Starting pitcher Homer Bailey and the Cincinnati Reds have reportedly agreed to a six-year contract for $105 million. Before the deal, Bailey was set to become a free agent after the 2014 season. With next year’s potential free agent starting pitching class shrinking by one, the deal could have a significant impact on the Cubs and Jeff Samardzija. Quite possibly, it will exert additional pressure on the Cubs as the season unfolds to get an extension done with Samardzija. As we recently reported, Dan Syzmborski’s ZiPS projection model pegs an appropriate Samardzija deal at 6 years and $89 million, even though Shark cannot become a free agent until 2016. This is very close to Bailey’s deal, when you factor in that Bailey is one year closer to free agency.
The Bailey deal continues the trend of teams locking up top young players before they hit free agency. How does this impact the Cubs? For one thing, it puts a price tag on a starting pitcher similar to Samardzija who plays in the same division. Additionally, it takes a potential free agent starter off the market – which simultaneously makes the pool of available pitching smaller and the cost of starting pitching higher given the shorter supply. Looking ahead to next winter’s free agent class, the top remaining starting pitchers potentially available are Max Scherzer, Justin Masterson, Jon Lester, and James Shields. This is a good group, but it is hard to imagine the Tigers or Red Sox will let Scherzer or Lester get to free agency.
Bailey and Samardzija are two of the hardest throwing starters in baseball and both have top flight stuff. Bailey, however, has produced slightly better results in his career to date. Two significant differences in their 2013 performance: Bailey has a significantly lower walk rate as well as a lower home run rate. This is a sign that Bailey is doing a better job than Samardzija of commanding and controlling his great stuff, as Reds fans have witnessed with Bailey’s two career no-hitters. Given his age (Bailey is entering his age-28 season) it is not surprising the Reds found a way to lock him up. With Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, and Tony Cingrani, the Reds have one of the best young starting rotations in baseball.
Here is a comparison of Samardzija, Bailey, and three potential 2015 free agent starting pitchers in several key statistics last year. The most striking difference between Shark and the others is the HR rate and (with the exception of Masterson) the walk rate. Shark allows more base runners and gives up more bombs – hence the higher ERA. If he can find the right combination of pitch sequence and command this year, however, Samardzija could join the ranks of elite starting pitchers in 2014.