- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
- 0 Shares
PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Homer Bailey's six-year, $105 million contract extension with the Cincinnati Reds is testament to supply and demand. Durable, consistent starting pitching is awfully hard to come by, and teams will go to exceptional lengths to hang onto it before it hits the open market.
Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Adam Wainwright and Jered Weaver are Exhibits A through G that the phenomenon is alive and well -- in increments of $215 million (Kershaw) all the way down to $85 million (Weaver).
Most media members or casual baseball observers probably wouldn't place Bailey in the conversation with the pitchers mentioned above. He's a career 49-45 with a 4.25 ERA, and has yet to make an All-Star team. Even while pitching two no-hitters in Cincinnati, he generally maintained a lower profile than his rotation-mates Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Bronson Arroyo.
But the Reds see a pitcher who's trending in the right direction and has all the makings of a staff horse. Bailey's strikeout-to-walk ratio has increased every year since 2008. He posted the 11th best swing-and-miss ratio among MLB starters in 2013. And his 417 innings the past two seasons place him 12th among big-league starters.
"You look at it all," said Reds manager Bryan Price. "The size. The work ethic. The attention to detail in preparation. The desire to be in the game after the sixth inning, and the ability to be healthy and throw over 200 innings. I'm a firm believer that this is a guy who can perform through a long-term contract and help carry a pitching staff towards the top of a rotation."
It wasn't always that way. From the time the Reds selected him as the seventh overall pick in the 2004 draft, Bailey went through phases when he was perceived as a perennial work in progress (or worse). Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty once described him as a "stubborn, cantankerous Texan." Although Bailey didn't necessarily agree with that characterization, some people in the Reds organization wouldn't have disputed it.
They'll tell you Bailey is a different kind of cat. When Dusty Baker was managing the Reds, he and Bailey routinely exchanged book recommendations. No one ever questioned Bailey's ability or intelligence, but his willingness to listen to people with contrasting ideas was not a strong suit.
"There wasn't a lot of trust when I got here," said Price, who took over as Cincinnati's pitching coach in 2010. "I don't know if Homer felt there weren't a lot of people in his corner who had his back, but it took me a couple of years to build a relationship with him.
"Homer doesn't like to be stroked. He doesn't need to be stroked. All he wants is for you to tell him the truth. Just be honest. He's a pretty black-and-white guy. He's very opinionated, and there are certain things he likes and doesn't like."
Despite the Reds' status as a small-market team, they've made big long-term investments in Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips and now Bailey, who'll be counted on to continue churning out 200-inning seasons in one of baseball's least forgiving pitchers' parks through age 33.
Notwithstanding the on-field ramifications and economic considerations, Bailey's contract says something about teams knowing what they have on hand, and having a hard time saying good bye. The Reds invested a lot of time and effort into Bailey's professional growth. Faced with the possibility of losing him through free agency in November, they decided to take the plunge and make a pre-emptive strike.
Maybe Bailey will prove to be a prudent investment, a drastic overpay or, if history is any indication, something in between. But this much is certain: The Reds won't have to sit back and watch all the hard work they did in developing Bailey come to fruition with another team in a different market. In the final analysis, they weren't prepared to take that risk.
"Homer has become a guy where everybody on the team looks forward to the day he pitches," Price said. "He got off on an island a little bit because of relationships and disappointments, but I think he's made himself a better teammate and a better person in the clubhouse. He's really learned to be a professional. He's a guy that wants to be great."
Bailey will get that opportunity in Cincinnati, where it all began for him out of LaGrange High School in Texas in the 2004 draft. Given the numerous scenarios that could play between now and 2019, the Reds will be content if he's merely very good.