Performance, not money, best barometer of success
PHILADELPHIA -- We've reached a point where money is often viewed as just another statistic. The expectations for a player may be measured by his traditional stats, his advanced metrics and his salary. Teams with a high payroll have the aura of contenders, clubs with lower player costs are usually viewed as underdogs.
There's some merit in that, too. The big stars generally get the big bucks, especially once they get closer to free agency. And talent usually prevails in the long run.
But here's the thing: Once the lineup cards are exchanged, once the national anthem is played, once the between-innings timer is activated, it all comes down to performance. For the next three hours, give or take, the number of zeroes on the paychecks don't matter.
For further reference on that subject, we need look no further than Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night. The Phillies beat the Red Sox, 4-2, even though the pitching matchup seemed to heavily favor Boston, which sent Rick Porcello to the mound to face right-hander Aaron Harang.
Porcello was fresh off signing that four-year, $82.5 million contract extension before throwing his first regular-season pitch for the Red Sox. Harang is with his seventh team in the past six seasons and is making a base salary of $5 million, barely above the Major League average.
Porcello pitched pretty well, registering a quality start.
Harang was even better on a night when a dank mist drifted lazily through the bright night lights for most of the game. He pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings, striking out eight, six of them in the first three frames. Harang gave up just two singles and retired 18 of the first 19 batters he faced.
Not bad for a guy who was with the Reds in 2010, Padres in '11, Dodgers in '12, Mariners and Mets in '13 and Braves last season. Not bad for a guy who turns 37 next month and twice had Grapefruit League outings pushed back because of back problems. Not bad for a guy who was facing a lineup that mashed five home runs on Opening Day.
Harang has an interesting perspective on the whole phenomenon. After all, about a decade ago, he was in Porcello's position. Harang led the National League in strikeouts and complete games in 2006. He finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting the following year. Harang also had three straight seasons of pitching more than 200 innings.
"When guys are slotted as top-tier pitchers, it's fun to go out and compete against those guys," Harang said. "I used to be in that role. I spent a number of years in that role. As you get older, you kind of fall out of that role, because younger guys come up. I've been fortunate enough to be in that situation. I've made enough money to where I'm not worried about that. I want to go out and play and have fun and win.
"[How much money a player makes] depends on where you're at in your career, what organization you're with at the time, how you've been doing at the time. ... Don't get me wrong. Porcello is a great pitcher. I've faced him for a number of years. You're happy for those guys when they do sign deals like that. It's just one of those things."
Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson were all brought in by the Red Sox during the offseason to bolster the rotation. Harang, apparently, wasn't on their radar. He didn't sign with the Phils until January.
"Not that I knew of. Obviously it was a situation where there were other guys ahead of me," Harang said with a shrug. "For me, anymore, it's just going out and winning. Giving the team a chance to win. I know what I'm out there to do. I know what my job is when I go out there. That's to get us deep into the game and give us a chance to win. That's what it comes down to for me."
The Red Sox were thrilled to lock up the 26-year-old Porcello now. Manager John Farrell talked before Wednesday night's game about how important it was to ensure that a talented young pitcher entering what should be the prime years of his career won't be going anywhere for a while. And there's no reason to suspect that this won't turn out to be an astute move for Boston.
Ultimately, though, that will be determined by how well Porcello pitches, not how much money he makes.
After all, the Phillies' biggest hit of the night was a three-run homer off Porcello in the sixth. And you can be sure that Jeff Francoeur wasn't thinking that his Major League base salary is $925,000 when he nailed it.