It has become increasingly hard to remember, I know, but there was a once a time when ‘Homer Bailey’ wasn’t the equivalent of a four-letter word in the world of the Cincinnati Reds. Before his litany of arm issues - and before he signed his contract extension - a then 27 year old Bailey was fresh off his career-best season, a year that saw him post career highs in IP (209), strikeouts (199), ERA (3.49), K/9 (8.6), and bWAR (3.2) in 2013.
Thanks to Bailey having debuted at the big league level as a wry 21 year old, however, he was already entering his final year of team control in 2014. And yes, when he signed the massive 6 year, $105 million deal to remain with Cincinnati prior to the start of the 2014 season, the amount certainly seemed excessive for a guy who, to that point, owned just a 4.25 ERA and 95 ERA+ in 853 career innings pitched.
The concept of holding on to Bailey at that point, however, wasn't one that was at all farfetched. Having just turned 27, he was extremely young to be on the verge of free agency, meaning that he was just approaching his career peak, not already on the backside of it as he became expensive. (Todd Frazier, to pick a random older player out of the blue, will be 32 this year when he finally reaches free agency. Six year contracts have a much different sound to them when the final year is 'age 38' instead of 'age 33.')
To the point, you can argue now as you could have in early 2014 that signing a pitcher for six years is too long of a commitment to something notoriously fragile, or you could easily argue that the amount of guaranteed money due to Bailey was nearly double what it should have been. However, it's nearly impossible to assert that wanting to keep someone with Bailey's profile to that point in the organization was a misguided desire. Pitchers at that age, of that caliber, with those kind of career marks have been the apple of every major league organization's eye since the advent of free agency, and the ability to put one in pen on a 25-man roster year after year is perhaps the single most difficult job any front office faces.
That all brings me to Anthony DeSclafani, who conveniently turns 27 years old right after the 2017 season starts.
If the same tenets that made keeping Bailey around hold true in regards to other pitchers, there's a decent chunk of data that would suggest that Disco is exactly the kind of pitcher the Reds should latch onto, as well. For comparison's sake:
Baseball contracts, as most of you are well aware, so often end up based as payment for what a player has already accomplished as opposed to payment based on what can be reasonably expected. That's how a 30 year old Miguel Cabrera landed a $248 million guarantee that could pay him through his age 42 season, for instance, despite most every person imaginable knowing that his next 10 years won't be nearly as good as his previous 10. It's seen as almost retribution for the comparatively cheap deals teams give out to players while under their initial 6 years of team control, a way to cosmically balance early career underpayment with late-game overpayment.
With Bailey, however, that wasn't at all the case. At his age at the time of the new contract, he was set to be paid like a guy on the cusp of his peak, someone whose best years were still ahead of him. At least, that was the theory, one that numerous injuries and surgeries have rendered almost moot.
I said almost moot largely because of DeSclafani, namely how he's performed in his career relative to how Homer had prior to his career-best 2013 season. If Homer was attractive enough to warrant a lengthy commitment from the Cincinnati ownership and front office back in 2014 - a front office that's largely comprised of the same individuals at the moment as it was then - DeSclafani should be nearly as attractive in their eyes, too (albeit without the shimmer of the no-hitters). And conveniently for the Reds, Disco's lack of service time to this point makes him ripe for the kind of contract extension that helps build great rosters, not handicap them.
Take the San Francisco Giants, for instance. While their World Series' successes and usual large payroll have afforded them the opportunity to spend money much more freely than the Reds, that hasn't meant that savvy moves haven't been on their ledger, too. Just two weeks after they guaranteed $127.5 million to Matt Cain for 6 years - who, like Homer two years later, was entering his final year of team control - San Francisco locked up a pitcher with a much shorter track record for up to 7 years at a guaranteed cost of just $35 million.
Madison Bumgarner had made 51 starts over his previous 2 seasons, thrown 315.2 innings in that time, and had just 2 years of service time logged to date. Disco, to compare, has thrown 308 innings in his last 2 years - also in 51 starts - and has just 2 years of service time to date. While Bumgarner was both younger then (just 22 years old) and better to date than Disco (116 ERA+ compared to 109), the concept remains the driving point in this: identify pitchers you want around long-term, and sign them before they have the leverage to become expensive.
The Cleveland Indians followed a similar concept when extending Corey Kluber at the start of the 2015 season. Kluber, of course had just pocketed the 2014 AL Cy Young Award, but he also had just 2 years of service time under his belt, 58 starts over his previous 2 years, and was entering his age 29 season. St. Louis waited until Carlos Martinez had accrued 3 years of service time, but they still went to great lengths to sign him for up to 7 years just after he turned 25 years old.
It's a tactic the Reds haven't used often, to be certain. In fact, the lone time in recent memory where the team and a young, relatively inexperienced pitcher reached a long-term deal was when Johnny Cueto signed his 4 year (plus option) extension back in 2011 - one that bought out 2 years of potential free agency and is massively overlooked by most fans who think the team chose to sign Bailey "instead of Cueto" several years ago. Cueto, at the time of signing, had accumulated 3 years of service time, and by being proactive the Reds got 2 would-be free agent years of peak Cueto for a total of $20 million.
DeSclafani has ample comps to the pitcher Cincinnati most recently invested in heavily, yet he's at a point in his career that would allow the Reds to jump in at a much, much cheaper rate. Given how Homer's deal has backfired spectacularly to date (and how that's impacted the team's overall payroll), I wonder if the Reds will be more reluctant to invest heavily in long deals to pitchers altogether, or actually be more proactive at signing them at similar ages - albeit at much less costly points in their careers.
Disco's the first such pitcher they've had in such a position, and frankly, I'd be elated if they looked to lock him up for 5 or 6 years right now. Even if they did and injuries wrecked him like they have Homer, it'd be a lot more palatable for those to impact 8-10% of a team's payroll instead of 15-20%.