Friday, October 24, 2008

Free Agent at the End of the Season: Ryan Dempster

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
-Dominant stuff.
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.

-His age.
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).

-His arm.
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.

-Hard worker.
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.

-His head.
-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.

-The walks
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.

Competition
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.

Prediction
(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
CUBS

2 comments:

Jonathan Haber said...

First off, I would like to thank you Josh for writing such an interesting post pointing out the strengths and weaknesses to signing Ryan Dempster. Although I have read many blogs about the possibility of Dempster signing outside of Chicago as a free agent, not one post has outline the positives and negatives to signing the pitcher as you have. First and foremost, the structure of your work was incredible and very easy to follow. By writing Dempster's 2008 accomplishments to start your post, I knew exactly how great of a year Dempster had and what kind of demand he would have on the free agent market. While your arguments for signing Dempster - his age, relatively healthy arm, nasty pitching repertoire on the mound and mentality - were strong, I felt your position against Dempster was even stronger. Your wrote, "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)." That's a big point a lot of teams are going to fail to look at when offering Dempster a big contract. Outside of his inexperience as a starter and lack on consistency on the mound, you pointed out the pitcher's high walk total and competition he will face among other top-flight free agents that may affect his value on the market. Additionally, I liked how you gave your own prediction on the type of contract Dempster will get based on your analysis of his skill and the market. I do agree that your four year, $48 million offer is quite conservative because I know a desperate team will start throwing out the money once other the free agent pitching crop begins to shrink. While your post covered a lot, however, you failed to mention where you think Dempster will end up. Do you think he'll stay in Chicago or will he chase the big bucks and sign elsewhere? Do you think Chicago will offer him more than a three year deal? Also, if Dempster signs in the AL, do you think he will be as effective?

Josh said...

Jonathan,
First off, thanks so much for the kind remarks. I think Dempster could wind up in any number of places: Mets, Yankees, Cubs, Blue Jays, Angels, or even the Rangers could be involved. The market for starting pitchers this year is rather strong and with so many teams needing starters, it is rather difficult to project where he will end up.

Thanks so much for linking my work, I really appreciate it. Your blog looks very impressive! Cant wait to look through it!

thanks for the comment,
Josh