I remember when Matt Cain signed his mega-contract, I couldn’t believe it! I thought in cumulative terms, and laughed that we’d gotten to the point in the business end of sports that Matt Cain was receiving the largest contract for a right-handed pitcher in baseball history. It just felt like a stretch for a Cain, who seemed solid but not revelatory. That kind of money should mean Cy Young contention every year. In the end, it seems to have worked out. Not only did Cain pitch a perfect game, but he’s 10-3 with a 2.74 ERA, and more importantly his consistency has kept the Giants pitching dangerous despite Tim Lincecum’s dreadful year.
So when Cole Hamels signed a deal that was the second biggest for a pitcher in history, the feelings I had about Cain’s deal resurfaced. As good as Hamels has been, he’s only had one season with an ERA under 3. Even during this season, where he’s been a lone bright spot for the struggling Phillies, he still has a 3.23 ERA. Maybe Cain should’ve taught me a lesson, maybe I’m wrong in thinking that pitching is so cerebral, so fragile, that giving somebody $160 million dollars and expecting six years of dominance is a risky investment.
The Phillies are loaded up with huge contracts for Hamels, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon. They’re counting on production and development for years to come. Is that unrealistic in a league where pitchers find serenity and balance one year, only to lose it the next? Maybe or maybe not. Matt Cain proved that developing pitchers can deserve the absurd paydays they’re now receiving, but Tim Lincecum demonstrated that sometimes, the slightest mental and physical lapses can change a career and leave a pitcher lost. The Phillies are betting $160 million that Hamels will follow the former.