A couple of years ago, Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels had the right idea, and he executed it perfectly.
See, baseball has always been about pitching, even when steroid-bloated hitters tried to make it about home runs. So Daniels did what any smart GM with a quality young rotation would do: He locked his starting pitchers up long term.
We all know signing big-time free-agent starting pitchers is a crapshoot because you have to overpay to acquire them. Even if you do sign them, a lot of times they get hurt, and it seems half of those who maintain their health seemingly struggle with the ridiculous expectations that accompany their huge deals.
General managers would prefer to pay their own guys because they know their work ethic and their health holds no surprises.
With Yu Darvish signed for six years and $56 million, Daniels signed Derek Holland to a five-year, $28.5 million deal with club options that could keep him with the Rangers through 2018. Ten months later, Matt Harrison signed for five years and $55 million. In November 2013, Martin Perez signed a four-year deal after a sterling rookie season that guarantees him $12.5 million, but the club has three options that could keep him around through 2020.
Well, three weeks into spring training, the Rangers rotation is in shambles and Daniels' master plan is a disaster.
An MRI revealed that Darvish, one of baseball's best pitchers, has a partially torn ligament in his right elbow. He is getting a second opinion in New York on Tuesday, but there is a good chance he needs Tommy John surgery, which would force him to miss the 2015 season.
That's about as depressing as it gets if you're a Rangers fan. The reality of Darvish's injury is that it means you can pretty much pencil in Texas for another last-place finish in the American League West. Another 90-loss season is certainly a possibility, no matter how much first-year manager Jeff Banister talks about Darvish's injury creating an opportunity for others to prove they belong in the big leagues.
"I will be disappointed if I have to miss this season, but I want to look at all the options, including getting a second opinion, before I make a final decision," Darvish said in a statement. "In the meantime, my heart is with my teammates, and our focus remains on accomplishing our goals for the season."
Obviously, somebody will take Darvish's place in the rotation, but there's no one on the roster with the potential to throw a no-hitter every time he takes the mound. There's no one with the ability to win 20 games this season or strike out 10 batters every time he starts a game.
And there's certainly no one in the rotation who evokes the confidence Darvish does in his teammates. The Rangers expect to win, as they should, every time Darvish starts.
Blame the baseball gods, or the curse of Nolan Ryan. Perhaps Daniels made a pact with the devil to get the Rangers, a largely irrelevant franchise for their first 38 seasons in Arlington, Texas, into the World Series in 2010 and 2011.
There's no logical explanation for how such a good plan went awry.
Harrison, who has had three back-related surgical procedures in an attempt to pitch again, has started just six games since signing his contract. He made four starts last season before undergoing spinal fusion surgery on two disks in his lower back.
Holland missed virtually all of last season after tripping over his dog, tumbling down the stairs in his home and injuring his knee. Nope, you can't make this stuff up. Holland had microfracture surgery to repair the injury and had a 1.46 ERA in six September appearances. He went 10-9 with a 3.42 ERA in his first year after signing his long-term deal.
Perez, 10-6 with a 3.42 ERA in 2013, made just eight starts last year, going 4-3 with 4.38 ERA, before having Tommy John surgery. He is expected to return this summer.
Darvish, who is 39-25 with a 3.27 ERA and 680 strikeouts in 545⅓ innings in the majors, will be out for an extended period of time, whether he has surgery or not.
Much like ACL injuries in football, Tommy John surgery no longer has the same connotation it once did. The injury doesn't end careers or rob pitchers of their skills. These days, many pitchers return to routinely throw just as hard as they did before their injury.
But we all know guarantees don't exist when it comes to rehabbing injuries. Look no further than Jurickson Profar, who is about to miss his second consecutive season with a shoulder injury.
Daniels has no time for a pity party. He must quickly figure out what to do with a rotation that's now in shambles and an ace whose future is uncertain.