 4-3 in extras.

Pavano's signing (and the signings of other free agents like him) is the rough equivalent of paying $50 for a scratch and win.

His resume after the 2004 season was mediocre at best.  At 57-58, he had only 2 seasons with a sub-4 ERA, several stints on the DL, more hits (985) than innings pitched (938), and was coming off the two highest inning totals of career.  

For a pitcher known to have injury issues, this last line should have been a red flag to potential suitors.  Despite these overwhelmingly average career numbers, the Yankees were quick to pay him almost $10 million a year based on one good year, one good postseason, and no track record.

They were rewarded with four years of various injuries (real or imagined), less than 200 innings, and 9 wins.

Money well spent.

The other famous big money free agent flop is Barry Zito.  The San Francisco Giants made him the highest paid pitcher in baseball history when they signed him to a 7-year deal worth $126 Million.

Much like Pavano, he had a track record that really didn't warrant such a lucrative deal.  His first three years in the league were very impressive, but since then he hadn't performed to nearly that level.

His rookie year he went 7-4 with a 2.72 ERA and garnered ROY votes, followed that up with 17-8 and a 23-5 seasons.  If he had continued on this torrid pace, that huge contract would have been well deserved.

But he didn't.

He went 55-46 over the next four years with no complete games in the last three, after having at least one in each of the previous years.

So like Pavano, he was rewarded with a disproportionately large contract for one or two good years and a bunch of really average ones.  In true Pavano fashion, he responded with career worsts, going 11-13 with a 4.53 ERA and 10-17 with a 5.15 ERA in his first two years in San Francisco.

The likes of Zito and Pavano should have warned GM's across the majors about signing pitchers to huge deals.  As of yet, they have not taken heed.

New York fans in both leagues should be wary of this trend for the upcoming season.

The Mets tried to shore up the back end of their bullpen with the signing of K-Rod.  They should be wary of the much ballyhooed closer who is now being paid more than any second baseman in the league.  Last year's 76 appearances were a career high, and at his age, should result in a downturn from his record-breaking 62 saves.  Mets fans should take notice that last seasons totals in K's (77), WHIP (1.29), and hits (54) were all career worsts.

A.J. Burnett was signed for much the same reason as Pavano, success against the Yankees.  His marginal success in the league is certainly not worth making him the sixth highest paid pitcher in the MLB.

Yankees fans should watch out for the new highest paid pitcher ever - C.C. Sabathia.  They should expect much the same as from Randy Johnson, a decent year or two before a descent into mediocrity as his bank account slowly swells to match his waistline.

How will this all end?

Contracts will continue to become more and more bloated until the simple reality of being a starting pitcher will earn one an exorbitant amount of money.  Clubs won't be able to pay the top tier starters much more than their less talented peers so the best pitchers will all go to the biggest markets, where they can afford the pay grade increase.

If this occurs, the parity we have enjoyed in baseball these past few years will disappear and the small market teams will have no chance.

But hey, I'm a Yankees fan. Works for me.