First it was Heath Bell, at $27 million. Then it was Jose Reyes, at $111 million. Jeffrey Loria’s team isn’t done spending. Wednesday, the newly-branded Miami Marlins pulled the trigger on a third big-name free agent signing, reeling in Mark Buehrle from the White Sox on a four-year, $58 million contract.
Buehrle is coming off a four-year, $56 million deal with the White Sox and will effectively continue to bring in the same paycheck in South Beach as he did on the South Side. This consistency in earnings is right in line with the consistency he’s shown in his career:
Click the link to embiggen. “Year” on this graph means years prior to signing the contract in question; the black line above -3 refers to three years before he signed with the White Sox, so the 2005 season; the blue line above -1 refers to the year before signing with the Marlins, so the 2011 season.
Buehrle has been right around an 85 ERA-/90 FIP- for his entire career, which is to say he allows about 10-15% less offense than the average pitcher. By no means is this an ace level of production — most of the best pitchers finish with ERA- totals in the 70s or even the 60s. Still, the sheer number of batters Buehrle has been able to face — at least 200 innings pitched each of the last 11 seasons — puts him at or close to an all-star level on a consistent basis.
Even the trends for Buehrle heading into each contract are similar. Buehrle remains the same type of pitcher he was back in 2004, relying on his ability to control the strike zone to keep batters off the basepaths and runs off the board. His career high walk rate as a starter is 2.38 per nine innings, and he hasn’t posted a mark above 2.20 since 2003. He doesn’t rely on exceptionally low BABIPs or home run rates, either — he simply strikes out enough batters to keep big innings to a minimum and works around hits by forcing hitters to make contact to reach base.
The White Sox did not receive a huge bargain on Buehrle’s services over the life of his last contract. Buehrle was paid like a lower-tier ace or higher-tier number-two starter and performed as such. The Marlins, similarly, don’t look to get much surplus value with Buehrle’s next four years — the effects of inflation are cancelled out by the risk of attrition over Buehrle’s age 33 through 36 seasons.
The Marlins were extremely weak in the pitching staff last season, especially when Josh Johnson was sidelined due to injury. Buehrle won’t give the Marlins two aces by any means, but he should continue to consistently get them outs at an above-average rate. As the Marlins move into a new era, Buehrle should move them close to a competitive role in the National League East and do so at a very fair wage.