Injuries crushing long-term pitching plans

The idea was pretty simple and logical: Choose the young pitchers you believed in and sign them to club-friendly, long-term deals to get an early discount on a future investment. And in the process, assemble a starting rotation that would be together for years to come, leading an annual contender.

That was the plan, anyway.

It's how Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and his staff approached a handful of young starters. And it made perfect sense.

It started with Derek Holland, who ended the 2011 season with a masterful Game 4 start against the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, helping the Rangers even a series they would eventually lose in seven games. After that season, Holland signed a five-year, $28.5 million guaranteed contract plus two club options ($11 million in 2017 and $11.5 million in 2018 -- those include buyouts that are included in the guaranteed number).

Holland went 12-7 in 2012 with a 4.67 ERA in 29 games (27 starts), then was 10-9 with a 3.42 ERA in 33 starts in 2013, making the contract look even better. That was until Holland's boxer, Wrigley, ran up the stairs at Holland's home and tripped him. That eventually caused surgery and was only the first of a long line of injuries this season.

Matt Harrison was the next to get a long-term contract and it happened after the lefty put together his second consecutive solid season, making 32 starts (his second straight season of at least 30 starts) and sporting a 3.29 ERA. His consistency earned him a five-year, $55 million guaranteed contract. That one includes a club option for the 2018 season.

Martin Perez finally showed signs of living up to high expectations in 2013, making 20 starts and finishing with 10 wins and a 3.62 ERA. He signed a four-year, $12.5 million contract with three club option years that could add up to $22.5 million more with $3.45 million in buyouts prior to the start of this season.

All three deals were supposed to solidify the rotation for years to come and were likely to favor the club. And with Yu Darvish signed through at least 2016, it appeared the club had the makings of a solid starting squad for the foreseeable future.

Injuries have changed all of that.

Harrison's back may require spinal fusion surgery. He could return, but it could also be career threatening. If he doesn't, that's $55 million spent on six starts, one win and a 5.79 ERA in 28 innings. In other words, $9.16 million per start. Again, that's assuming he doesn't start again. And no one is ready to say that at this point.

Holland's injury put a damper on an opportunity for the young pitcher to back up a good 2013 with a solid 2014. He can still do that, assuming he returns in June, as expected. But as we've seen, there are no guarantees.

Perez is likely headed toward Tommy John surgery, which would end his 2014 and mean he won't return for much of 2015. Will Perez be the same after undergoing the surgery? He might be, but no one knows for sure (see Neftali Feliz).

You can't fault the club for the idea of locking up its young pitchers. But it's a risk-reward proposition.

By spending long-term money, the club is betting that they'll make their fair share of starts every five days and they'll be successful doing it. The first part is necessary for the second to happen.

So far, that hasn't been the case.

None of these deals are lucrative to the point of severely handcuffing the team for years to come. But it's still some important money spent without proper return on investment so far. Every team has a budget, including the Rangers, and these expenditures impact that.

It's too early to fully evaluate the total investment. But so far, the stock isn't going up.