Pitching wins championships. It is a mantra subscribed to by many baseball enthusiasts, managers, and the like.
However, acquiring the pitching depth and talent to make it to October is easier said than done.
Every team is looking for an ace, a starting pitcher who can compile innings and strikeouts while maintaining a low WHIP and ERA and come through when the club needs a win.
Despite the demand for staff aces, there simply are not enough to go around.
This is where the problem arises for small-market teams. Even when they are able to develop ace talent in their minor league system, they are usually left with nothing to show for it when free agency arrives.
Not anymore. This offseason, teams are locking up their staff aces in long-term contracts that will keep them in their respective cities well into free agency.
Justin Verlander is just one of the many young arms that received a big time extension this offseason. Verlander received a five-year, $80 million deal from the Tigers that will keep him in Detroit through 2015. It was the largest contact extension of the offseason.
The 6'5", 225-pound Verlander is the prototypical ace, built to carry the load. He led the majors last year in strikeouts and innings pitched and tied with CC Sabathia for the most wins. Verlander is simply overpowering, exhibiting the second fastest average fastball at 95.6 mph and clocking in at 100 mph more than any other pitcher, starter or reliever.
San Francisco Giants wonder kid Tim Lincecum has perhaps the most intriguing contract situation. Lincecum set himself up for a massive contract after winning two Cy Young awards in his first two years in the majors.
Despite his unparalleled success, Lincecum’s slight build and violent delivery has caused concern for many who don’t believe that his body will be able to hold up. The 25-year-old still received a two-year, $23 million contract, but many were surprised by the length of the contract.
The contract did allow him to avoid an arbitration hearing, but he will have the possibility of entering another potentially costly arbitration hearing in 2012.
The Mariners felt their young ace “King” Felix Hernandez was worth five years and $78 million, just two million short of Verlander. Paired with new arrival lefty Cliff Lee, the Mariners may have the best one-two punch in the majors for years to come.
Hernandez, only 23, is still the key to their success. He set career marks in strikeouts and ERA last year en route to finishing second in the AL Cy Young race.
It remains to be seen if any of these deals will prove to be cost-effective, but it is hard to imagine a better stable of young pitchers to bank on. Each has shown the ability to not only rake up strong pitching statistics, but also to come through in big-game situations.
Verlander was one of the Tigers' few bright spots in the latter weeks of 2009, and his win in game 162 last season gave Detroit a final chance to salvage their season after faltering down the stretch. Hernandez went 15-2 after skipper Don Wakamatsu chastised him for a half-hearted effort against the Angels on May 19.
The sky is the limit for each of these young pitchers with Cy Young potential. Now the only question is, will one of these young guns emerge as the pitcher of the decade?