Early Report Card Grades for Top MLB Aces' Massive Contract Extensions

Josh Schoch@JoshSchochAnalyst IIIJune 19, 2013

Early Report Card Grades for Top MLB Aces' Massive Contract Extensions

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    Justin Verlander is just two years removed from winning the American League Cy Young Award and MVP in 2011, but you wouldn't think he was the first pitcher in 19 years to win the MVP if you just saw him on the mound these days.

    Verlander is in the midst of his worst season since he was 25, coming on the heels of signing a five-year extension that has him earning $180 million over the next seven years.

    By his standards, Verlander has struggled ever since he got paid, going 8-5 with a 3.72 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. It's cases like this that should make the Los Angeles Dodgers wary of signing Clayton Kershaw to a rumored extension worth even more than Verlander's, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.

    Verlander isn't the only pitcher to struggle after inking a massive deal, but sometimes the investment pays off. Let's take a look at the biggest contracts for MLB pitchers and whether they have worked out so far. 

Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies: C+

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    Contract Details: 7 years, $153 million (2012-2018), 2019 team option

    Stats Since Signing: 46 GS, 19-16, 309.1 IP, 305 K, 80 BB, 119 ER, 3.46 ERA, 1.167 WHIP

    All-Star Games: 1

    Cole Hamels inked a huge deal with the Philadelphia Phillies after posting a career-low ERA of 2.79 in 2011.

    Hamels had always been an upper-level pitcher, but he had never been spectacular. He did lead the Phillies to the World Series in 2008 and 2009, helping the team win it all in 2008 and being named World Series MVP.

    The Phils decided to build around the crafty lefty. Unfortunately, after a solid 2012 campaign, he leads the MLB in losses this year, posting a 4.40 ERA and 2-10 record.

    Hamels has had years like this when he struggles (2006 and 2009, for example). The Phillies need to hope that this is just another phase because there's no going back on Hamels now.

CC Sabathia, New York Yankees: B+

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    Contract Details: 8 years, $182 million 2009-2016), 2017 vesting option

    Stats Since Signing: 144 GS, 81-34, 1,080.0 IP, 910 K, 267 BB, 369 ER, 3.08 ERA, 1.105 WHIP

    All-Star Games:

    Coming off an incredible run in Milwaukee after being traded during the 2008 season, CC Sabathia closed out his contract year by going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and a 1.003 WHIP.

    After becoming arguably the most dominant pitcher in the game for the last half of the 2008 season, Sabathia hit the free-agent market looking to make big bucks.

    The New York Yankees saw an elite starting pitcher on the market and went after him, signing him to the biggest contract for a pitcher in history. Sabathia has not disappointed as a Yankee, being the team's ace in each year since he signed and never posting an ERA above 3.38 in a full season.

    While CC is 7-5 with a 3.93 ERA this year, he has been dominant for the Yanks and helped the team win yet another ring in 2009. He isn't posting a sub-2.00 ERA, but Sabathia has been a workhorse for the team and the centerpiece of its starting rotation.

Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants: A-

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    Contract Details: 8 years, $139.75 million (2010-2017), 2018 team option

    Stats Since Signing: 113 GS, 46-29, 759.1 IP, 637 K, 204 BB, 265 ER, 3.14 ERA, 1.076 WHIP

    All-Star Games:

    Matt Cain looked like an ace in 2009, going 14-8 with a 2.89 ERA and making it to his first All-Star Game.

    The market was kind to pitchers in 2009, and the San Francisco Giants really wanted to keep Cain. They ended up shelling out nearly $140 million to keep him in the Bay Area.

    Cain had been fantastic through his first three years, posting an ERA under 3.00 twice, with the one exception being a 3.14 ERA in 2010.

    He has hasn't been as sharp this year, though, going 5-3 with a 4.55 ERA. He still has time to bring his ERA down, but this has been the one underwhelming year during his current contract so far.

Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners: A+

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    Contract Details: 7 years, $175 million (2013-2019), 2020 team option

    Stats Since Signing: 15 GS, 8-4, 104.2 IP, 110 K, 20 BB, 27 ER, 2.32 ERA, 1.032 WHIP

    All-Star Games: 0

    Felix Hernandez is one of the guys on this list who just got paid during this past offseason.

    King Felix has been his typical dominant self this season. If he keeps this pace up, he will finish with the second-lowest ERA of his career, just 0.05 back of his 2010 Cy Young-winning campaign. He would also post a new career high in strikeouts.

    While it's difficult to judge a contract based on just 15 starts, the Seattle Mariners were fortunate to lock up their ace. If he keeps pitching like this, there is no doubt that the team will retain him for the 2020 season.

Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals: A-

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    Contract Details: 6 years, $59.4 million (2008-2013); five years, $97.5 million (2014-2018)

    Stats Since Signing: 134 GS, 74-39, 904.0 IP, 800 K, 217 BB, 265 ER, 2.64 ERA, 1.149 WHIP

    All-Star Games:

    Adam Wainwright is posting impressive numbers this season, going 10-4 with a 2.37 ERA and an absurd 100/9 K/BB ratio.

    Wainwright has been a special pitcher when he's on the mound, but he has had a few bad injuries since signing his massive deal. He pitched in only 20 games in 2008, and he missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

    If he had been healthy throughout his deal, he would have gotten an "A" for sure, but the grade drops a bit despite the Cards keeping him for a relatively cheap price.

Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers: D

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    Contract Details: 7 years, $180 million (2013-2019), 2020 vesting option

    Stats Since Signing: 15 GS, 8-5, 92.0 IP, 106 K, 32 BB, 38 ER, 3.72 ERA, 1.348 WHIP

    All-Star Games: 0

    Justin Verlander signed a record-breaking extension this past offseason, and the 30-year-old hasn't lived up to his massive contract so far in 2013. 

    This does not look like the same pitcher who won the AL Cy Young and MVP two years ago. And at 36 years old, Verlander will make $28 million in 2019.

    While he pitched spectacularly under his original contract, his latest extension may be one the Tigers would love to have back.