Homer Bailey's $105M Contract Is the Worst for a Pitcher in History

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2018

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Homer Bailey reacts in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Wednesday, May 23, 2018, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
John Minchillo/Associated Press

The Cincinnati Reds are paying Homer Bailey $21 million in 2018. He's 1-7 with a 6.68 ERA and minus-0.6 WAR by FanGraphs' measure. He's on the disabled list with knee inflammation.

You've heard of bang for your buck? This is dang for your buck.

Or another, less printable word.

Put simply, the six-year, $105 million contract to which the Reds signed Bailey in February 2014 is the worst pitcher pact in MLB history.

Back then, Bailey was 27 years old and coming off a season in which he posted career bests in ERA (3.49), innings (209) and strikeouts (199).

"Homer is homegrown. He was drafted, signed and developed in our organization," then-general manager Walt Jocketty said at the time, per MLB.com's Mark Sheldon. "It's important as an organization to reward our players that have earned this type of respect with contracts to keep them part of the organization for a long time, and hopefully [he'll] finish his career here."

Those feel-good vibes quickly evaporated. Here are Bailey's ERAs in each subsequent season since he inked the contract: 3.71, 5.56, 6.65, 6.43. Add this year's mark, and the trend is as obvious as it is disturbing.

To make matters worse, the Reds are rebuilding. Their emphasis should be on developing young talent and trimming costs, not on cutting massive checks to underperforming veterans.

Even if Bailey returns and pitches halfway decently, he won't contribute to the franchise's long-term health.

John Minchillo/Associated Press

Now we arrive, inevitably, at Barry Zito.

When making the case for the worst pitcher contract in history, you have to reference Zito, just as any band looking to make the case as the greatest ever must inevitably confront The Beatles.

In December 2006, the San Francisco Giants signed Zito to a seven-year, $126 million deal. He'd won a Cy Young Award in 2002 and made three All-Star appearances with the Oakland Athletics.

After crossing the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, Zito never posted an ERA south of 4.00. He became the tarnished gold standard for ill-advised pitcher paydays.

That said, Zito had his moments, most notably in the 2012 postseason, when he pitched brilliantly against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series and again against the Detroit Tigers in the World Series as the Giants marched to the second of their three even-year titles.

Speaking of which: At least while San Francisco was overpaying Zito, it was also trying to win. Same goes for the six-year, $127.5 million extension the Giants handed to Matt Cain in 2012. Bailey's deal with Cincinnati stings far worse because the Reds should be tanking.

What about Mike Hampton's contract with the Colorado Rockies? At least Colorado managed to trade him after two years. So it goes with every other terrible pitcher signing: There is a silver lining. For Bailey? Not so much.

Before he landed on the disabled list, Bailey was demoted to the bullpen. It was an ignominious moment for a guy who was once upon a time considered an ace in the offing.

Shortly before that, Reds legend Johnny Bench suggested via Twitter that Bailey's problem was a lack of deception:

Johnny Bench @JohnnyBench_5

It’s time for Homer @Reds to change his delivery. For 4 years I’ve watched and he just shows the ball too long. No deception. I just think the change would benefit him. The hitter sees the ball for 63 ft almost.

Maybe that's it. His average fastball velocity of 93.7 mph this season is also down from his career peak of 95.2 mph in 2013 and 2014.

No matter how you parse it, Bailey is on the decline. He's 32 years old and owed $23 million in 2019 with a $25 million mutual option or $5 million buyout in 2020. There is zero chance the Reds can move him, even if they accept a middling prospect return and agree to eat a chunk of his salary.

Prior to his bullpen demotion and DL stint, Bailey suggested his dearth of success was due to bad luck.

"Sometimes it's no different than a hitter hitting a ball right to the shortstop," he said, per the Cincinnati Enquirer's Bobby Nightengale. "Well, I mean you can't really hit it much better, but it went to somebody. From a pitching standpoint, that happens as well."

Here's another thing that happens: Pitchers don't pitch well. The teams that pay them are left holding the bag.

And they're compelled to utter a few unprintable words.


All statistics accurate as of Sunday and courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.