The New York Yankees actually got their money's worth when they re-signed Mariano Rivera to a three-year, $45 million contract after the 2007 season.
The Sandman posted a sub-2.00 earned run average and sub-1.00 WHIP in each of those campaigns while making 60-plus appearances. He also continued dominating in the playoffs during that period and helped deliver another championship to the Bronx.
News flash—there's only one Mariano Rivera.
Yet for whatever cockamamie reason, relievers continue to receive lengthy commitments. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs shows us how few of them work out well.
Francisco Rodriguez (three years, $37 million) was inconsistent for the 2009-2011 New York Mets. The same applied for Francisco Cordero (four years, $45 million) and his 2008-2011 tenure with the Cincinnati Reds. Jeremy Affeldt, Jonathan Broxton and Brandon League inked slightly less outrageous deals, but due to injury and wildness, those have already blown up in their teams' faces. Even Jonathan Papelbon, whose excellence seemingly validated a record-setting $50 million pact from the Philadelphia Phillies, is declining with more than half the money still owed to him.
History tells us that general managers ought to walk away from the negotiating table whenever a late-inning reliever seeks an eight-figure annual salary—or anything close to it—and three-plus years guaranteed.
Instead, produce setup men and closers from within. For a fraction of the cost, top pitching prospects can provide comparable quality.