We are just under a month away from the sixth anniversary of Homer Bailey no-hitting the Pittsburgh Pirates in PNC Park, the first of Homer’s pair of no-no’s in his Cincinnati Reds career. I suppose it’s pertinent to keep talking about those two spectacular evenings, since at this point, they’re some of the only real reasons why he’s still getting sent out to the mound every handful of days as a starting pitcher for the Reds.
Here’s a quick look at some of the statistics that can best describe what Homer has been for the Reds relative to the rest of the pitchers in Major League Baseball:
- 123 MLB pitchers have thrown at least 100 IP this year, and of them, Homer Bailey’s 6.13 ERA ranks as the absolute worst
- 126 MLB pitchers have thrown at least 190 IP over the last two seasons, and of them, Homer Bailey’s 6.27 ERA ranks as the absolute worst
- 184 MLB pitchers have thrown at least 210 IP over the last three seasons, and of them, Homer Bailey’s 6.31 ERA ranks as the absolute worst
You see where this is going, I presume.
I think the specific part of these lists that jumps out at me more than anything isn’t even that Homer’s numbers reveal that he’s been, more or less, the most abysmal starting pitcher in all of baseball for years now, though. A quick glance at some of the names that rank near him on the three-year list shows the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Yovani Gallardo - that Yovani Gallardo, Matt Cain, Jered Weaver, and Mike Pelfrey, among others...and what stands out specifically is that each and every one of those guys has lost his job, has retired, has been kicked to the curb by at least one team, or has retired. The rest of the teams in this game we call baseball had a light-bulb moment somewhere along the way, with the concept that this guy probably shouldn’t be pitching for us if we’re trying to find ways to win games exploding into their brains with it.
Yet here we are, with Homer Bailey set to pitch tonight in Pittsburgh against the Pirates despite the recent call-ups of Lucas Sims and Tyler Mahle - and despite the fact that almost any other pitcher with a pulse in baseball is more deserving than he is at the moment.
The reason - or reasons, rather - that we’re still watching Homer pitch for the Reds are obvious. He’s due the remainder of his $21 million salary for 2018, and after this season still has $23 million guaranteed to him in 2019, with at least $5 million more due to him should the Reds opt to buy him out of a 2020 option that would otherwise pay him another $25 million. In essence, that’s a 1 year, $28 million commitment to him after the end of this season, and it’s clear that the Reds continue to run him out there every fifth or sixth day purely because of it.
Sure, they’re hoping he can miraculously morph back into a decent pitcher again, and they’d love to have the no-hitter tosser they originally signed to this massive $105 million deal years ago. In reality, though, they’re probably just hoping he can show just enough decent work in his final handful of starts that they can find some way, any way to give him away to some poor sap this offseason, which is something that’s a nearly impossible task to ask.
Nearly impossible. Believe it or not, there are a few other players across the MLB landscape that are in somewhat similar situations.
Up in Toronto, for instance, Troy Tulowitzki hasn’t played a single inning this season after having surgery on both of his heels last offseason. At 33 years old, he’s actually older than Homer, played in just 66 games due to injury in 2017, hasn’t played more than 131 games in a season since 2011, and has at least $38 million guaranteed left on his contract through the end of the 2020 season (including an option buy-out). On top of that, he’s not even been that good when healthy, owning just a 97 OPS+ in 325 games played dating back to the start of the 2015 season.
Do the rebuilding Blue Jays need Tulowitzki? Not at all, at that level of production. Do they need Homer Bailey? Not at all, at his level of production. Is there enough of a commonality between how much money they’re due, their injury histories, and the need to move of for both of them to think a bad contract swap could happen with some money changing hands and a prospect or two thrown in? There probably is, actually, even if the Reds have no real need for a player like Tulowitzki now, or in the future.
The New York Yankees could well be in a similar situation with Jacoby Ellsbury, who also hasn’t played a lick this year. He’s due some $46 million through 2020 (with an option buyout included), and when somewhat healthy during the 2015-2017 seasons he posted just an 89 OPS+ across 371 games played. Do the Reds really need that kind of player? Not particularly, especially at his age (34), but there’s still a way they could reduce their overall dollar amount owed to a sunk-cost player in 2019 - the last year they owe Homer any money - and spread their overall amount owed out over multiple years, if the Yankees were at all inclined to actually save a few million bucks in total to facilitate the deal.
Dexter Fowler will be 33 in March, and posted a disastrous 58 OPS+ for the St. Louis Cardinals in 90 games this year before landing on the 60-day DL with a broken foot. He’s owed a guaranteed $49.5 million through 2021.
Ian Desmond has posted a miserable 78 OPS+ across 230 games with the Colorado Rockies - with Coors Field as his home field - since signing on to be their primary 1B before the 2017 season. He’s still due some $40 million guaranteed.
Jordan Zimmermann has pitched to a gross 5.20 ERA and 85 ERA+ in 68 games for the Detroit Tigers over the last three seasons, and he has a whopping $50 million left on his contract for the next two seasons.
In other words, there are actually a handful of contracts for players across the league at the moment that might not be quite as bad on-paper as Homer’s was when he first signed it, but now look equally as awful as the overall number of years and dollars left on Bailey’s deal grind toward their ultimate conclusion. And while there’s likely not an exec on any team in baseball who would actively tell you they’d like to have Homer on their team, there isn’t a single one in the game who wouldn’t salivate at the opportunity to save a few million bucks while still jettisoning an awful contract of their own.
Will we actually see the Reds able to pull that off? Will they actually be willing to eat a disgusting amount of their own money to get a player like that off the books? It happened in a much smaller size - with a much more productive player - with Brandon Phillips and the Atlanta Braves a few years back, but it still seemed to need mountains moved to make that happen. With Homer, the odds are much, much worse, but with every start we still see him on the Reds, he’s at least inching closer and closer to having a small enough - relatively speaking - amount left on his deal to at least think it in the realm of possibilities.
In this awful, everloving rebuild, that just might be the next step.