Much has been made of the importance of the contract year or “walk year” in Major League Baseball.
These scenarios can make or break a player’s ability to break the bank in free agency. The eligibility rules for MLB free agents are stiff: Players need six years of service time in order to make their first big paydays in most scenarios.
Many players enter their prime as they earn eligibility, and the stakes are high during contract years for this reason. Put up impressive numbers and you could earn yourself financial stability for life, but hit a slump or suffer through a yearlong injury and you could say goodbye to your chances at a big contract.
Jonathan Broxton's 2011 has been a classic example of the dreaded contract year struggle thus far. The big closer is currently on pace to destroy his earning potential next season when he becomes a free agent.
The 26-year-old has developed into one of the best relief arms in LA's pen over the last six seasons. He's converted 58 saves between 2009 and 2010, but his 2011 season has been dismal. Sporting an ERA approaching 6.00 and showing spotty command and velocity this season is doing nothing positive.
Time will tell whether Broxton can dig his 2011 season out of the gutter, but here's a look at some players who definitely weren't able to save their seasons.
With that said, I present to you some of the biggest contract-year chokes for pitchers since 2006.
Scott Kazmir picked one heck of a bad time to cool down. He began his contract season of 2009 on the disabled list, and he didn't produce much when he came off of it.
Kazmir accrued a 4-4 record with an ERA of 7.69 before making another trip to the disabled list. He returned and managed to post an 8-7 record, but his ERA was only minimally better at 5.92.
Prior to 2009 Kazmir had flashed massive potential with the Rays. He posted four straight seasons with 10 or more wins and three consecutive seasons with an ERA less than 3.50, but when production became crucial, he couldn't get the job done.
Expectations were high for Keith Foulke in 2006 despite his recent struggles.
Since helping the Boston Red Sox close out the 2004 World Series, Foulke had struggled with command and velocity.
2005 broke a six-year streak for Foulke's ERA. From 1999-2004 Foulke never had an ERA that topped 3.00, and he was an extremely reliable closer during this period, averaging 28.5 saves a year.
Foulke had lost his closer's role and much of his effectiveness, however, and his earning power took a nosedive after a disappointing 2007 season.
Brad Penny was an All-Star selection in 2006 and 2007 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, posting 32 combined wins in the two years.
Had Penny's contract expired after 2007, he would have been in a prime position to cash in on his two years of dominance.
His contract extended into 2008, however, and Penny couldn't sustain that success or achieve anything near it, for that matter. He was shut down in July of that year with tendinitis in his right shoulder.
After being named the Opening Day starter in 2007 Penny was allowed to walk following 2008 after posting disastrous stats. He went 6-9, starting only 17 games. Penny posted an ugly 6.27 ERA and only punched out 51 batters in 93.2 innings.
He was forced to sign a one-year deal with the Red Sox and has yet to experience sustained success or health since his last All-Star season in LA.
Bartolo Colon entered the 2007 season with a string of nine straight seasons with 10 or more wins. In his first two seasons with the Angels he had actually averaged 19.5 wins, and this man was clearly and quickly garnering a lot of attention league-wide.
The expectations for Colon in 2007 were probably unfairly high and unachievable, but he didn't even get close to reaching them.
In the 18 starts that he did make, Colon went just 6-8 with a career-high 6.34 ERA. The .320 average that batters had against him made his fall from grace devastatingly fast. Colon hasn't yet made more than 12 starts since 2007 due to ineffectiveness and injury.
It was a long way to fall for the former American League Cy Young Award winner and a long way to fall for his potential earning power going forward.
Dontrelle Willis took the league by storm when he came up with the Florida Marlins, winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2003 on his way to the World Series.
In his first four seasons the big lefty never won fewer than 10 games, and he was an All-Star selection in 2003 and 2005.
In 2005, Willis led the league with 22 wins and held opposing batters to a .243 average, which helped to keep his ERA at a minuscule 2.63.
His development caught a bit of a snag in 2006, but Willis still managed 12 wins with a respectable ERA under 4.00.
The wheels fell off the bus in 2007, which just so happened to be his contract year.
Willis made 35 starts, a career high, but he was minimally effective, He posted a 10-15 record, and his ERA ballooned to 5.17. Opposing batters hit .294 against the 25-year-old, and his opportunity to really cash in on his sky-high potential was officially shot.