Will Felix Hernandez's elbow problem re-set the starting pitching market?

Posted by Scott Wuerz on February 11, 2013 

It will be interesting to see how the snag that has put off Felix Hernandez's contract extension effects the market for starting pitchers.

Hernandez was well on his way Friday to signing what was reported to be the most lucrative contract for a starting pitcher in baseball history when the party unceremoniously came to an end without explanation. Since then word has leaked out that Hernandez didn't pass his physical because of a reported problem with his elbow.

It was sobering to see the seven-year, $175 million deal thrown out there with Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright due to be a free agent at the end of the season. I'm not sure if it will lower the bar if Hernandez, who still had a couple of years to go on his current deal, has to settle for less. It has been established that the amount the Mariners were going to pay Hernandez is the going rate for a healthy ace.

But... it must give the Cardinals and other teams pause to see the Mariners back away from their only superstar because of health issues. There is just no reasonable expectation when a pitcher signs a six-year deal that he's going to be able to pitch six seasons without major injury. While the bust vs. success rate of position players who receive mega deal is startlingly high, it's even worse for starting pitchers.

C.C. Sabathia has average 32 starts a season and 18 wins in four seasons with the Yankees after inking a $161 million contract that runs through 2015. But he's the exception to the rule. Johan Santana got $137.5 million to pitch for the Mets. He missed the entire 2011 season with arm problems and then made only 21 starts in 2012 during which with as 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA. He appears to have put his best days behind him.

Barry Zito got $127 million to pitch for the Giants starting in 2007. He's never had an ERA lower than 4.03 with San Francisco and it has been speculated many times that the Giants would release him before his contract was up. But last year he won more than 11 games for the first time when he notched 15 victories for San Francisco and he seems like he'll at least manage to play out the string. That was no sure thing when he won three games with a 5.87 ERA in 2011.

So it's a very scary thing for a club to spend nine figures on a pitcher. Especially one with Adam Wainwright's history of elbow reconstruction in 2011. Unfortunately, with the career demise of Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals find themselves very short on experienced front of the rotation starters. Hopefully Wainwright will realize the Birds can't afford to spend like some clubs and be reasonable. Because I can't see the Redbirds having an other option other than to sign him.

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