How have they handled him? McCullough puts it succinctly for those unaware:
He prepares to be a starter during spring training. Over the course of two dozen outings, he performs like a credible member of the rotation. As summer turns to fall, the team shifts him into the bullpen, where he pitches like an elite reliever and forms part of the bridge to closer Kenley Jansen.
Thing is, it works for the team. But it’s also not great for Maeda personally. He makes $3 million a year on a long-term deal, and that’s way less than the value he provides. His way of making up for that when he signed the deal was building in performance bonuses into his contract that could snag him millions more each year. Specifically:
$1M each for 15 and 20 games started;
$1.5M each for 25, 30, and 32 games started;
$250,000 each for 90, 100, 110, 120, 130, 140, 150, 160, 170, 180, and 190 innings pitched; and
$750,000 for 200 innings pitched.
In the four seasons Maeda has had that deal — 2016 through 2019 — he has started 32, 25, 20 and 26 games, respectively. His innings over that span: 175.2, 134.1, 125.1, and 153.2. The operation of that $3 million base plus incentives means that his salary has gone from $7.25 million in 2016, down to $4.25 million in 2017, down to $3 million in 2018, and then bouncing back up to $5.4 million in 2019.
Maeda has been a somewhat more effective pitcher as a reliever than as a starter, but that would probably track for most starters. Either way, it’s a workload that Maeda, who won the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award twice before coming to the United States, would like to see expanded.
Given that Hyun-Jin Ryu is a free agent and may not be back, he might have a chance to see that happen this year. But then again, he has been a part of the rotation every offseason and every early season for the past four years. Starting in September and October has been another story.