GOODYEAR, Ariz. - Homer Bailey brought the Reds a couple of historic moments by pitching no-hitters in each of the last two seasons. They got creative to make sure he'll be around for several more years.
Committed a lot of money, too.
Bailey agreed to a six-year, $105 million contract that makes him a cornerstone of the Reds' formidable rotation. It's the latest big-money deal in Cincinnati, which has committed a lot of money to a core of players over the next few years.
"Everybody's reluctant to give out a big contract like this," owner Bob Castellini said on Thursday. "We're all human."
The Reds aren't paying like other small-market clubs. Bailey's deal showed they're looking for creative ways to keep players around and remain a contender. The Reds have reached the playoffs in three of the last four seasons but failed to get past the first round.
"I can't speak for them," Castellini said, referring to other small-market teams. "We have made a pact with our fans and our market that we will be contenders year-in and year-out, and that is a very difficult thing to accomplish."
The Reds' opening day payroll was $109.4 million last season, which ranked 13th out of the 30 clubs. St. Louis was the only team in the NL Central with a higher payroll at $115.2 million.
Bailey's deal leaves them responsible for four significant contracts signed in the last few years.
First baseman Joey Votto has a 10-year, $225 million deal through 2023. Second baseman Brandon Phillips has a six-year, $72.5 million deal through 2017. Outfielder Jay Bruce has a six-year, $51 million deal through 2016. In 2016 alone, the Reds will owe more than $63 million to those four players, assuming none has been traded.
"Everybody talks about a small-market team," Castellini said. "We're a small-market team with a big-market baseball heart and a great tradition."
The Reds sold out 16 games at Great American Ball Park last season and drew 2.49 million fans, a record for the park's 11 years. The Reds finished third in the division and lost the wild card game at Pittsburgh.
Bailey went 11-12 last year with a career-best 3.49 ERA. He threw a no-hitter against San Francisco on July 2 at Great American, his second in two seasons. He was eligible for arbitration and had to decide whether he wanted to make a long-term commitment to the team that chose him seventh overall in the June 2004 amateur draft.
Dusty Baker was fired as manager after another playoff flameout and pitching coach Bryan Price was elevated to manager. Bailey called his new manager to get a feel for the club's intentions.
"One of the things I asked him was: Where are we going? What are we trying to do here?" Bailey said. "If it's a thing where we're sneaking in in third place with a very talented team, I don't want to be part of that.
"I want to be (part of) winning divisions, going deep in the playoffs and being competitive every year. And in just talking with him, it seems that's the goal of this organization, so that says a lot."
Bailey gets salaries of $9 million this year, $10 million in 2015, $18 million in 2016, $19 million in 2017, $21 million in 2018 and $23 million in 2019. There's a $25 million mutual option for 2020 with a $5 million buyout.
In an unusual twist, much of the annual salary will be deferred until the November after each season, helping the Reds with their cash flow. General manager Walt Jocketty said the deal wouldn't have worked without that structure. If Bailey is traded, the new team would have to pay all of the salary on a regular basis.
Starter Johnny Cueto is entering the final season on a four-year, $27 million deal. His contract includes a club option for $10 million next year. Others will be in line for big raises in arbitration.
"It's going to be tough," Jocketty said. "When their time comes, we'll evaluate where we are financially and see what we can do."