Sunday, December 03, 2006

December 3rd, 1997

Wilson Alvarez Signs

Alvarez' contract was with the Devil Rays, and it was good for five years and thirty-five million. Alvarez was just twenty-eight years old and coming off a good season for the White Sox and Giants--he was traded to San Francisco in a deadline deal--and the deal would seem to give the D-Rays a solid starter to anchor their rotation. Instead, Alvarez existed as yet another data point in the long list of long term contracts for pitchers that end (and sometimes practically begin) badly. In fact, December Third as a whole exists as an example of that, as there were a number of pitcher contracts signed on this day that teams would rather forget.

We begin with Alvarez. For their thirty-five million, the Devil Rays got just over three hundred innings at an ERA just under 4.50 the first two years of the contract. Alvarez then began to suffer arm troubles, and missed all of the 2000 and 2001 seasons. During the 2000 season, Alvarez's nine million dollar salary made him the eighth highest paid player in the American League, even though in this case 'player' was being used in the Carl Pavano sense of the word; Alvarez returned to give the Rays seventy-five poor innings in 2002. In total, the Devil Rays received three hundred seventy-seven and two-thirds innings at a 4.62 ERA for their thirty-five million. That's a grand total of more than ninety-two thousand dollars per inning.

Of course, teams didn't always pay quite that much, but that doesn't mean it isn't money badly spent. On this day in 1992, the Mariners signed Chris Bosio to a four year contract for just over fifteen million. Bosio was at least healthy enough to pitch in each year of the deal, but he never managed more than a hundred and seventy innings in any given season and was as likely to pitch fewer than a hundred and fifty as he was to top it. Overall, the Mariners got five hundred and twenty innings from Bosio at a 4.43 ERA, or just under thirty thousand per inning. But that figure is deceptive as after the contract's first year, Bosio only provided just over thirty hundred and fifty innings at an ERA of 4.88, making the contract's last three years basically a bomb. (In a funny coincidence, Bosio most similar pitcher according to their stats is Cal McLish.)

I could go on-and-on here: Dave LaPoint, three year contract, ERAs of 5.62, 4.11 and 16.20; Tom Candiotti, four year contract, average record of 8-12. This isn't to say that no team should sign free agent pitchers, they do sometimes work out. (Mike Mussina, recently resigned by the Yankees, is an example of that.) But pitchers who succeed on big free agent contracts are the exception rather than the norm, something fans should remember as their teams pursue the likes of Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt this year.

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