After consecutive seasons of pitching like a front-line starter, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Homer Bailey will receive a contract extension that pays him like one. Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reported earlier today that the two sides have agreed on a six-year, $105 million deal (2014-2019) that includes a $25 million mutual option for a seventh year (2020).
The 27-year-old Bailey was set to become a free agent after the 2014 season and may have very well been the top starting pitcher available with Justin Masterson and Max Scherzer also in the mix.
Unlike the trio of starting pitchers (Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana) from this year's free-agent market—whose values are limited because they have either had an injury-riddled season(s) or a really poor season(s) in the recent past—Bailey was in position to put himself into a much higher pay scale with one more comparable season to his previous two.
Instead, Bailey will have essentially re-signed with the Reds for an five years and either $93.4 million or $96.3M, depending on whether he would've won his arbitration case or not—he had filed for $11.6 million while the team's counter offer was $8.7 million.
While that's much more than Garza (four years, $50M with Milwaukee) or Jimenez (four years, $50M deal with Baltimore) signed for this offseason and will likely be well above what Santana gets, Bailey would have been a year younger than Garza and Jimenez and two years younger than Santana.
There would also be a much higher likelihood, barring a decline in performance in 2014, that he'd be viewed as a No. 1 starter because of his strikeout rate (8.6 K/9 in 2013), ability to work deep into games (6.2 IP/start in 2013) and a mid-90s fastball.
It also doesn't hurt that Bailey has not one, but two no-hitters to his credit in the last two seasons. According to Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News, Bailey had this to say after no-hitting the Giants this past July: “Just means more money.”
If he had continued to improve on his career bests of 2013 (3.49 ERA, 209 IP, 199 K, 1.124 WHIP) and placed himself into the conversation for the NL Cy Young award during the upcoming season, there's a chance he would've gotten into CC Sabathia (5 years, $122M) or even Zack Greinke territory (6 years, $147M). Based on his age and these improvements, it is very likely that he hasn't reached his ceiling and could take another step forward in 2014.
And even if his value ended up being closer to the five years and estimated $95 million he's now guaranteed from 2015-2019, who's to say that he'd want to return to the Reds over a team that could offer a much more pitcher-friendly home venue and possibly a bigger stage that could propel him into MLB stardom?
Let's face it. The Reds won't ever have the easiest time convincing a top free agent to come pitch in Cincinnati. Keeping one who was surprisingly better at home than on the road in 2013 and is just entering the prime of his career was a smart move.
The reality is that the Reds could not possibly keep their entire rotation intact for much longer. Bronson Arroyo left as a free agent this offseason. Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto will be free agents after the 2015 season—the Reds will likely exercise Cueto's $10 million club option for 2015 unless there are injury concerns.
Keeping at least one beyond 2015 was necessary, and it would be hard to argue against Bailey being that guy.
Lefty Tony Cingrani seems like a capable replacement for Arroyo, and Robert Stephenson, the organization's top prospect, is closing in on the majors and might be the team's "ace of the future." Other young prospects could emerge over the next two seasons.
But the nature of organizational pitching depth, which could disappear quickly because of injuries or pitchers not living up to expectations, tells us that it's not enough to rely on two unproven pitchers to lead the rotation two or three years down the road.
Having Cingrani and Stephenson—two homegrown starting pitchers who won't make a whole lot of money until at least five or six years into their major league careers—is what allows the team to give big money to Bailey.