Penny deal worth the risk

December, 29, 2008
The Red Sox have made a minor habit of picking up a once-good, broken-down starter on a one-year deal, reaping modest returns but never quite hitting the big score they were hoping to land. Assuming he passes his physical on Jan. 7, Brad Penny's contract would fit that pattern.

If we figure that the downside of Penny's deal is probably seasons like Wade Miller's 2005 or Bartolo Colon's 2008 -- both were moderately effective when pitching, and neither actively hurt the club -- the risk doesn't seem all that high, and the reward runs anywhere up to Penny's outstanding performances in 2006 and 2007. The odds are against the latter scenario, of course, but a short-duration deal for a few million dollars is probably about right given the risk. And if Penny gives the Red Sox even 100 innings of league-average pitching, he could help them manage the development of Clay Buchholz or get them through an injury to any of their four established starters.

I'm surprised that the Penny deal doesn't include some kind of option for 2010 for Boston, whether a club option or a vesting option based on Penny's starts or innings pitched. You can only sign a player to terms he and his agents will accept, of course, but if you're putting your money on the line for a player who could, in theory, miss the year and have shoulder surgery on your dime, shouldn't you also be able to participate in more of the upside if the player plays well and dispels doubts about his health? A team could even structure such a deal with a club option if the player throws at least, say, 120 innings, that becomes a mutual option (giving the player the opportunity to avoid the club option) if he throws 180 innings; this caps the team's upside, so the player has an incentive to keep playing and playing well, and the agent doesn't have to worry that he gave away the farm.

It's possible that Penny's side just wouldn't accept a team option of any stripe, but the team option should be more common in deals like this one than it actually is.

Keith Law

ESPN Senior Writer



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