One last word on Dempster ...
It actually appears to have turned out almost exactly the way I wanted it to. Almost.
On the 21st of October, I proposed the following move: Step Two - Housekeeping: I offer the following deal to Ryan Dempster: 3 years for 36 million dollars, with a 4th year for 14 million that can be exercised mutually between team and player, or kicks in automatically if he averages 200 innings or more of work during seasons 1-3.
On the 18th of November, Dempster actually signed this contract, according to ESPN: He gets a $4 million signing bonus, $8 million next year, $12.5 million in 2010 and $13.5 million in 2011. Dempster has a 2012 option for $14 million.
In other words, I proposed a 3 year deal for 36 million plus a 14 million dollar option year, and Dempster signed a 3 year deal for 38 million, and a $14 million dollar option year. The only difference between my proposal and the real one is that Dempster's option year is player-controlled, while I wanted the Cubs to either push for a mutual or have it kick in automatically based on performance.
Don't get me wrong, everybody. I've expressed a healthy amount of skepticism, but only because I think that Dempster; Year 4 is going to be equally ugly and brutal. But I do think that he's going to mostly earn his pay, which is more than you can say about most pricey starting pitchers these days.
We'll talk about the 2012 ramifications later, but for now, I'm going to give a reluctant approval to this transaction. After all, it's almost exactly what I was pushing for, right?
Now if only Hendry would follow Step 2-A of my plan: I also offer Kerry Wood a 2 year deal for 15 million, with mutual options for a 3rd year at 8 million which also has an option to kick in automatically based on meeting performance goals.
Kurt ain't gonna like this, because even 4x12 isn't gonna be enough.
It is 4 x 13, according to the SunTimes.
Which is, from the top of my head, a little less than what Jake Peavy stands to make through his contract. But, Kurt and others are yelling right now, YOU (me) said Jake Peavy is an ACE, and Ryan Dempster is NOT.
Yep, I said that. I meant it, too. And I still do. I most certainly think, even with Dempster back in the fold, that there is still room for Peavy. I could certainly go to war next year with Peavy, Dempster, Zambrano (who has done his best work as a #3 starter), Lilly and Harden as the Best Fifth Starter In The History of Baseball. Oh yeah, I would.
But that doesn't prove the point that Ryan Dempster is worth the fourth year. It wouldn't make ANY difference if I told you that 4x13 was less than what I figured he was going to get. I figured in the 2008-9 CC Sabathia Sweepstakes Season, that we would be lucky if Dempster came back to us for 4x14.
I am willing to bet right now that once the exclusivity window expired, that Dempster and his agent were expecting just a groundswell of glad tidings and expressions of desire, and all they got was "we're waiting on Sabathia" and "we're broke" and "what did you say your name was?" I'm thinking that this was a useful exercise for all parties. Dempster probably saw that he wasn't going to find a more supportive front office than the one he has. And the Cubs got to see that it isn't that easy to just go out and replace 17 wins, because they don't have the prospects to trade for a Peavy, and they won't spend the money to sign an A. J. Burnett, who is also not a staff ace, but will end up with more money than Dempster, based on the widespread belief that the AL is the superior league, and that Burnett's 18 wins mean more. Which may or may not be true (future column idea for a Colin or a Kyle? I don't want any part of it. Like I say, I could give a rat's patoot less about the rest of MLB)
So, was this year a typical salary drive, or was this a genuine, sincere effort to finally meet the expectations that Ryan Dempster has had since the year he broke in with Florida? Obviously, if this was a salary drive, then this was some SERIOUS wasted money. One could, and someone will, end up playing the race card on this one. Somehow dorky white guys from some backbacon village in BC don't conduct salary drives? They spend the winters running up and down Saddleback Mountain for no other reason than self-actualization, to become all they can be? And what if, say, Derrek Lee worked his ass off especially hard this off-season and posted a 35/115/.320 next year, it being his salary year at roughly the same age? In fact, my recent bellyaches aside, Lee has had a more productive four year stretch than Dempster has had with us. But mark my words, if Lee comes back strong next year, then holds his hand out, people are going to shout SALARY DRIVE! And just because he's a cheery glass of milk, we're just supposed to TRUST Dempster to be able to post the same numbers the next four years?
Um, well. Seems like I have hoisted myself on my own petard. Except that the Cubs just signed someone who possesses #2 Starter talent, and who has put up #2 Starter results (at least in 2008), and is in the best shape of his life, for #2 Starter money. And unlike an outside free agent, the Cubs have had the opportunity to employ this man for the past six years, and don't have to rely on scouting reports or the empty promises of an agent to know what kind of competitor he is.
Between Ramirez, Lee, and to an extent Kerry Wood, the Cubs have had decent success in the past three years with re-signing their incumbent free-agent candidates. (Jury's still out on Zambrano). They know what they have, and they didn't skew any existing salary structures in the process. In the wild weird world of Major League Baseball spending, the Cubs could have done a lot more risky things than sign Ryan Dempster to 4x13MM.
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)
I'm picturing a visual right now of a herd of GM's storming toward a payphone, hefting the woman operating the phone over and behind their heads and fighting each other to determine who gets to call up Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster first. Or they could just use their cell phones.
The Tribune is reporting that tomorrow is The Deadline! where, should a pending free agent not be re-signed, he can receive offers from other teams.
The Cubs don't seem too concerned about The Deadline!, but I'm sure there are some loyal Cub fans out there who worry like me that Kerry Wood will get swept off his feet by some Johnny Come Latelys who'll throw money and years at him.
However, I'll leave you with this thought. Jim Hendry has yet to lose a talented player he's wanted to keep. Maybe that thought will keep you warm, although I'm inclined to feel nervous still because, who knows, maybe he doesn't want Wood or Dempster. And quite frankly, for the money he's asking for, maybe not wanting Dempster is for the best.
It's getting closer to the point where Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood should start receiving outlandish and ridiculous contract offers from teams desperate for a starter and closer. Meanwhile, Jim Hendry's focus remains on Jake Peavy, which Paul Sullivan reports could affect whether or not the two fan favorites return to Chicago next season.
Considering how up-in-the-air the bullpen is, and especially considering how much Kerry Wood means to the team and their fans, I think that Hendry re-signing Wood is a no-brainer. However, Dempster obviously becomes a low-priority so long as Peavy may accept a trade to Chicago.
Now, something that Sully reflects on in his piece is this: The question Dempster must ask himself is: Why should I take a hometown discount when the team is apparently willing to spend more money on Peavy?
Obviously I can't get into the mind of Clownsevelt, but I can tell you how I would feel were I in his position. Dempster appears to like Chicago, and he is apparently willing to take a discount to remain a Cub. While he hasn't expressed a willingness to take a paycut to improve the talent of the team - ala Sutcliffe in '87, who was willing to take a six figure cut in pay if it meant signing Andre Dawson - I can't believe that Dempster would oppose the acquisition of an uber-talented starting pitcher like Peavy, as it improves the team's chances of winning next season, with one exception.
If Peavy comes, it is likely that Dempster goes. That's the issue at hand. But what if Hendry was able to sign Peavy, and re-sign Dempster? If he's able to find a taker for Marquis, it's a wash - Peavy's contract pays only $500k more next season than the contract of the Marquis de Suck.
It's also likely that Hendry should have the money to pay Kerry Wood what he's worth. In fact, Hendry certainly has the money for Dempster, too. I don't think the dollar figures are the issues, I think the years desired are what is holding things up. Dempster certainly wants minimally a 4-year deal - that's a year too many, and Wood probably wants minimally a 3-year-deal, which Hendry might be reluctant to offer.
I realize that the money train isn't unlimited, the Cubs have a budget, and we all want to see them upgrade the offense, but comparably there's no reason they can't do both. It's just a matter of Hendry needing to go bargain hunting for an outfielder if he pulls off a Supra Upgrade of his rotation. Regardless, it remains a cunundrum, but it is one with a potentially very happy outcome. Let's just hope that Hendry doesn't try to grab too much and come away with nothing at all.
The journey Ryan Dempster has taken as a Cub has been, at the very least, unlikely. He's been on the team since the tail end of the 2004 season, when Jim Hendry plucked him off the scrap heap while he was still recovering from Tommy John Disease. He had moderate success that season for the Cubs, pitching 20.2 innings in relief.
Even then, I'd clamored for him to be elevated to the role of closer, although my reasoning was nothing beyond "hey, it worked with Smoltz!" I actually had the chance to meet him during the 2005 Cubs Convention, at which point I said to him "I think you'd be a great closer." He agreed with me, explaining how much he loved winning and how competitive he was, and he was then promoted to that role for the next 3 seasons to moderate success.
And by moderate, I mean he pretty well sucked, especially the last two years he was doing it. In fact, at one point he prompted this photoshop:
But it turns out that Lou had other ideas for Ryan. After it was decided that Kerry Wood might be better suited to close for the Cubs, Dempster was given another shot at the starting rotation - something he'd done previously in 2005 for the Cubs. That season, Dempster had gone 1-3 with a 5.35 ERA in 6 starts before being returned to the bullpen. And, because of his past failures as a starting pitcher, I expected to see a similar performance in 2008. Man, was I wrong.
Instead of flopping by the end of May, Dempster took control of the rotation and provided a steady hand, even as pretty much every other pitcher in the Cubs rotation battled difficulties. Dempster started off 4-0 in the month of April, and he never pitched a month in which he lost more than he won.
Consequently, in what may be his final season as a Cub, Ryan Dempster inarguably had a career year. The numbers don't lie - 206.2 innings pitched, 17 wins, only 6 losses, and a sub-3 ERA.
What worked best for Dempster was his clear confidence in his stuff. He knew he had the ability to work his way into and out of situations, and for that reason he was able to use the occasional base on ball advantageously. He forced 19 double play balls this year, 11 more than Ted Lilly and 17 more than Rich Harden.
But regardless of that, Dempster did not have it in October. In his one start against the Dodgers, Dempster came unglued, reverting to his old self, and walked way too many guys while getting pummeled by a strong offense. It was just one game, making it a far too small sample size, but I would probably feel uncomfortable with Dempster starting another Game One in a short series.
The Debate About His Free Agency
The great Earl Weaver was known to say that if he had a team of 25 players who were pending free agents, then he would win the World Series. I don't know if there is any real statistical correlation between this concept and reality, but perhaps it is not coincidental that Dempster had a career year at 31 as a pending free agent.
Consequently, he is likely to land a very hefty payday - if not with the Cubs, then elsewhere. I think most pundits would agree that Dempster will likely earn an average of 12 million a year or more, and he will likely be looking for a 4 year deal or longer. While it would not be easy for the Cubs to make up for the 17 games he directly won last season, there is no guarantee that he'll come anywhere close to his '08 performance ever again - in fact, I'd wager it's unlikely.
For those reasons, I'd argue that Dempster will probably not be worth whatever kind of contract he signs in the coming weeks, although he very well might be a reliable, above-average starting pitcher next year and beyond. It's just that such a pitcher is probably not worth ace money. But if Jason Marquis is worth 8 million a year, then surely Dempster is worth 10 to 12, and the Cubs will hopefully succeed in signing him to a deal that does not overpay.
Regardless of what happens next, Ryan Dempster has been a valuable addition to the Cubs. He is apparently well-liked by his teammates, he pitched his ass off in 2008, and the Cubs clearly would not have reached the playoffs without his consistency. If he in fact has thrown his final pitch in a Cubs uniform he will be hard to replace. However, letting him go and allowing somebody like Samardzija to have an opportunity to start may be the best chance the Cubs have to assemble the money to upgrade in other important areas. It's a difficult situation for Jim Hendry to be in, but considering the success of Dempster and of the '08 Cubs, I'm grateful that he has put the team in this position.
And, of course, I'm anxious to find out what happens next. But rather than end this article on that thought, I'll spell out the likely scenarios for you...
1. Dempster re-signs with the Cubs, freeing up Hendry to deal Marquis (saving 8 million) and promote Samardzija (or Marshall, or Gaudin) to the rotation. A fair contract would be 3 years for $36 million with a 4th year that is a) guaranteed to kick in if Dempster averages 200 innings pitched or b) a mutual option should Dempster fall short of the 200 IP average, for $15 million.
2. Dempster goes elsewhere. The Cubs choose to retain Marquis and allow Samardzija, Marshall, Gaudin, and perhaps even Rich Hill to compete for Dempster's spot in the rotation.
3. Dempster goes elsewhere, the Cubs use the money they were going to offer him to pick up one of the free agent pitchers on the market. In this scenario, Marquis returns to the trading block.
4. Dempster goes elsewhere, and by including everything and the kitchen sink, the Cubs replace him with Jake Peavy in a big trade. Marquis remains in the rotation as the players who were dealt away would probably have included the guys most likely to compete for a free spot in the rotation.
Probably the first 2 scenarios are the most likely, and I suspect that Scenario 2 is the most possible. Look for me to write an "I told you so" a month from now if I turned out to be right, which is bound to happen since I pretty well covered all the bases here... for whatever that is worth.
Now that Hendry’s extension is out of the way, he’s started to talk about the direction the Cubs are headed in this offseason. The interesting thing is that the storyline is shaping up to be Dempster stays, and Wood goes.
"I had a lot of talks with Ryan - not dollars and cents talks - during the season," Hendry said. "Ryan knows we want him to stay here. He's never expressed a desire that he wanted to leave. We have not had formal conversations yet. But I expect to speak with Ryan's agent and Ryan himself, possibly, in the next week or so."
"Ryan knows we want him to stay here, and he's never expressed a desire that he wants to leave," Hendry said Monday. "Certainly, the year he had and type of clubhouse presence he is and total team guy, we certainly have every intention of trying to keep Ryan."
Now, here’s what he says about Wood:
"We're going to get our plan together, and we'll try to move forward with what we think is best for the organization," Hendry said. "Kerry has done a terrific job in the closing role. But at the same time, there's a lot of conversations that have to happen with his representatives and him as to what his desires are and what type of contract he's looking for."
The tenor there seems different. Keep in mind that Wood is probably the consolation prize for whoever wins loses the K-Rod Derby – it’s a thin crop at closer this offseason, especially if Hoffman gets retained by the Padres and the Brewers exercise their option on Salomon Torres. There’s nothing the hot stove loves to do more than shower stupid money on relief pitching. Especially for guys who are “proven closers.”
Also, Kremlinologists among you can have fun parsing this statement about Felix Pie:
"We feel Felix is going to be a good player," Hendry said. "You're talking about a 23-year-old kid. He'll be an out-of-options player. Without any kind of injury or significant change, he'll have a very good chance to make the ballclub out of Spring Training."
Of course, I’m glad that Hendry isn’t simply looking at this as a way to fix the team’s October “problem”:
"I don't know how you differentiate between you build a team for April to September and then you try to build something different for October," Hendry said. "We had as good a team as there was in the National League. We had the best record. We just played bad baseball for three days. We stunk last year against the Diamondbacks. We're all going to put our heads together and see if there are other ways we think we can improve the club. All you do is try to get in every year and keep working on trying to get better once you get in there to accomplish that goal. There's a whole history in professional sports of clubs that kept getting close and kept getting close and finally they knocked that door in. That's what we're going to continue to try to do."
Your milage may vary.
From Jump Street, let me state that I do not think losing Soriano is a good thing at all. Colin whips out the numbers that clearly state that there will be a short term dropoff while Soriano heals. Obviously Murton/Hoffpower don't produce what he does on an annual basis - if they did, then it would be they making thee eight-figure salaries! What really sucks is that he just got his legs back. And Kurt ventures that in the long run, Cubs players of late have not had much luck recovering their power from broken hands, particularly from Soriano, whose main gift from God is his wrists, and this particular fracture metacarpal is closely adjacent to said Wrists of God.
I knew, sitting here watching my guys, Our Cubs, run off the best record in baseball, that it was too good to be true. Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Sammy Sosa...all too good to be true. Several times I thought and mentioned that the only thing that could stop us in 2008 is injuries. When you saw Pujols get hurt and Yovanni Gallardo get hurt, as a hypersensitive, oversuperstitious Cubs fan, you had to wonder...Where's Ours?
Hopefully, this is it.
I honestly think, though, that it could be worse. I have stated on here time after time that I think Alfonso Soriano is nothing more than a backup generator - a failover system that occassionally - nay, frequently - can carry a team for weeks at a time while everyone else struggles. There is NO 2007 Division Crown without his September. And yes, when taken on an annual basis as Colin has, the man produces abundantly.
Thing is, though, is that his contributions are not consistent. He differs from, say, Ramirez, who pretty much produces at the same rate every day. You know that, if you write him in the lineup for a week, that he will give you hits three times out of ten, probably a homer, about four RBIs, and he'll walk a few times. Managers and teams tend to LEAN on people like Ramirez, they count on him, and when players like him lose time, the loss is quantifiable.
With Soriano, on the other hand, you just don't know. He HAS been giving us more consistent production the past couple of weeks, yes. But you honestly don't know what we're going to miss out on the next six weeks. Might he hit 12 bombs and drive in 30? Or might he hit .150 and chase every pitch thrown at him? He isn't going to be there, probably the rest of the year, to pick us up when we need it...that's the great loss with Soriano. Our Plan B is gone for 2008. However, it isn't the end of the world if Murton plays there the next six weeks. We could still play winning ball, if...
...we don't forget about the pitching! Sure, Dempster whipped out his big brass nutts last night and went the distance, and for the moment, you have to feel confident that Wood and Marmol are rested enough. For now.
Lemme ax u a question - consider Z's last two starts, do YOU feel confident that he is going to go out there today and mow them down? Do you feel confident that the offense is going to keep bailing Lilly out from under his early-inning catastrophes? July is only three weeks away, do YOU know where your Marquis de Suck is? Still with US, that's where he is.
They're talking up Sean Marshall as the next callup, saying that he has made the most progress in Iowa. His last start? Five runs in six innings. But hey, he only walked one.
We can't lose sight of the fact that we still need a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy, to minimize the amount of time we have to see Wuertz and Lieber and Hart and yeah, even Marmol and Wood.