Fourteen years after being selected in the fourth round of the Draft by the Chicago Cubs, Rich Hill at last reached financial security, signing a three-year, $48 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Hill is nearly the first nor last professional athlete to overcome challenges. But his rise to prosperity is hardly commonplace. Failed tenures with the Cubs, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and New York Yankees led to soul searching for and pitching in the Independent League in 2015.
“I never thought I was done,” an emotional Hill said from the Winter Meetings after the Dodgers announced they’d re-signed the 36-year-old.
“I always knew with the ability that I had and the desire that was always there, was something that never left. So being able to stay healthy was one of the main things and never quit.”
Hill joined the Red Sox in September 2015 and went 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA, 2.27 FIP, 0.65 WHIP and averaged 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings over four starts.
He turned that into a one-year, $6 million contract with the Oakland Athletics. Hill carried his success into 2016 and was arguably the top starting pitcher available at the non-waiver trade deadline. That was despite being on the 15-day disabled list due to a nagging blister.
Rather than empty their farm system to acquire the likes of Chris Archer or Chris Sale, the Dodgers traded Hill and teammate Josh Reddick. There were setbacks in Hill’s return from the DL, but he ultimately proved to be a strong complement to Clayton Kershaw.
The fiery left-hander went 3-2 with a 1.83 ERA and 2.07 FIP in six starts. In a market short on free-agent pitchers, Hill stood at the top. There were rumblings of a desire to return to the East Coast, though he spoke enthusiastically of potentially re-signing with the Dodgers.
Hill reiterated that stance Monday. “The intensity to win, that’s something that we wanted and something that we wanted to come back to,” he said. “We want to be a part of that, we want to bring a championship to L.A.”
As the troublesome blister that the Dodgers cautiously monitored, Hill called it an “outlier” and doesn’t anticipate it being an issue. Even if it resurfaces, the Dodgers have the depth to accommodate Hill, and clearly value what he brings to the club.
“You see the competition, consistency and his focus and preparation, and there’s a lot of intensity and that huge competitor in him,” manager Dave Roberts said.
“For me, the coaches, the organization, these are the type of players that, as Andrew [Friedman, president of baseball operations] said, we bet on and that we want as a part of our organization.”
Although Hill now has the long-term contract that evaded him throughout his career, it’s not lending to any sort of relief. “I look forward to getting back in the gym and getting ready for Spring Training,” Hill said.
“I think that’s really the best thing that anybody can do is stay in the moment.”