The Seattle Mariners proudly re-signed Jamie Moyer to complete the offseason task of resigning its four top free agent today. Moyer landed a deal which will pay him between $15.5 and $21.5 M, depending on his performance, over the next three years. He also represented himself to pocket a little extra change. Moyer pitched well this year and was pursued by a few other teams. I'm not sure what the other teams offered but I was very surprised that the M's offered three years. Why, do you ask? Well, Moyer will be turning 43 just as the contract expires in three years. The other three ancient Mariners who were just resigned are Dan Wilson, Edgar Martinez, and John Olerud, and the average age of the four of them is 37.
It got me to wondering about the prospects of resigning a 40-year-old for three years, even one that won 13 games, were. There was a good bit of press explaining why giving future Hall-of-Famer a four-year contract was a bad idea since he would be forty when said contract expired. Given that Moyer is something short of a Hall-of-Fame caliber pitcher and will be 40 when the contract starts, I am left wondering why there hasn't been a great deal of backlash. ESPN touts it has the fulfillment of Seattle's offseason plan.
Well, here is a list of all pitchers, 40 in total, who won 10 or more games at the age of 39 followed by their performance in the next three years:
Of the forty in the list, only eleven averaged 10 or more wins over the next three years. And we're talking a bunch Hall-of-Famers and near HoFers here. So one might say that giving a successful 40-year-old is a bad gamble.
However, is there something that sets Moyer apart? Is his career unusual in some way? I would say that it is. Looking at his record, one notices that Moyer made it to the big leagues at age 23, and pitched 200 innings in both his second and third years. By his third year his ERA was better than average, and he appeared to have a fairly successful career ahead of him even though he had yet to have a .500 or better full season.
But Moyer would go another 9 seasons before he again throw 200 innings (in the majors, he did it in 1993 when his Triple-A innings are added in) even though he was healthy in all but one of those seasons. In the process he went through seven organizations and was released by four of them. His age-26 through 29 seasons were extremely poor, and by the end of them, he was attempting to get back to the majors from Triple-A clubs in three different organizations, two of which released him. He finally managed to make it back with Baltimore at age 30. From that point forward he pitched better than average (ERA-wise) in eight of his next ten seasons.
He was traded to the Mariners in 1997 for Darren Bragg and has pitched well in all but one (his injury plagued 2000 season) for Seattle. Since joining Seattle at age 33, his win total each year has exceeded his pre-Seattle high (12, done twice) each year. He has also managed to top 200 innings in 4 of the last 5 years.
So it appears that Moyer has had something of an unusual career. Will the circuitous route to success as well as the fewer innings pitched in the usual prime years aid him over the length of this contract? That remains to be seen. He may be another Phil Niekro, but I still think that paying him $5M+ a season for three years is a big risk.