$igning $abathia Make $ense?

C.C Sabathia

Does signing C.C. Sabathia to a long-term, record-setting contract make sense for the Cleveland Indians? There's no simple answer because of the multitude of variables involved -- though a look at history shows it usually is NOT prudent to break the bank in order to sign a pitcher. As with anything, however, there have been some glaring exceptions to the contrary where clubs have struck it rich.

The Atlanta Braves sure cashed in when they signed Greg Maddux in 1993. The right-hander was coming off his first 20-win season, having gone 20-11 for the Chicago Cubs at age 26 in 1992, when he was paid $4.2 million.

More often than not, pitchers break down with injuries after signing long-term deals. The Indians were one of the first clubs to venture into the free-agent market and get burned back in 1977 when they gave right-hander Wayne Garland a 10-year, $2 million contract. At essentially $200,000 a year, it was an extravagant sum, especially for a pitcher who had basically been a one-year wonder. Garland had a 7-6 career record when he began the 1976 season in Baltimore's bullpen. When former 20-game winner Mike Cuellar was ineffective and Ross Grimsley injured, Garland got a chance to start in late May. By mid-July he was 12-1 and finished that season with a 20-7 record at age 25.

The Indians jumped at the chance to sign him, but he went 13-19 his first season in Cleveland and hurt his arm. Feeling that he had to justify his salary, Garland kept pitching with the sore arm, only causing more damage. He pitched only 29 2/3 innings in 1978 and was out of baseball halfway through the contract.

Recent history is littered with such stories of seemingly strong pitchers who never pitched to the end of their lucrative contracts because of injuries. Mike Hampton, Denny Neagle and Darren Dreifort are three prime examples.

Another recent example, though not on our list, is reliever B.J. Ryan of the Toronto Blue Jays. Ryan signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal with two years ago, had a terrific 2006 season, then blew out his arm after only 4 1/3 innings in 2007.

Others, such as Kevin Brown, Chan Ho Park and even Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter had seen better days by the time they got the big payday. Their new teams ended up paying for what the pitchers had done for their previous teams rather than what they were able to do, though Brown and Hunter did still have some good seasons left in them.

Earlier in his career, however, Brown was a brilliant signing by the Florida Marlins. He had some arm trouble in Texas in 1994, went only 10-9 in 1995 for Baltimore, but had two great seasons in Florida, helping the Marlins win the 1997 World Series over the Indians.

But he was too expensive and so the Marlins tried to get something in return by trading him to San Diego with one year left on his contract. It wasn't a good trade for them. They got first baseman Derrek Lee, who was merely OK in Florida until developing into an all-star years later with the Cubs, right-hander Rafael Medina (3-7) career record and Steve Hoff, a guy who never made it out of the minors.

Here's a look at some rich contracts given to pitchers. All of them signed as free agents except Santana, who this week got his rich deal as an extension to his 2008 contract after being traded by the Minnesota Twins to the Mets.

SOME SIGNIFICANT LONG-TERM CONTRACTS TO PITCHERS

Pitcher Signed By Millions Years Before Deal During Deal
Johan Santana Mets $137.5 2008-13 93-44 ???
Carlos Zambrano Cubs $91.5 2008-12 82-55 ???
Barry Zito Giants $126 2007-13 102-63 11-13
Mike Hampton Rockies $121 2001-08 85-53 53-48
Kevin Brown Dodgers $105 1999-05 139-98 72-46
Mike Mussina Yankees $88.5 2001-06 158-91 92-53
Chan Ho Park Rangers $75 2002-06 80-55 33-33
Darren Dreifort Dodgers $55 2001-06 37-45 9-15
Denny Neagle Rockies $51 2001-06 105-69 19-23
Kevin Appier Mets $42 2001-03 136-104 33-32
Carl Pavano Yankees $40 2005-09 57-58 5-6
Greg Maddux Braves $28 1993-97 95-75 89-33
Roger Clemens Blue Jays $24.8 1997-99 192-109 55-23
Aaron Sele Angels $24 2002-04 107-68 24-24
Andy Ashby Dodgers $22.5 2001-03 84-86 14-24
Kris Benson Mets $22.5 2005-07 47-53 21-20
Kevin Brown Marlins $12.9 1996-98 88-73 51-26
Catfish Hunter Yankees $3.75 1975-79 161-113 63-53

The Indians had success with signing veterans Dennis Martinez and Orel Hershiser in the mid-1990s. They tried it again a couple years later with Jack McDowell and Chuck Finley and didn't have the same results. McDowell joined the long list of guys who got hurt. Finley wasn't terrible, though he never came close to what was expected of him.

SOME INDIANS FREE-AGENT PITCHER CONTRACTS

Pitcher Millions Years Before Deal During Deal
Jack McDowell $10.6 1996-97 106-68 16-12
Chuck Finley $16.8 2000-03 165-140 28-29
Wayne Garland $2 1977-87 29-18 28-48
Dennis Martinez $12.8 1994-96 208-165 32-17
Orel Hershiser $6.4 1994-96 134-102 45-21

There's no doubt that Sabathia's next contract will be a huge one for the big lefty -- especially after Santana's new deal.

Sabathia has said he wants to stay in Cleveland. Indians general manager Mark Shapiro has said he wants to keep the 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner in an Indians uniform.

Sabathia is a terrific pitcher, a great guy and deserving of a significant raise. He's got the numbers to support getting a big contract. And while pitchers such as Maddux, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling have performed consistently well ... the overall numbers throughout baseball say to be wary of long-term deals for pitchers.

If you play the odds, you don't sign Sabathia for a great chunk of change -- which can put a mid-market franchise in financial jeopardy. But there are those who maintain it is worth the risk to try and keep the core of the ballclub intact and go for it all.

Do you take the money you would have paid Sabathia and put it into your farm system and try to grow an entire group of players who could eventually help you at the big-league level?

Do you trade him this year and try to get a jump on that process, as the Indians did with right-hander Bartolo Colon -- who netted them Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips?

But the situation then was much different for the Tribe. They were clearly set to begin a rebuilding phase. That's not the case at all with the 2008 Indians. They have a chance to win it all, and certainly having one of the best pitchers in the game on their side gives them an even better opportunity to do so.

There's so many variables involved in the entire process -- a process that is likely to continue all season and lead to many opinions.

Shapiro and his staff have calculated all the risk-reward possibilities, which are likely to change throughout the upcoming season. And so the entire thought process will change -- likely leading to a lot more conjecture by everybody on all fronts in the coming months.

Stay tuned.

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