When, earlier this morning, the Brewers announced a press conference my first reaction was, “Prince Fielder?” Alas, that was not to be. Instead, we learned shortly thereafter, they would announce the extension of RHP Yovani Gallardo. In the early afternoon Adam McCalvy noted that the deal will be for five years and $30.1 million, with up to $42.5 million possible if the Brewers exercise an option for a sixth season. At first glance this seems like a good deal for the Brewers, but let’s take a closer look at the deal.
Though the deal is for five years, that includes 2010, meaning that it replaces Gallardo’s current $450,000 salary. He’ll earn a $500,000 salary for the 2010 season, plus a $1.25 million signing bonus, broken down into three payments, the last of which he’ll see on November 15. That will increase to $3.25 million in 2011, $5.5 million in 2012, $7.75 million in 2013, and $11.25 million in 2014. That represents Gallardo’s seventh service year, so it replaces his first-year free agent salary. The 2015 option is for $13 million, with a $600,000 buyout, making it easy to decline in case of injury.
There is no questioning Gallardo’s talent. He has the stuff and the command to succeed in the majors, and at age-24 could have many quality years ahead of him. It took him just 77 innings at each of high-A, AA, and AAA before getting a call to the majors in 2007, where he pitched as well as could be expected of a 21-year-old. His ERA, FIP, and xFIP all fell below 4.00, his xFIP running the highest because of a 6.6 percent HR/FB ratio. Gallardo was also on a nice path of building up innings. After throwing 155 innings in 2006 he increased to 188 in 2007.
It was in 2008 that Gallardo faced issues. It started in camp when he had surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee. The Brewers placed him on the DL to start the season, but he was still able to make his first start on April 20. He pitched as well as the Brewers could have asked through his first two starts, allowing one run on 10 hits and five walks, striking out nine in 14 innings. He had a bit rougher go against the Cubs on May 1, but there were extenuating circumstances.
Leading off the fifth inning Reed Johnson laid a bunt down the first base line. Prince Fielder scooped it and applied the tag, but Gallardo had to leapfrog Johnson, who was sliding head first into the bag. He came down hard on his right knee and rolled on the ground writhing in pain. It appeared to be bad, but he rubbed some dirt on it, threw some warm-up pitches, and finished the inning by retiring the next two batters. And then he came out for the sixth, though he ran into some trouble there. It was only later that they discovered that he had torn his ACL.
That caused Gallardo to miss most of the season, returning only for a brief start on September 25. His full comeback happened last year, when he again kept his ERA, FIP, and xFIP below 4.00. This time his FIP ran the highest, as 12.3 percent of his fly balls allowed left the park. His strikeout rate, 9.89, rose more than one per nine innings over 2007, though his walk rate was a bit high, at 4.56. The sink on his fastball also allowed him to keep 45 percent of balls in play on the ground. If he improves that walk rate in 2010 he could fit the mold of a true ace.
His new contract represents good value for the Brewers while providing ample personal security. His injury history consists only of the minor knee surgery from spring 2008, plus the freak ACL tear from the same year. Other than that he’s been relatively healthy, so only the normal pitching concerns apply. It’s understandable, still, why Gallardo would want to secure a guaranteed $30 million. He probably left a bit of money on the table through his arbitration years, but that’s expected of these types of extensions.
The deal represents a near duplicate of the extension Jon Lester signed with the Red Sox before the 2009 season. Both Lester and Gallardo had a bit over two years’ service time at the time of extension, and the payout seems similar, as all figures are within $500,000. Boston negotiated a smaller buyout of the sixth year, $13 million option, just $250,000, but these are essentially identical. In addition to similar service time, they also pitched a similar number of innings upon signing, 354.2 for Lester and 327, including Monday’s seven-inning start, for Gallardo.
Even if the Brewers pick up the 2015 option, that would leave Gallardo a free agent at age 31. We’ve seen a number of pitchers cash in at that age. A.J. Burnett was 32 when he signed his five-year, $82.5 million contract, and John Lackey, who signed the same deal this off-season, is 31 himself. Josh Beckett, who just signed a four-year, $68 million extension, will be 31 in the first year of the deal. The market will likely be different by 2016, but if Gallardo stays healthy he’ll surely get one more big payday.