As I peruse the various Major League Baseball transaction and injury reports whilst sipping my morning coffee, I am constantly amazed at the seemingly endless supply of perseverance among starting pitchers. The Kerry Woods of the world. The Erik Bedards of the world. The Justin Duchscherers of the world. Through all of their trips to the disabled list, their many rehab stints, all the operations, the exploratory surgeries, the extended spring trainings, the critiques about their fragility: They still fight to make their way back to the pitcher’s mound once again… What drives them? Pretty simple, actually: money…
The sport of baseball is very unique in that most baseball teams will go to great lengths to acquire a pitcher whose strong arm can carry them to the elusive goal: the World Series championship. But a what cost? Kerry Wood was a “can’t miss” pitcher when he was selected as the fourth pick in the 1995 Baseball Amateur Draft by the Chicago Cubs. A kid who threw a blazing fastball, Wood quickly climbed the minor league ladder, and made his debut with the Cubs in April, 1998. In just his fifth major league start, he recorded a twenty strikeout performance, tying the record set by Roger Clemens. He went on to win the National League Rookie of the Year award, in spite of finishing the season on the disabled list with a sore elbow. The following season, Wood underwent Tommy John surgery, and did not return until the 2000 season. After pitching for three seasons relatively pain-free with a modicum of success, Wood has suffered a variety of injuries, landing him on the DL at least 8 times since that span. In his career, Wood has made over $60 million, and currently holds a $10.5 million contract for 2010 with the Cleveland Indians, even though he may not start the season until mid-to-late May.
Erik Bedard, who debuted in 2002 with the Baltimore Orioles, is another example. Bedard quickly showed promise, but also showed his frailty, with an elbow injury prolonging his development in 2003. After coming back and showing promise for a couple of seasons, Bedard was traded to the Seattle Mariners in February, 2008. Bedard enjoyed a stint on the DL during that season, and then a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder ended his 2009 season in July. In spite of the history of injuries, the Mariners resigned Bedard for the 2010 season with an option for 2011, even though he won’t throw his first pitch until at least late May.
Justin Duchscherer, a pitcher for the Oakland Athletics now in is eighth season, had to leave Thursday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays with an undisclosed hip injury. Duchscherer, who has had a history of hip ailments dating back to 2007, missed all of last season due to shoulder and back injuries, and was fighting clinical depression as well. Again, in spite of the history, the A’s signed him once again for the 2010 season.
What is the draw for major league teams to continue signing pitchers with questionable medical histories. Critics will argue that the reward far outweighs the risk. For the player, it’s an absolute no-brainer, since the contract is guaranteed whether he throws one pitch or not. Win-win for them. If Kerry Wood comes back in late May, throws ten pitches and then blows out his shoulder or elbow, he still makes the $10.5 million owed to him by the Indians. If Duchscherer doesn’t throw another pitch this season, he still walks away with $2 million. That is EXACTLY why these particular pitchers continue to work to get back. They know that if their comeback is not successful, they GET PAID REGARDLESS! Seems fair, right?
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