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John Danks works way off "worst contract" list

White Sox's No. 4 starter provided enough quantity to create enough quality

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Over at Grantland, Jonah Keri posted his third annual list of baseball's worst contracts.

For the first time, the White Sox aren't on it.

The Sox placed the same two players on the list in the first two installments. Adam Dunn left the hard way, playing out his contract and then retiring.

John Danks, with two years and $28.5 million still left on his deal, worked his way out of the column entirely. That's pretty remarkable considering Keri said Danks had the 11th-worst contract in 2013:

Given the money being paid to some truly mediocre pitchers over the next few years, we can’t go too nuclear on the four years and $57 million left on Danks’s deal. In Danks, the White Sox also have a 27-year-old lefty starter who averaged about four Wins Above Replacement per season from 2008 through 2011. On the other hand, Danks got hammered for a 5.70 ERA over nine starts last season, didn’t throw a single pitch in a major league game after May, and had shoulder surgery in August. The White Sox are saying he’ll be ready for Opening Day, but we’ve heard plenty of similar promises for pitchers coming off shoulder surgeries in the past, many of them later broken. The hope is that we’re overrating the recency effect here, that Danks will rebound to career norms shortly, and that a year from now, this ranking will look ridiculous. And that the words "Carl Pavano" and "Yankees" will never be uttered at New Comiskey.

And in 2014, it crept up (or down) to No. 7:

Danks made this list last year, and what I said then still applies: If he can return to good health, the rest of his contract could work out fine. It’s hard not to assume the worst, though, after 2012 surgery to "repair capsule tear and rotator cuff and biceps tendon debridement," followed by a 63-day DL stint last year for inflammation in that same surgically repaired shoulder. Danks did make 22 starts in 2013, but he posted defense-independent results that were no better than those he delivered during the tumultuous period leading up to his surgery.

Danks has gone from being one of the best pitchers in the game at age 23 to throwing what we can only hope is something better than batting-practice fodder at age 28. Pitching is a cruel profession. And the White Sox are on the hook for a considerable sum regardless of which Danks surfaces this year.

This year? Danks didn't earn so much as a dishonorable mention. Just to confirm it wasn't an oversight, I tweeted Keri about it. This doesn't quite register as an ringing endorsement ...

... and it shouldn't, since Danks is still underdelivering on his salary. Yet the relatively short duration didn't get Danks off the hook by itself. Keri lists seven worse two-year commitments, and even a one-year deal for good measure:

  • No. 7: Ryan Howard (two years, $60 million)
  • DM: Nick Swisher (two years, $30 million)
  • DM: Michael Bourn (two years, $27.5 million)
  • DM: Edwin Jackson (two years, $22 million)
  • DM: Bronson Arroyo (one year, $14 million)
  • DM: Carlos Beltran (two years, $30 million)
  • DM: Mark Teixeira (two years, $45 million)
  • DM: CC Sabathia (two years, $53 million)

The difference between Danks and the pitchers above: Danks made 32 starts and threw 194 innings last year. He might've had the highest ERA (4.74) and third-lowest fWAR (0.8) of any pitcher to throw 190 innings, but it takes a certain measure of quality to reach 32 starts and 190 innings to begin with. He reached that workload with plenty of useful outings. He tossed 20 quality starts, or one more than Mark Buehrle, two more than Justin Verlander and four more than Brandon McCarthy.

That's also the biggest separator between 2014 Danks and 2013 Danks. Danks only improved his ERA by one-hundredth of a run last season, but he threw 55 more innings, which was 55 innings that thoroughly Triple-A pitchers didn't have to throw. Danks took the long, hard road back to "credible MLB starter" status, and with the lack of depth at the upper levels, if the Sox didn't have Danks, they would need a pitcher like him. Sure, they'd rather pay him $4.25 million a year than $14.25 million, but that money's spent, and as that list above shows, it could be spent more poorly.

Following up on Friday's discussion, the Tigers placed Verlander (No. 10) and Miguel Cabrera (dishonorable mention) on the list. Victor Martinez could make it three next season if his knee injury isn't the best-case scenario.