Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Did the Cubs Overpay for Ryan Dempster?

As soon as free agency began, the Cubs re-signed SP Ryan Dempster to a 4 year/$52 million dollar contract. The 31 year old Dempster was coming off the best season of his career in 2008 when he finished sixth in the Cy Young award voting and was a consistent force at the top of the Cubs rotation.

So paying Dempster $13 million per season sounds pretty reasonable right?

Well, I'm not so sure about that. I'm rather torn on the contract.

On one hand, Dempster was one of the best starting pitchers in the National League in 2008 and if he duplicates that performance, there is no doubt that he will be worth every penny of that deal. On paper, the Cubs are a very strong team with Dempster atop their rotation and they should be one of the favorites to win the World Series in 2009.

But now that Derek Lowe has signed with the Atlanta Braves for 4 years/$60 million, can we still say that Dempster's contract is a good one? Very debatable.

For starters, Dempster was signed well before any other starting pitcher had established the market for starting pitchers. You have to remember at the beginning of free agency both Derek Lowe and Oliver Perez were looking for deals somewhere in the $70-$80 million dollar range. The market has obviously taken a dramatic hit since then and both Lowe and Perez will fall short of their intended goals. If the Cubs had been more patient with Dempster, I wonder if his price too would have fallen. Would 4 years/$40 million have been unreasonable?

So if AJ Burnett is worth $80 million, Derek Lowe is worth $60 million, and Oliver Perez remains unsigned, can we honestly say that Ryan Dempster is worth $52 million? Probably not. Dempster has only had one great season in the bigs as a starter, while the other three guys have been far more consistent (even Oliver Perez), reliable, and have more experience as starting pitchers. That's not to say that Dempster will not maintain his 2008 performance, but as far as free agency goes, the Cubs gave Dempster a huge contract based on one season. That's a fact.

If you had told me at the start of free agency that Ryan Dempster would have gotten a 4 year/$52 million dollar contract, I would not have been surprised. But with the economy in a dramatic downturn and the starting pitching market at somewhat of a standstill, I'm surprised that the Cubs gave Dempster such a big contract. Maybe I'm just skeptical that he will be able to repeat his 2008 performance, but I would bet my money on Lowe and Perez over Dempster.

In this market, it's become tough to justify paying a guy based off of one good season. We'll see if the Cubs start to feel the effect of this deal in 2009 or even down the road, but I wonder if they could have done better by waiting. It's tough to take a big risk with the market in such bad shape. I think giving ace money to a guy who has only performed at a high level for one season is quite a risk .


She-Fan said...

Nice blog! I'm still wondering about the Braves and Lowe. Were you disappointed the Mets didn't sign him?

Josh said...

She Fan,
Not really. Signing Lowe to a 4 year/$60 million dollar contract would have been a mistake in my eyes.

And plus, I think the Mets need another left handed starting pitcher to match up against the Phillies (Howard, Utley, Ibanez). Hopefully the price tag on Oliver Perez comes down to a sane level!

thanks for the comment.

Keith in SC said...

Signing Ryan again is a Plus for the Cubs. Knowing they have a Started who is coming off the last season pitching well and wanting to duplicate it again is the charge he has to do. He is at home in Chicago and wants to pitch well again. Letting Ryan go to another team would only hurt their chances to get to the play-offs again.