Before all of the hubbub over the $147 million Zack Greinke contract, the $175 million Felix Hernandez contract, the $180 million Justin Verlander contract and what figures to soon be the first $300 million contract to Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers snuck in a high-dollar contact that, for the most part, went under the radar. Granted, it wasn’t a 9-figure contract like those mentioned above, but it was an 8-figure contract, yet nobody ever talked about it – not Dodger fans and more incredibly not even the media. But what is perhaps most amazing is that it occurred while Frank McCourt still owned the team.
That contract belongs to Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley and it was a three-year/$35 million contract extension that was signed during spring training 2011 and didn’t even start until the 2012 season.
Now before you accuse me of being critical of Billingsley’s contract, let me assure you that I absolutely am not. In fact, it is now a great contract for all parties involved. I will admit, however, that I was not a big fan of it at the time simply because Bills had a head-scratching history of having his wheels fall off the very instant that he hit 85 pitches – almost without fail.
The incredible thing about this 85-pitch mark is that it isn’t a random or arbitrary number – it is a number that you can pretty much take to the bank. But what blew me away most is that Chad could be throwing a no-hitter or even a perfect game through four or five innings, but as soon as he hit 85 pitches, he would have a sudden meltdown inning and end up allowing consecutive hits and often times three, four or even five runs; and then just as quickly he would suddenly find himself again and allow no more runs. In my many years as a baseball fan I have never seen anything like it.
Although Bills will ultimately end up having spent more than half of his three-year contract on the DL recovering from his April 2013 Tommy John surgery (that should have taken place in August of 2012), he will still have roughly three months remaining on his contract upon his projected return sometime around the All-Star break. But what makes his current contract attractive to the Dodgers is that Chad has a $14 million club option for 2015 or a $3 million buyout.
In essence this means that if Billingsley struggles upon his return from Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers could save $11 million by not exercising their 2015 option on him; but if he comes back strong (and there’s no reason to think that he won’t), they can pay him the $14 million for the 2015 season, which will most likely be under the going rate for a top-of-the-rotation free agent starter next off-season. The big question, of course, is will Billingsley still be considered a top-of-the-rotation starter less that two years after Tommy John surgery?
I’m sure that I am not the only Dodger fan who had visions of the lefty/righty duo of Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley becoming the next Koufax and Drysdale; in fact, I actually heard this quite often. But realistically, it is now far more likely that it will be Kershaw and Zack Greinke who will draw these comparisons, not Kershaw and Billingsley. If baseball has taught us anything, it has taught us the the game waits for no one – especially for those who spend an excessive amount of time on the disabled list.
To his credit, it takes only a quick glance at Billingsley’s career numbers to realize that he has been pretty good in his eight major league seasons – all with the Dodgers. The 29-year-old Defiance, Ohio native has a career 81-61 record with a career ERA of 3.65. He has a career K/9 ratio of 7.9 (good), a career BB/9 ratio of 3.8 (not good), and a career K/BB ratio of 2.11 (bad). He also has a career WHIP of 1.361, which is more indicative of a back-of-the-rotation guy rather than a top-of-the-rotation guy. By comparison, Kershaw’s and Greinke’s career WHIP are 1.092 and 1.233 respectively (Koufax’s was 1.106 and Drysdale’s 1.148).
While no one knows for sure how effective Billingsley will be when he returns from his Tommy John surgery, both he and the Dodgers are in a pretty good position contract-wise; and I, for one, hope that he puts himself in a position where the Dodgers can’t wait to pick up his option for 2015.