When the New York Mets announced the other day that starting pitcher Johan Santana will be shut down for the remainder of the 2012 season, it only further solidified the claim that no pitcher can be worth the kind of money aces are getting these days.
Santana was given a ridiculous six-year, $137.5 million contract by the team prior to the 2008 season, one that will pay him an average of $23 million per year during his age-29 through age-34 seasons. Santana was terrific during the first three seasons, averaging a 13-8 record, 2.85 ERA, 1.175 WHIP, and 3.02 strikeout to walk ratio during those years. He missed some time to injury but still averaged 29.3 starts and over 200 innings pitched per campaign.
Santana missed the entire 2011 season due to injury, which all of a sudden reduces his contract to five years for $137.5 million and makes him worth $26.5 million per season. Santana rebounded strong in 2012, taking a 2-2 record and 2.75 ERA into a June 1 start against the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals. In that contest, Santana twirled his first career no-hitter, lowering his season ERA to 2.38, but he paid the price heavily.
Santana set a career high in pitches in that outing and has struggled immensely since then. In 10 starts since, Santana has been 3-7 with an awful 8.27 ERA and some of his numbers are downright scary – a .327 batting average allowed, .964 opponents’ OPS, and 13 home runs allowed in just 49 innings. In his last five starts, he’s reached an all-time low, going 0-5 with a 15.63 ERA in 19 innings. He’s averaged just 3.8 innings per start and given up 43 hits and eight home runs in 19 frames on the mound, figures that come out to a .448 opponents’ batting average, .771 slugging percentage against, and unbelievable 1.242 OPS.
Santana will try to come back strong in 2013 and pitch well in the final year of his deal – one for which he will be paid an outrageous $25 million, but he will be 34 by then and coming off two season-ending injuries in a row. That should send a message to teams looking to sign a pitcher to that kind of a deal – the New York Yankees have extended CC Sabathia for $161 million over seven years, the Philadelphia Phillies gave Cole Hamels $144 million for six years, and the San Francisco Giants gave Matt Cain over $100 million for six more years. Pitchers like Zack Greinke, Tim Lincecum, and Felix Hernandez will become key free agents in the next 14 months, and teams better be careful what they pay those pitchers because it’s very difficult to fulfill that kind of a deal.