No other free agent has increased his earning potential this season than Ryan Dempster. The change in Dempster from 2007 to 2008 has been both dramatic and improbable. Dempster went from being a shaky and unreliable closer/relief pitcher to dominant and overpowering starter in just one season. Dempster's 2008 campaign was filled with accolades: all star, game 1 starter, 17 wins, and an impressive 2.96 ERA. What a great time for an all-star season! Can you say, Carl Pavano? (Note: Anyone else check out Dempster's 1998 ERA....7.08 ERA in 11 starts!)
The Case for Dempster
When Dempster is on, he is as good as any starting pitcher out there. Armed with a dynamite fastball and a wicked slider, Dempster managed to strike out 187 hitters in 206 innings pitched. He simply makes hitters look foolish. With stuff like that, Dempster could be a serviceable #1 or a reliable #2 for most teams.
Even though it seems liek Dempster has been around forever, he is only 31 years old and is still in his "prime." He could be a great example of guy who has finally figured it out after entering the league at such a young age (20).
Yes, Dempster had Tommy John surgery back in 2003, but that could actually work in Dempster's favor. Usually guys who have a history of arm problems are looked at more cautiously by teams, but Dempster might be an exception. Take into account that before this season, Dempster had previously been a relief pitcher for the past four seasons. That means that his arm might have less wear and tear on it than other starting pitchers who have hundreds of more innings on their arm than Dempster does. His potential to remain in his prime into his mid to late thirties is higher than most pitchers because of this.
Apparently, Dempster is somewhat of a legend for his strenuous workout/running program since joining the Cubs. During spring training this year, Dempster showed up to camp in the best shape of his career and prepared his arm for the 200 IP he would accumulate as a starter. Teams have to love this type of attitude and will to want to improve.
-On top of being a quality pitcher, Dempster is a quality person and quite hilarious. On top of doing a spot on Harry Caray and by all accounts is a wonderful teammate. Always good to add good people to the organization.
The Case Against Dempster
-Will it last?
Sure Dempster had a great season this year, but he has only had one season in his 10 year career that even comes close to matching the kind of success he had this year (2000). Dempster's career has been a pendulum-with massive highs (2008) and severe lows (1998, 2003) with some frustratingly inconsistent campaigns tricked in (2006, 2007). Was his 2008 success for real? Will Dempster's strikeout rate decline after this season? Only time will tell. Understanding Dempster's long term potential is quite difficult because he has been both a starter and a reliever.
Dempster has never been known for his control dating all the way back to his early days with the Marlins. Before this season, Dempster's walk to strikeout rate had always been rather high and his walk rate was around (4.6/9 IP). The difference with Dempster this season was his ability to throw strikes and not try to strike everyone out. In turn, hitters made more contact and Dempster succeeded. Even with all these positives, Dempster turned in a horrible performance during game 1 of the NLDS by walking 7 hitters in just 4.2 innings. So it's clear that Dempster still has some Oliver Perez in him and teams need to be aware of it.
This year's starting pitching class is actually quite deep with Sabathia, Sheets, Lowe, and Oliver Perez; but Dempster offers something different. He is more consistent than Perez, not injury prone like Sheets, younger than Lowe, and won't cost as much as Sabathia. And too top it all off, Dempster is just as good as any of those guys when he is on his game. I expect the Cubs, Braves, Giants, Mets, Yankees, Blue Jays, and Rangers to be in on the Dempster sweepstakes. There will be no shortage of suitors. Most teams need at least one or two starters.
(4 years/$48 mil)
I admit my prediction here is rather conservative. The only thing that is holding Dempster back from much greener pastures is that he's only done this for one season. There is no doubt that teams will definitely pay for Dempster, but I bet that teams will show some (a very small amount!) fiscal restraint because of his inexperience as a starter.
With that said, his agent should look at the contracts given to:
-Jason Schmidt (3 years/$45 mil)
-Gil Meche (5 years/$55 mil)
-Kevin Millwood (5 years/$60 mil)
-Kyle Lohse (4 years/$41 mil)
Dempster could probably garner anywhere between $40-$60 mil on the open market depending on which teams get involved. Either way, Dempster has positioned himself very nicely for a huge payday after a phenomenal 2008.
SIGNED: 4 years/$52 million