You know the worst part of everything? All of it. Sometimes, the problem is that it all bites and then everything stays exactly the same, with all the biting and everything. The most sucks part is the whole damn thing.
I think that about sums up the entirety of Homer Bailey’s career since signing a six-year $105 million contract extension with the Reds back at the beginning of 2014. It seems that the overwhelming consensus among Reds’ fans and observers is that the deal was laughably stupid from the get-go and this is all so plainly expected. I generally refrain from generalizing so simply, but I get the sense that the normal work-a-day supporter of my favorite team harbors extreme animosity towards Bailey for his failures and utter contempt for the Reds’ brain trust that made the laughably stupid offer in the first place. I think it is a fair bit more complicated than that, though.
See, when the Reds signed him to the contract extension, he was coming off two strong and impressive seasons in which he helped anchor an incredible rotation that led the team to the postseason in both years. In ‘12 and ‘13 he threw 417 innings and posted a 3.58 ERA with a solid 1.18 WHIP and a matching 3.64 FIP. He wasn’t a Certifiable Ace like Clayton Kershaw or Cliff Lee or Stephen Strasburg, but he fit right in with the second tier of starters like his then-teammate Mat Latos and others like Jordan Zimmermann and Jeff Samardzija. And when you consider the kind of contracts that these guys all ended up commanding (aside from poor old Mat Latos), Homer’s six years and $105 million was pretty darn fair.
Now, some argue that the Reds should have offered that extension to Johnny Cueto or Mike Leake or hell, even nobody at all. And yeah, that’s not an unreasonable charge. But we don’t know if the Reds made such an offer to Cueto or if he was receptive. In the big picture, of course the Reds could have gone a multitude of different ways. But they decided to make the offer to Bailey and, I think most crucially, it wasn’t a laughably stupid decision on its face. Hindsight being what it is though, I think folks too easily allow themselves to retcon the whole thing in order to validate their flaccid discontent with how it has turned out.
The big problem, obviously, is how it turned out. 2014 was more-or-less another strong campaign for Bailey, but it was nerped in early August when he suffered a flexor injury. And that, really, is everything. After that, he made only two starts in 2015 before requiring Tommy John surgery. He spent that season and most of 2016 recovering, returning for a handful of starts at the end of the ‘16 season in which he looked dull. He began 2017 on the disabled list with yet another arm injury. To put it succinctly, he has spent the entirety of his contract years either pitching through an arm injury or recovering from an arm injury. It’s no big secret. As it happens, it is really difficult for a pitcher to do his job well when his arm seems constantly stuck in the garbage disposal.
And so we are watching an old, old baseball tale retell itself. A strong, young hurler works to establish himself and finds a praise-worthy amount of success. And then, after as much time as it took to earn that, it is all taken away so very quickly. The feel-good Disney-heart success story turns into a slogging Kafkaesque nightmare, a shadow futily chasing the spectre of his past glory.
Can you imagine the amount of time Homer Bailey now spends wringing his hands and pacing the floors? It breaks my heart.
And so the story of Homer Bailey’s contract extension with the Reds is not one of piss-poor management or of a feckless lout cashing in and checking out, but rather one of the fragile mortality of humanity and the relentless amoral march of entropy. As spectators, we are compelled to rend our clothes and search for a scapegoat at whom we can direct our venom, but there is no clear antagonist here. It all sucks, and the worst part is everything.
So let’s get back to the title question here (SEO FTW!!). It is time to close the book on Ol’ Hoss? I think it is. Regardless of how much money he is owed over the next several months, the starts he’s making could be better served as a training ground for someone like Amir Garrett or Robert Stephenson or for Anthony DeSclafani when he is eligible to return. It is heartbreaking, but I think at this point we know enough about who Homer Bailey is now. He isn’t the same pitcher he was five years ago because he doesn’t have the same arm he used to have.
I’m reminded of the fate of old Boxer in Animal Farm. It makes me cry every time.
Now if you will excuse me, I’m going to go drink a dozen lunch beers and sit on the bridge.