While it wasn't the headline most expected, the Texas Rangers did in fact sign a controversial, left-handed pitcher to a long-term deal before the season began.
Instead of investing a large sum of money on C.J. Wilson, a controversy magnet who fizzled in the playoffs, the front office invested wisely in a pitcher who did some of his best work under the brightest lights.
The Rangers locked up starter Derek Holland to a five-year deal worth a little over $28 million before two club options, which could inflate the value to almost $50 million. The deal could potentially keep Holland in Ranger red until the winter of 2018.
Calling that 'security' would probably be understating it by a sizable margin.
Though while the years are significant, let's take a look at the actual dollar figures per year associated with this deal:
2012: $1 million.
2013: $3.2 million.
2014: $5.4 million.
2015: $7.4 million.
2016: $10 million.
2017(first club option): $11 million, with a $1.5 million buyout clause.
2018(second club option): $11.5 million, with a $1 million buyout clause.
The enigmatic 25-year-old lefty won't even hit double digits per year until the year 2016, which could potentially be his last season in Texas, if the team doesn't want to pick up the options built into his deal. That's very reasonable, and if Holland continues on the path he took several steps forward on last year he could be considered one of the league's most underpaid pitchers by the time 2016 comes.
Former Ranger and notorious phone-number tweeter Wilson also scooped up a five-year deal from the Los Angeles Angels this off season.
Let's take a look at what the Angels are going to waste- er, spend on Texas catcher Mike Napoli's new least-favorite player:
2012: $12.5 million, $10 million in salary and $2.5 million in signing bonus
2013: $11 million.
2014: $16 million.
2015: $18 million.
2016: $20 million.
There are several things to keep in mind when comparing these deals.
Most importantly, Wilson earned top-shelf money because he was a top-shelf pitcher for the last two years in Texas. Whenever he went to the mound, Texas was all but guaranteed a win. Holland has had a bit of a rocky road, but last year began to really show signs of consistency and began blossoming into the pitcher most scouts and front office people thought he would.
However, there are a couple other factors that suggest Texas might have gotten the better end of this deal.
Like the respective ages of the players when these contracts expire. Both are scheduled to end (forgetting the two options on Holland) in 2016, when Holland is 30 years old and Wilson is 36. It's easy to assume that Texas is paying less for a player who has yet to hit his greatest potential, while Los Angeles is paying much more for a player who has possibly peaked already, and will only go downhill from here.
The post season is also an important factor in these deals. The Angels, who haven't seen the post season for two straight years due to the Rangers' rise to power, obviously lured Wilson away from their biggest rival to bolster their own playoff chances. While they might have done that, they may see a sudden change once they get to the playoffs.
Wilson started nine post-season games in Texas and won three of them. His 2011 post-season performance was particularly dreadful, as he went 0-3 and didn't last more than six innings in any of his five starts. In fact, his shortest start was in Game 1 against the Detroit Tigers, where he went four-and-two-thirds innings and Texas won, in spite of his lackluster performance.
Meanwhile, Holland has started four games in post-season play (all in 2011), registering wins
in three of them while the team won all four games. This game included the herculean performance Holland turned in during Game 4 of the World Series, where he was two outs short of a complete-game, two-hit shutout. The only 2012 Holland post-season appearance the Rangers didn't win? A relief spot in game 6 of the World Series (Ouch).
I'll be up front with this, I am not a psychic. I don't have access to a time machine, nor can I see the future through a crystal ball or any other medium. But if I was told pitcher A cost $77 million over five years, won 16 games the year before, and had Wilson's postseason numbers, while 'pitcher B' also won 16 games in the regular season, had Holland's postseason numbers, and would only cost $28 million over the next five years, sight unseen, there's no question who I'm pulling the trigger on.
Of course, Holland's supposed to be cheaper -- he was under the Rangers' control for the next four years whether he signed this deal or not, and MLB's salary system more or less guaranteed he would be underpaid throughout.
Putting aside all the numbers though, Holland brings something to the table that Wilson never did: room chemistry.
The concept's importance is often debated, but there were frequent suggestions that Wilson didn't mesh well with the other guys in the room. Then there's Holland, who when asked about being a leader in the clubhouse now, due to the new deal, said, "I just want to be a good role model. When I was coming up, I had guys like C.J. Wilson and Michael Young to look up to. Now it's my turn. I want to be that guy."
Regardless of what you think of the goofy kid with the high school mustache and the impersonations, you have to respect that it appears through all the silliness he is committed to being a good influence in the room.
There's a great possibility that I could be wrong about all of this. That last year was all a mirage from Holland, and that he will slide back to mediocrity. I could also be wrong about Wilson, judging him too early on his postseason work and his personality as it relates to teammates. I don't think I am, though. Not at all.
I think the Rangers saw two left-handed pitchers who would require long-term financial commitments. They spurned the big-name, more-experienced pitcher for the younger pitcher with room to grow and improve. They decided to hitch their wagon to what will be, instead of what is. With all due respect to C.J. Wilson, when both of these pitchers come free (potentially in Holland's case) in 2016, Holland will end up being the better lefty signing.
At that point, I think it will be fair for Rangers fans to point to what should be a fully-matured, possible-ace pitcher and say something Holland did with great frequency while doing the weather with News 8 lead meteorologist Pete Delkus in the off season:
"Would you look at that? Would you just look at it?"