Goatriders of the Apocalypse

The case against Ryan Dempster

Rumors out of Chicago have the Cubs close to re-signing Ryan Dempster to a 4 year deal worth $50 million, or roughly $12 million per season.  This is about a year more than what I think Dempster deserves, and while it will be unpopular I'm prepared to make my case against him here.

First, let's look at the positives.  In his first season as a starter for the Cubs, Clownsevelt had a pretty kick ass season.  He went 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA before imploding in the playoffs.  For that reason, he's looking at a 7 to 10 million dollar per year pay raise, and I can understand why.

As a teammate, Dempster is well-liked and is well-known for keeping the boys loose.  On a team without a distinct leader-type, Dempster has to have some points accumulated toward his Leadership Factor Score.

In other words, Dempster was a reliable, good player in 2008.  Now, as to why I don't think he deserves it ...

At the age of 31, Dempster has played in 11 seasons in the majors.  In those 11 seasons, he's been a starter for 7 of them.  In those 7 turns as a starter, he's had exactly 2 seasons that were better than mediocre - 2000 and 2008.  His third best year was 2001 in which he went 15-12 with a 4.94 ERA and 112 walks in 211.1 innings pitched.

During the 2003 season, after having started the year with a 3-7 record and an ERA of 6.54, Dempster suffered damage to his elbow and required Tommy John Surgery.  According to Will Carroll, a guy who knows more than me about these sorts of things, TJS has an interesting side-effect - a pitcher's arm is pretty close to indestructible for the next 5 seasons.  After that, he's susceptible to re-injuring his arm.

While he's pitched well - but not spectacular - as a Cub before 2008, Dempster had to have been a tremendous surprise in the '08 season.  Then again, he was in a contract year.  But while I'm not predicting that he's likely to suffer arm problems next year - or ever again - I do think he's going to be hard-pressed to match his numbers from '08.

That isn't to say he won't be a bust in 2009.  My feelings are that he'll win more than 14 games but fewer than 17, and will have an ERA higher than 3 but lower than 4.  But while he very well may be a reliable pitcher next year, and even the year after that, considering how unlikely it is that he'll ever put up comparable numbers to this season - unless he's the right-handed Jamie Moyer, pitchers rarely enter a higher level of ability after they turn 30 - I just can't believe that he's worth the risk of a large, 4 year contract.

3 years plus an option I can get behind.  12 million a year per year I can accept. But let me also ask you this: considering how deep the free agency market is for starters this season, and especially considering how the economy is in the tank - which will certainly have an effect on the revenue of teams next season - isn't it possible that the Cubs would be able to sign a good starter even if they lost Dempster?

I realize it's a risky proposition, but I just have to think that Hendry and the Cubs could've found a replacement who will do as well and pay him less than what Dempster is bound to earn.

But then again, maybe I'm making much ado about a whole lot of nothing.  I suppose that 1 extra year on a contract shouldn't make or break bringing back Dempster, especially if he's agreable to something that pays 12 million or less.  I can certainly be accused of nit-picking in this case.  I just feel, I dunno, as if Hendry and the Cubs could've done better.

So, in conclusion, I'll simplify it by saying this:

  • He might not stay healthy for 4 years
  • He is unlikely to be as consistently good as he was in 2008
  • There are other free agents available who are just as likely to do as well as Dempster but may be less expensive
  • He's only had 2 good years ever, and it seems like an awful risk to throw 50 million at a guy with his track record

And that's all I have to say about that ... erm, for now.

The Case For Dempster, a rebuttal

I fully expect one of my fellow Goat Riders to strongly disagree with me.  I welcome one - or more - to post their thoughts in this article, here.  (I'm looking at you, Rob)

Glaring Problem

This is the biggest problem with your argument:

What better starter could the Cubs have signed for the deal you were ready to give? You say there are others, but who are these guys?

It's hard to say

Basically, there are only a handful of teams out there with money to spend this off season. Everybody else will be looking for bargains. But ask yourself this -

If there are only 3 or 4 teams with cash to burn, who will sign the following guys?

AJ Burnett
Jon Garland
Brad Penny
Braden Looper
Randy Johnson
Oliver Perez
Derek Lowe
Andy Pettitte
CC Sabathia
Ben Sheets
John Smoltz
Randy Wolf

I'm not saying the Cubs pursue all or even most of these guys, but all the players I just listed are considered A or B type free agents. While I wouldn't suggest that Pettitte, Wolf, Garland, Looper, or Johnson will surpass the production of Dempster next season, I *would* suggest that some of them should come close and a bunch of these free agents may even do better.

Again, if the economy is hurting and if few teams are looking to expand payroll, how many of these guys are going to get contracts which pay them even 36 million for 3 years? I'm sure *some* of the players on the above list will be lucky if they even get paid *10* million a year.

Certainly, a handful will get paydays bigger than Dempster's, but if I were Hendry I would probably let things play out a bit and either go with Samardzija, acquire a free agent pitcher who'd be less expensive and pursue another bat, or try to swing a trade.

At the end of the day, I'm just not confident that Dempster has the ability to live up to a big, long-term contract. I look forward to being proven wrong.

your list

Narrow that list to the guys you actually would prefer to Dempster, or even to the guys you feel indifferent about. I think it becomes a much shorter list. The only guys on that list who might sign for less or for fewer years are high risk: Penny, Sheets, and the Unit. Garland and Perez may come in as bargains, but I would take Dempster over either of them. Lowe will get $15 million plus and I wouldn't go there instead of what Dempster is rumored to be signing for. I even think Dempster has a good chance to outperform Lowe over the life of each contract.
As to finding a better use for Dempster's dollars, I don't think it's necessary. I think Hendry has more up his sleeve.
Each individual move may not grade out well, but collectively I think the final grade will be a good one this offseason.

I will rebut

Let's go through this list really quickly. Who on this list is worth a four year/ 52 mil deal?

AJ Burnett yes
Jon Garland no
Brad Penny MmMm no
Braden Looper no
Randy Johnson no
Oliver Perez might get it, but for me a no
Derek Lowe yes
Andy Pettitte no
CC Sabathia yes
Ben Sheets yes if healthy
John Smoltz no
Randy Wolf no

throwing out the no's and excluding Sabathia and Burnett because they are going to get Yankeed ( So is Lowe, regardless) and you're left with Sheets and Derek Lowe With the Braves, Reds, Mets, Orioles, Blue jays and possibly the Red Sox with Lowe all looking for pitching. Which means 3/ 36 up and vanished like a fart in the wind.

I would argue that the trip to the bullpen has left considerable innings on Mr Dempster's right arm. Throw in the fact that Clownsvelt (Can I call him that?) is a workout and health freak and that fourth year is less and less of a worry for me.

Living here in New York, I've become absolutely blind to money. If you want him go get him. I throw the Cubs in the same boat. They're one of the few teams in the league that have money in a year of financial crisis. That's a luxury. The Cubs have said from day one they want to resign Woody. Unless this undervalue contract is obscenely outrageous, which by definition it can't be, you jump at it.

OK, but here's the big

OK, but here's the big question -

Let's say that Garland, Penny, Looper, Unit, Perez, Pettitte, Smoltz, and Wolf are not worth 4 years for 52 million. Let's take it a step further and say that they won't GET that much - altho' I bet you one or two on this list might - then the questions become this:

1. How much will these guys get in a contract? What if they'll agree to a deal that pays them 8-9 million a year?

2. How much better will Dempster do than these guys next season?

See, the problem you're having is that you seem to think I'm saying "rather than sign Dempster for 52 million, the Cubs should sign somebody ELSE for that much." I'm not saying that. I AM saying "sign somebody else for less and spend more on another player."

Anyway, if the answer to #2 is "not much better at all in most cases," I'd rather go after another arm and buy a better bat somewhere if I can. Or, hell, change course and bring back Woody after all. Regardless, the Cubs could spend their money in better ways.

most issues have been covered

but just to throw my own two cents in, i'm not the least bit convinced by that list.

Convinced of what,

Convinced of what, exactly?

The point of the list is just to note that there is - for once - an abundance of starting pitchers out there, which should drive down the value of the average contract.

All I'm saying is that there are probably people - plural - on that list who will earn less money but win more games than Dempster next year.

I think

Anyone on that list who will have more wins than Demp will get a contract bigger than 4/52.

Unless you have a crystal

Unless you have a crystal ball, you can't possibly know for sure.

I guess the more accurate thing to say is this ...

Some on that list will get big contracts. Others won't. Pretty much every one of them - with perhaps one or two exceptions - is capable of doing as good or better than Dempster next season, assuming that Dempster comes back down a little bit. (And note that "capable" is not the same as "likely")

Do you want to bet that a) some of those pitchers will get a smaller deal than Dempster and b) some of the pitchers who get a smaller deal than Dempster will have better years? I feel pretty confident in saying that both are true, and I'm not even really being critical of the Cubs ace in saying that. So I guess my other question is... is there a reason why you are you resistant to the possibility that Hendry could have gotten better production for less money, or are you just in love with Clownsevelt? If it's the latter, that's ok, he is a rather endearing player.

crystal ball or balls?

What Hendry would really need to take a stab at someone besides Dempster is balls. It would be a really ballsy move to do what you suggest. I really think the Dempster money is reasonable and he is less of a risk than the alternatives.
I also offer that you'll get your bat TOO. This move does not preclude that from happening. Grade this move in 2-3 years, not now.
By the way, I think Hendry is trying to build for the long term. One championship would be great, but how about 2 or 3 in the coming years? That would be especially difficult if you take a flyer on Penny or the Unit rather than Dempster. I'd take either in addition to, but not rather than.
Peavy is still in the mix too, so factor that into the equation. I also think he'll acquire Hermida.....

The Bet You Propose

I wouldn't take it. Of course there's a very good chance that a free agent will sign on the cheap and completely overperform. But how do you pick that guy?

The market is a funny thing; it's usually pretty good at determining fair values. The reason those guys will be cheaper to sign is because the consensus opinion is that they won't do as well as someone like AJ Burnett, or Ryan Dempster.

I'm not convinced that Dempster was a bad signing by that list because you offer up a bunch of names that *might* have a better year.

I'd be more convinced if you offered a specific alternative signing.

I'll even offer you one - Garland, 3/30. You think he'll pitch better than Dempster in 2009?

3 for 30 is too much. Here's

3 for 30 is too much. Here's the thing, AJ. At this point, only 1 guy has signed with a new team. We don't know what fair value is for the free agent market. If you want me to tell you who the Cubs should sign and what he'll be worth, the second part of my post should be what would happen if a Romulan would mate with a Klingon, because I'd be living off in fantasyland if I pretended to know.

The only point I can make is that Dempster was worth roughly 12 million - which I was pretty close to being spot-on about - and that he shouldn't have gotten more than 3 years, but would wind up with more than that.

All I can do is provide a list of available players, which I did, and suggest that because of a variety of reasons, some - if not many - will go for less than 12 million a year. But until the dominos actually start falling, at this point there's no way to really say who is worth what to whom. Hence the reason there are no specifics, because to offer specifics would be a ridiculous and pointless exercise at this stage.

My honest answer is kind of a

My honest answer is kind of a copout answer. Which is its both the former and the latter. Back in my early days, posting at the Al Yellon House of Blues, I was a staunch Dempster supporter. In fact I might have been the only one not to call him "Dumpster", which is pretty impressive when you consider how funny and original that joke is. All kidding aside, It's hard not to root for a guy like Dempster. Hard Working, funny, team oriented, never one to make an excuse, all good qualities in a guy to root for.

But even if I thought Garland for two years and Abreu for three is better Than Dempster, It doesn't mean it's going to happen. Three years ago we drew a pretty little circle around Rafael Furcal, said he was the mother's milk to all our ails, missed him, over spent on Plan B Pierre and then suffered one of the worst seasons ever. I don't have as much fear in Jim Hendry as I do in fixing through free agency in general

I think Dempster can average 15 wins a year and keep his ERA under 4 for the four years. And it will be worth what we're paying him. I'll take Dempster over everyone on that list with the exception of the Yankee three.

Fair enough, felzz. If you

Fair enough, felzz. If you didn't like Cubs players, you wouldn't be a Cubs fan. I can understand being attached to a player like Dempster.

The only point I'll make is this ... in this day and age, pretty much nobody pitches 5 years in a row in which they win 15 or more and have ERAs below 4. Only the elite of the elite, and even THEY tend to spend the occasional season battling nagging injuries and bad luck.

Dempster's contract may very well NOT come back to bite the Cubs organization on its ass, and I'd STILL be shocked to see him average 15 or more a year with an ERA below 4. Just don't be surprised when it doesn't happen is all I'm saying.


Check out the actual terms on ESPN.com which likely come from a Chicago paper.
I suspect that the option year won't thrill you, but look at it this way: it's three years at $38MM. If he performs very well for those three years he'll opt out and pursue one more big payday. For arguement's sake, let's assume that happens. Now how do you feel about the signing? Hmm?

The case against

the resigning of Dempster can really only be made if you sign a CC or you rely on a youngster. The significance of signing any of your other options are only shades of grey as the money won't be significantly different and while I can certainly see quite a few underperforming Dempster only one or two could you project with any certainty of vastly outperforming Dempster.

We all can imagine the real impact of signing a CC, but we most certainly could be pleasantly surprised by the production of one of our youngsters. Either way, it's a comittment of huge money or faith. Hendry most likely felt he made the safest move and we can only hope he has enough resources left to address the leadoff and RF issues with quality acquisitions.

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