Santana deal sends signals
General managers note contract ace lefty signed with Mets
When the Mets and pitcher Johan Santana agreed to a six-year contract extension for a reported $137.5 million on Friday, the deal sent a variety of signals throughout Major League Baseball.
In Cleveland, general manager Mark Shapiro came face-to-face with the realization that he probably will lose his Cy Young Award-winning pitcher to free agency after this season.
In two other American League cities, Boston and Toronto, the general managers had to breathe a sigh of relief and realize they were fortunate to get their star pitchers locked up before the Santana contract blew the doors off the payroll scale for guys who make a living throwing a baseball.
First, on the Santana contract, it is about what you could have expected when a team was desperate to sign a big-name pitcher and the agent held all of the leverage.
The $137.5 million package to Santana made him the highest paid pitcher in every way you want to examine the deal. The previous high water mark for a contract to a pitcher was the $126 million the Giants gave to Barry Zito for seven years prior to last season.
In terms of average annual value, Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs had been the leader at $18.3 per year after signing a five-year deal for $91.5 million last year.
Shapiro is fully aware of all of the salary numbers related to Santana. And so is his ace pitcher, C.C. Sabathia, the American League Cy Young Award winner of last season who has career numbers and ability that match up very favorably with Santana.
Sabathia is due to be a free agent after this season -- the same situation Santana was in before the Mets swooped in to make a trade with the Twins and then lock up their new prized possession, pending a physical examination on Saturday.
Shapiro is experienced enough to know he can't shrug off the Mets' signing as one that simply was made under extreme pressure.
"If Santana signs this contract, it will be another added reference point to establishing a market value for C.C.," Shapiro told the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Thursday. "How relevant it is, is up to C.C. and his representatives."
You can be assured Sabathia's representatives know the landscape. After all, the Cleveland ace won the Cy Young Award last season in a race where Santana finished seventh. Sabathia had a record of 19-7 and an ERA of 3.21, while Santana finished at 15-13 and had an ERA of 3.33.
Also finishing ahead of Santana in the Cy Young voting last year were second-place finisher Josh Beckett of Boston (20-7, 3.27) and sixth-place finisher Roy Halladay of Toronto (16-7, 3.71).
Beckett and Halladay are noteworthy because both signed contract extensions in 2006. Beckett inked a three-year deal in July for $30 million, and the contract includes a club option for 2010. Halladay signed a three-year deal in March for $40 million that carries him through 2010.
In view of the Santana contract, the moves by the Red Sox and the Blue Jays in locking up their ace pitchers rate as two of the better contracts of recent time. General managers Theo Epstein of Boston and J.P. Ricciardi of Toronto know they dodged a bullet this time around.
The escalation in the contracts for pitchers is so dramatic I couldn't help but think back to a February day in 1989 when I applied my name to a contract that established Orel Hershiser as the highest paid pitcher -- and player -- in Major League Baseball.
I was the general manager of the Dodgers at the time, and Orel was coming off of his amazing season of 1988, when he helped lead the team to a World Series championship.
Hershiser was eligible for arbitration and one year removed from free agency. We had a long and tough negotiation, and Orel finally signed on the day the arbitration hearing was to be held.
It was a record contract, as Hershiser signed for three years at $7.9 million. He became the highest paid player ever for one season with his 1989 salary of $2,766,667 and the first player to hit $3 million in one year with a salary of $3,166,667 set for 1991.
At a press conference at Dodger Stadium later that day, Hershiser was very happy with his contract, but he predicted his position as baseball's highest paid player wouldn't last very long.
My old friend Orel was right, of course, but I don't think either one of us realized just how right he would be.
Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as executive vice president and general manager. His book -- "Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue" -- was published by SportsPublishingLLC. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.