“Don’t sign pitchers to long term contracts” has become a rallying cry for many armchair GMs in the comment sections throughout the internet of baseball. Interestingly, real life GMs might be trending in that direction. Starting pitcher extensions have become more and more rare over the past few seasons, with only six such extensions having been agreed to in 2017 and 2018 combined. Compare that to 18 starting pitcher extensions in 2012, and you can see that this is a relatively new trend.

Most of us can get to the bottom of this without thinking too hard. GMs are learning that pitchers, no matter what their name is or what their previous production might have been – are fighting an uphill battle when trying to stay healthy. The act of throwing a baseball is an unnatural body movement that puts immense strain on the entirety of the arm, from the shoulder down through the elbow and even the wrist and hand. A starting pitcher does this thousands of times a season between pitching in actual games and side sessions. It’s not great for their health, but it’s how the game is played.

So, if you’re a starting pitcher and want to get an extension, you should be either A) Really, really good, and/or B) “durable”. I put durable in quotes because, as I mentioned above, past durability isn’t necessarily a telltale sign of future durability.

Failing owning one or preferably both of the above traits, a team might offer an extension to a starting pitcher if they’re very, very desperate for starting pitching. Any readers still checking in on the Reds on a daily basis know that this is exactly where the team falls. It’s totally unclear who will be starting games for the reds next week, nevermind next season. The cavalcade of failed pitching prospects is almost at its end, and the Reds have little, if anything, to show for it.

So when Anthony DeSclafani came back from injury this season and started to pitch well, it was natural for fans to want to start thinking about an extension. DeSclafani, of course, has met the first criterion above; Once upon a time, he looked to be a very solid #2 starter for the Reds. But we all know the story – injuries have almost completely derailed his promising career. Having only pitched 123.1 innings in 2016, and missing all of 2017, many Reds fans were quick to write him off as another failed experiment. Indeed, when it was announce Disco might miss half of the 2018 season as well, even the most optimistic Reds fans started to wonder if we’d ever see him in a Reds uniform again.

Flash forward to June 6th, 2018. DeSclafani took the mound for the first time since 2016, and looked pretty darn good, despite giving up 4 runs. He would only give up two runs in each of his next three appearances against division rivals St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Chicago. He would skate along relatively smoothly, until the “Disco is Back” party hit it’s apex on August 10th, when he shut out the Diamondbacks through 7 innings striking out 9 and walking none.

These are the kinds of performances that some of us, myself included, thought Reds fans might never see from this young man again. The numbers through his 94.2 IP in 2018 won’t blow the doors off of anyone’s barn, but his 98 xFIP- is almost dead on league average. When you take a look at the uncertainty that litters the rest of the Reds rotation for the foreseeable future, it becomes pretty apparent that the Reds need to try to lock up Anthony DeSclafani.

Again, there isn’t a ton of recent precedent for starting pitcher extensions. There’s even less precedent for extending a starter who hasn’t pitched 100 innings since missing the equivalent of two full seasons of baseball. For that reason, we’ll need to get a little creative with the contract comps. Let’s take a look at two pitchers who recently signed extensions that are in the mold of what Disco fans might expect.

Chase Anderson

In October of 2017, the Brewers signed Anderson to a two year extension, which paid him $4.75M in 2018 and will pay him $6.5M in 2019. The deal also includes two club options for 2020 and 2021, which would pay him $8.5M and $9.5M respectively. There are also $400,000 in incentives annually, which means Anderson could make up to $31M when everything is said and done.

Like DeSclafani, Chase Anderson has been pretty dang close to exactly league average as a starting pitcher throughout his career, according to xFIP and xFIP-. Unlike DeSclafani, Anderson has been pretty healthy throughout his career, having only landed on the DL a handful of times, and never for a serious arm injury. Anderson cashed in on a breakout 2017, during which his “money numbers” were a lot better than his peripherals, pitching to the tune of a 2.74 ERA over 141 innings for the Brewers. His FIP and FIP- (both very good)backed up that ERA, but xFIP and xFIP- (both very average) tells us that the results were a fair bit better than his actual pitching.

This deal is pretty similar to something I could see Disco signing for. The club options give the Reds a little insurance in case he gets injured again, and along with the incentives would give Anthony a nice bump in pay should he perform up to the standards he holds for himself. However, since a healthy league average pitcher is more valuable than an oft-injured league average pitcher, I doubt DeSclafani could get this kind of monetary value in a deal, unless he proves himself a little more in 2018.

Danny Duffy

The Royals signed Danny Duffy to a five year, $65M extension of January 2017, fresh off an 89 xFIP- season. The deal curiously doesn’t contain any option years, meaning the value of the contract is what it is. He’s signed through 2021.

Duffy, unlike Disco and Chase Anderson, has had some pretty erratic seasons as far as performance goes. He’s ranged anywhere from a 117 xFIP- (17% worse than an average pitcher) in 2014 to an 89 xFIP- (11% better than an average pitcher) in 2016. The 2018 version of Duffy has been somewhat disappointing, pitching to the tune of a 116 xFIP-. The “money numbers” have almost always been pretty good for Duffy though, as he owns a career 3.92 ERA.

Again, these numbers are a little out there for a DeSclafani deal. More than anything, this deal should serve as an example of what the Reds SHOULDN’T do. The Royals made things a little more difficult on themselves by A) signing Duffy right after an outlier season, and B) not offering themselves any flexibility in the contract in the form of an option year or two.

To avoid a contract like Duffy’s I believe it’s imperative that the Reds sign Disco this offseason, and they should be sure to include plenty of incentives and option years to be sure they’re protected against another lost season or two.

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So, what should an Anthony DeSclafani contract look like? Let’s take a look.

Here we see a modest raise over what Disco can expect to see in arbitration over the next few seasons, but not anything too expensive. The real value in the contract comes if Disco can string together two healthy seasons – a nice pay raise to $5M, then $8M, then $10M should he continue to stay healthy and pitch at a high level. If he gets hurt again, or it’s determined that his injuries have negatively affected his trajectory, there’s very little lost on the team’s end.

What do you think? Should the Reds extend Disco? If not, why? If so – how would you organize the contract? Sound off in the comments!

Jordan has been a lifelong Reds fan, attending games since before he can remember. When he’s not watching, listening to, or writing about the Reds, he’s designing websites, photographing weddings, and hanging out with his friends and family.

Join the conversation! 11 Comments

  1. I don’t think he signs that contract. That avoids arbitration the next two years and maybe pays him slightly more, but doesn’t guarantee anything for his free agent years. From a team standpoint that looks really good.

    Reply
    • I’m with you, Bill. Guaranteeing only his arbitration years is little incentive to give the team 3 option years. Maybe it would be more appealing if there was more money at the front end and another guaranteed year. Something like —
      2019: $2.5M
      2020: $4.5M
      2021: $6.5M
      2022: $8M (team)
      2023: $8M (team)

      If I was Disco, I’d probably sit on both of these deals, though. If he’s healthy for all 2019 and pitches league average, he could probably sign a much better extension next offseason. That’s not a certainty, but it’s probably worth the risk given the low guaranteed amount (relative to a potential free agency contract he could sign in 2 years) in the proposed deals.

      Reply
  2. It’s the high annual value/ long term deals that are killer: Homer bailey 6 years 105 as a best example.
    But a short term extension at a value price is always a good idea: for example:

    1. Charlie Morton 2 year 14 million dollar deal with Astros for 17-18? he was consistently right around 4.00 fip, even considering the hamstring injury in 16′ this was clearly a great deal.
    2. Kenta Maeda 8 years 25 million incentive laden deal.
    3. Miles Mikolas 2 years 15.5 million dollar deal with the Cards.

    The Reds would be wise to extend Desclafani if the price is right. We should also continually be signing value deals like morton, maeda and mikolas no matter who is in the pipeline as our “future” starters (Stephenson, Reed, Romano, Mahle, etc). It seems the FO has held off from these deals because we needed to see what we had. I hope they do a complete change on this strategy in 19′ and forward.

    Reply
  3. I would definitely try to sign him to some sort of extension, especially since he has been pretty much the most effective young-ish starter the reds have. When he’s healthy, he’s a solid number 3.

    With that said, a deal similar to barnhart’s could do it. Bypass arbitration and buyout a couple of free agent years. Of course add a couple options and incentives so the reds can protect themselves and not have another Bailey like pitcher (one who’s hurt all the time). Baseball reference has him as a free agent after the 2021 season. So….

    A contract for 5 years with an option for a 6th at around 20-25 million with incentives, making him a free agent at the end of 2023 at the earliest. A steadily increasing salary that can top out around 10 million a year near the end. Similar to yours Jordan but not as many option years. He has the best chance to “put it together” and stay healthy amongst the crop of pitchers the reds have and this amis a chance the team must take

    Reply
  4. I like your contract idea a lot. If he would sign it, that would be a great deal for the club. With his history, I would think DeSclafani would think long and hard about an offer like that. I agree that now is the time. The leverage for that offer goes away if he rebounds with an excellent season in 2019.

    Reply
  5. Why should the Reds bid against themselves and lock themselves into committing to DeScalfani…where there is literally no reason or urgency to do so?

    Project Disco’s WAR in 2018 across 200 innings…he is a 1.1 WAR pitcher.

    No need to commit now to a 28-year old, 1 WAR pitcher, with 2 years of control left, even in the Reds current situation.

    The Brewers bit on Chase Anderson’s outlier 2017 season. His 2016 and 2018 numbers look almost exactly the same. Let’s hope the Reds have seen that, and let 2019 play out for Disco before taking action.

    Reply
  6. I definitely have hesitations. I would like to see one full season of health from him before discussing an extension, since it’s been 3 seasons cut short (or completely) by injury. I also understand that probably raises the price tag some.

    I do like the idea of all FA years becoming team options. I could probably get behind a deal similar to the one presented here. The only issue is that the option has to be picked up at the end of the season, and Disco has traditionally ran into issues once in ST.

    Reply
  7. I think you’ve got the right idea Jordan but I don’t think the player will sign for such short guarantee at these amounts. Cut the term to 4 years starting with the $3.5M and then following down the chart. 2 years guaranteed with the option buyout being the original $1.5M which guarantees the player $10M for 2 years and puts him on the market a year earlier at age 32 if the contract runs full term having made $26.5M over 4 seasons.

    Reply
    • Agree. That’s fair for both and balances risk with security with budget responsibility.

      Reply
  8. Any long term deal with DeSclafani would be filled with trepidation. The 2 years left of team control under arbitration give both parties some leverage. The number of free agent years in the deal is going to be a critical factor.
    One thing to keep in mind from a player’s perspective, is that getting to free agency isn’t the automatic lottery ticket winner it used to be. The free agent market has changed quite a bit over the last 2-3 years, mostly for offensive players at or over 30. If DeSclafani is a middling pitcher the next two years and wants to test the free agent market when he is eligible, what will the market look like in 2 years for middling 30 year old starters? Could it change as much for them by then as it has over the last couple of years for 30 year old good to middling hitters? Things he will have to consider. Financial certainty over financial uncertainty. There is something to be said about a guaranteed contract over uncertainty.
    So how to fit DeSclafani into the budget. The Reds reported 2018 payroll is $101,337,500.00 referencing Cots. The Reds will shed a total of $18,300,000.00 with the departures of Mesoraco/Harvey, Pennington, Gosselin, Duvall, Quackenbush, Shackleford, and Weiss.
    But the Reds have 3rd year arbitration eligible raises for Scooter Gennett ($5.7M to $10.0M) and Billy Hamilton ($4.6M to $6.6M) to add. That will account for about $6.3M total for both. Could be more.
    The Reds have 2nd year arbitration eligible raises for MiLo (Lorenzen, $1.3M to $2.5M) and DeSclafani (800k to $2.5M). That would be a total of $2.9M.
    And the Reds have 1st year arbitration eligible raises for Schebler (580k to $2.0M) and Peraza (570k to $2.0M). That would be another ~$2.9M.
    There is some wiggle room in the budget concerning DeSclafani. They could be generous and offer DeSclafani a $3.0M in year 1 of a deal, $6.0M in year 2, and $10.0M in year 3, with a team option for year 4 at $13.0M with a $1.0M buyout. That would work out to a 3 year deal at $20.0M, or a 4 year deal at $32.0M. The money is always negotiable, but the years should not be more than 3 with a 4th option year.
    The Reds can fit DeSclafani within their budget. But to add a quality free agent starting pitcher this winter, the Reds will have to raise their payroll some. Or they will have to spend some prospect capital to obtain that starter. Either avenue is affordable to them. Maybe both.

    Reply
  9. To get him to sign, I’d offer him four years, covering two arbitration and two free agency seasons, plus a generous team option for a fifth year. That guarantees him through his age 32 but no further. This isn’t big money, especially the next two seasons, which would be similar to his arbitration-driven awards.

    Reply

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About Jordan Barhorst

Jordan has been a lifelong Reds fan, attending games since before he can remember. When he's not watching, listening to, or writing about the Reds, he's designing websites, photographing weddings, and hanging out with his friends and family.

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