Reworking Kenta Maeda’s contract

Photo: Stacie Wheeler

In August, Dave Roberts announced that Kenta Maeda would be shifted to the Dodgers’ bullpen along with Alex Wood. This move was made to try to fill the hole left by Kenley Jansen, who was sidelined when his heart condition resurfaced. It was a decision that was needed to be made at the time, but it was also one that that hurt Maeda financially.

This offseason, one of the first decisions the Dodgers had to make was working on a new deal to keep Clayton Kershaw in Dodger Blue, and rightfully so. But now that we know Kershaw isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, perhaps it’s time to rework Maeda’s contract before the 2019 season in order to compensate him fairly for his service. Whether he is slated to primarily be a starter, or if he should continue to pitch in the role of a swing-man type both in the starting rotation and the bullpen like he did this past season, his incentives should reflect his role flexibility.

The Dodgers signed Maeda to a very team friendly deal before the 2016 offseason for 8 years and $25 million guaranteed. The incentives written into his contract could bring the total value to $106.2 million, but that would require him to remain in the starting rotation to hit inning requirements laid out. After a $1 million signing bonus, his salary is $3 annually through 2023.

  • Maeda will receive $150,000 each year for making the opening day active 25-man roster.
  • He will receive $1 million for each of 15 and 20 starts, and $1.5 million for each of 25, 30 and 32 starts.
  • Maeda each year will earn $250,000 for each of 90, 100, 110, 120, 130, 140, 150, 160, 170, 180 and 190 innings pitched, and $750,000 for 200 innings.
  • In addition, Maeda receives a $1 million bonus each time he is traded.

At the time of his signing, Maeda acknowledged there were some “irregularities” in his physical that factored into the incentive-heavy contract he agreed to. But since 2016, Maeda has pitched more innings (435 1/3) than any other Dodger pitcher besides Kershaw. He has landed on the disabled list for both likely real and possibly dubious injuries, but his arm hasn’t been a problem.

After a dominant showing out of the Dodgers’ bullpen in 2017, many thought that Maeda would end up to be more valuable to the team as a late-inning reliever or setup man. While his 2018 season could be considered a step back in the pen, he proved to be valuable as both a starter and a reliever and was extremely adaptable when asked to play both roles despite the sacrifice he made when it came to his incentives.

As far as the idea to rework Maeda’s contract to compensate him for his relief duties, it isn’t a new one.

As a starter, Maeda has a career 3.84 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 1.181 WHIP with 9.6 K/9 (25.7 K%) in 409 2/3 innings. As a reliever, he holds a 3.16 ERA, 2.81 FIP, 1.130 WHIP, and 12.6 K/9 (34 K%) in 25 2/3 innings.

So, where does Maeda fit into the Dodgers’ pitching 2019 pitching staff?

The Dodgers’ starting rotation could look something like this at some point next season:

Of course they could also add to the rotation via trade. Per Ken Rosenthal, the Dodgers have been linked to the Cleveland Indians in trade discussions this hot stove season. While the Dodgers don’t seem have starting pitching as one of their target areas this offseason, a right-handed pitcher like Corey Kluber could fit nicely into the top of the rotation and would cost a lot less than a Zack Greinke would. Alex looked at the scenarios of a trade between the two teams. It’s a good fit considering the Indians have a need for an outfielder, and the Dodgers have a surplus of them.

When it comes to starting pitching depth, the Dodgers also have Dennis Santana, Ross Stripling and Wood. Santana only has 3.2 innings of experience in the majors, Stripling tailed off toward the end of the season after his excellent first half earned him his first career All-Star nod, and I’m not sure where Wood fits in at this point after struggling at both starting and relieving. Wood struggled mightily down the stretch with a 6.57 ERA and 1.622 WHIP in September. He also allowed four runs on eight hits (5.40 ERA) and opposing batters hit .296 off him in nine postseason appearances for the Dodgers in October.

So the Dodgers are still in relatively good shape as far as starting pitching, and thus Maeda seems likely to bounce between roles in 2019 again. If we start to consider how to rework Maeda’s contract, perhaps we can look at Adam Wainwright‘s new heavily incentive-laden contract he recently signed with the St. Louis Cardinals for reference. It includes bonuses for both starting and relieving.

Baseball is a business. Yet there’s something to be said about the moral implications of compensating players fairly for their services, something Brim wrote about when it comes to Maeda and his contract. The right thing to do would be to rework Maeda’s contract, and it also has the added benefit of preempting any unhappiness from Maeda or conflict with his agents.

Get it done, Dodgers.

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I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention the fact that Maeda wore a shirt making fun of his old friend on the Hiroshima Carp, Takahiro Arai, during the Japan All-Star Series.

Maeda also took the mound and pitched two shutout innings, and Japan went on to win the game 5-3 over the MLBers.

If his pitching isn’t valuable enough to spur the front office to do the right thing and rework his contract, Maeda’s jokes certainly should be incentivized accordingly.

About Stacie Wheeler

Stacie Wheeler
Stacie Wheeler, born and raised in So Cal, has been writing about the Dodgers since 2010. She wrote daily as the co-editor of Lasorda's Lair for five long years, and she has also written for Dodgers Nation, Dodger Blue 1958 and The Hardball Times. She currently contributes to True Blue LA. Stacie graduated from the University Of Southern California with a bachelor's degree in Cinema-Television. You can also watch her videos on her YouTube channel, DishingUpTheDodgers.