Did Kansas City Just Help Define the Market for Chad Billingsley?

It’s not often I get to feature Kansas City Royals news on this site, so let’s take a moment to reflect on trading Odalis Perez for Elmer Dessens, considering Esteban German, and the unfortunate acquisition of Angel Berroa as recent - though tenuous – ties between Los Angeles and Kansas City. Since I’m pretty sure that the Royals could dump their entire roster and still not be in on Manny Ramirez, what could they possibly have done now that’d affect the Dodgers? CBS Sports and their suspiciously Pete Hornberger-looking columnist Danny Knobler have the answer:

We’d known for a while that the Royals were interested in signing Zack Greinke to an extension, but today’s news of a four-year deal is still noteworthy. Finally, the Royals have shown a willingness to keep a young talent rather than trade him away.

Greinke’s deal will pay him $38 million, sources told CBSSports.com.

Somewhat lost in the Manny-mania, Furcal-kerfluffle and… uh… starting-rotation flu of this offseason is the need to start identifying which of the crop of young players is worth keeping around and getting them signed to long-term deals. Andre Ethier, Russell Martin, and Jonathan Broxton each reached arbitration this year; James Loney, Matt Kemp, and Chad Billingsley aren’t far behind. You just can’t go year-to-year in arbitration with all of those guys; not only will their prices increase every year, the complete lack of cost certainty ruins your planning. I think we’d all agree that Martin is the highest priority due to the utter lack of catching, and there are rumors that discussion towards that end have been had. Logically, wouldn’t a top young ace like Billingsley be next in the queue?

It’s not exactly a fair comparison between Greinke and Billingsley right now, because Greinke was arbitration-eligible while Billingsley still has one more year of low-priced servitude. That being said, let’s compare Greinke, Billingsley, and another young starter who recently signed a deal – Cole Hamels.

Pitcher Yrs/$ ’09 Age  Service  Yrs Bought IP ERA+ Extra Credit…
Hamels 3/$20.5m 25 2.143 3 arb-eligible 543 133 married Survivor babe
Greinke 4/$38m 25 4.057 2 arb, 2 FA 658.7 105 missed ’06 w/anxiety
Billingsley 24 2.110 1 more until arb 437.2 132 broke leg in November

Hamels and Billingsley are actually surprisingly similar – look at those ERA+’s – though the fact that Hamels was a postseason hero and already arbitration-eligible as a “Super 2″ player skews the comparison slightly. Still, Hamels is making $6.8m/year to skip out on arbitration, while Greinke is getting $9.5m/year to bypass his first two years of free agency as well. Assuming that Billingsley has another solid year, he’ll enter 2010 with three arbitration years left, but with better stats than Greinke. I mean, there’s no longer any remaining question about whether we want him around, right? So why not buy out his three arbitration years and the first year of free agency with a 4 year, $36 million deal? It’s more per year than Hamels, because it includes a year of free agency where Hamels’ does not; it’s slightly less than Greinke because while Billingsley is the superior pitcher, it only takes away one free agent year whereas Greinke just signed away two.

I really don’t expect anything to happen with Billingsley this offseason; not with him still being a year from arbitration and coming off a broken leg. But by this time next year, other young stars like Felix Hernandez and Jon Lester will be coming up on arbitration years, and if they’ve signed even bigger contracts than Greinke and Hamels, it could pull Billingsley’s price up even further. We all know we want him – let’s get it done.