The Kansas City Royals have signed Jeremy Guthrie to a 3-year deal worth $25 million dollars, perhaps setting the market for the remaining free agent pitchers at a worryingly high level.
Jeremy Guthrie had a good time in Kansas City, of that there's no question. Pulled from his awful placement in Coors, Guthrie found himself and then some in his 90 innings of work with Kansas City, keeping the ball in the zone and pitching his way to a 3.16 ERA with a 3.84 FIP to go with it.
Of course, that's just 90 innings in a career with some 1200 of them, and Jeremy Guthrie is a 33-year-old with a career 4.28 ERA, 4.74 FIP, and who "pitches to contact" despite having a pretty low ground ball rate. For every above-average season he's had, there's a below-average one to match it, and on the whole you're left with, at best, the picture of a pretty middling pitcher who's not likely to get better as the years go on.
And this is the pitcher who got three years?
It's not a huge contract, but how do the rest of the free agent pitchers see it? How do Edwin Jackson and Anibal Sanchez look at that and not have their eyes light up? Zack Greinke is too far off in the stratosphere for this to effect him much, but for the guys who clearly set themselves and are themselves set on another level from Guthrie by general managers, this could be the sort of deal they base their contracts off of.
And if they do go that route, what can we expect? If a guy like Guthrie costs three years and $25 million, how do you convince Edwin Jackson, four years younger and more impressive in recent years, that he's not worth a longer commitment? How do you convince Anibal Sanchez that four straight years of sub-4.00 ERA ball isn't worth twice what Guthrie got?
Of course, it all comes down to what teams are willing to spend. All the expectations in the world are worthless if nobody is willing to front the bill. But, barring some sort of collusion, we're basically left hoping that other general managers shrug their shoulders and chalk it up to Dayton Moore being Dayton Moore. Because if they credit this as a sign of the times--as Buster Olney seems to hear is the case--then I wouldn't be surprised to see some of them start to jump on other options before things get any crazier. Nobody wants to have their backs to the wall if this is where the market sits.