While we’ve mentioned it from time to time here, one of the most criminally underreported stories about the Dodgers is the need to get some of these young players locked up to long-term deals that at least buy out a few arbitration and free agent years. Not a single one of the young Dodgers crop (arbitrarily defined as Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Andre Ethier, Chad Billingsley, and Jonathan Broxton) is signed on more than a year-to-year basis. At least with Martin, we know the team has tried to approach him in the past about such a deal, only to be rebuffed by his agent. Earlier this winter, we found that he’d changed agents and was open to a long-term deal, but we’ve heard no progress on that front lately.
But I understand about some of those players. You’d like to see if Loney is the slugger we saw in short bursts in 2006 and 2007, or the somewhat underwhelming player we saw in 2008. You’d like to see if Broxton can handle the full-time closing duties, and you’d like to see if Kemp’s going to take another step forward in his development to really harness that raw talent he has. Fine. However, can we at least agree that we’re 100% sure that Chad Billingsley is someone we’re going to want to keep around for a while? Nothing’s as valuable as young pitching, and Billingsley’s been an above-average pitcher since the day he first set foot on a major league mound at 21 years old. In the three seasons since, he’s become the ace of the staff and improved his ERA and K and BB rates each season – plus, he’s still just 24.
He’s good, he’s young… and he’s on the verge of arbitration. Now, I first mentioned this in January when Kansas City signed Zack Greinke to a four-year deal, shortly after Phillies ace Cole Hamels received a three-year deal of his own. Today, we’ve got two other data points to go on. First, from Boston, courtesy of Yahoo!:
Boston Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester, who overcame cancer to become one of the best pitchers in the American League, has agreed to a five-year, $30 million contract extension with a $13 million team option in 2014, a source close to the team told Yahoo! Sports.
And previously out of Minnesota, ESPN has:
Baker went 11-4 with a 3.45 ERA in a career-best 28 starts last season. The 27-year-old is 28-24 with a 4.23 ERA in four seasons, all with the Twins.
Minnesota announced the deal on Saturday. It also includes a $9.25 million club option for the 2013 season.
Let’s bring back the chart from last time and add on Lester and Baker:
|Pitcher||Yrs/$||’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||658.2||105||missed ’06 w/anxiety|
|Lester||5/$30m||25||2.072||1 free,3 arb,1 FA||354.2||123||overcame cancer|
|Baker||4/$15.25m||27||2.128||3 arb, 1 FA||453||101||1 day older than MSTI|
|Billingsley||–||24||2.110||arb starts 2010||437.2||132||broke leg in November|
These latest two comps are even more helpful, because Baker and Lester have accumulated a very similar amount of service time to Billingsley. Remember, while it does seem out of place that Greinke – arguably the fourth-best pitcher on this list – got a higher per-year average than anyone else, remember that he had to be bought out of two years of free agency, while no one else gave up more than one.
In fact, the Lester contract (which also contains a $13m team option for 2014) is the best comparison to Billingsley of all. Like Billingsley, Lester made his debut in 2006, and while the cancer scare set him back, he truly stepped up in 2008, going 16-6 with a 144 ERA+. Lester’s made just nine fewer career starts than Chad has, and even their career WHIP’s are eerily close – 1.393 for Lester, 1.401 for Billingsley, with each improving from their rookie seasons. Lester’s also a great comp because he’s in a similar situation to Billingsley in terms of service time and not being arbitration-eligible until 2010.
A quick spin around the blogosphere reveals that most Red Sox fans are jumping for joy at this announcement, seeing it as a fairly-priced deal for one of their young stars, while also giving the team cost certainty and allowing Lester to be set for life.
So I ask you this, Dodger fans. If the Dodgers announced tomorrow that they’d signed Billingsley to this exact deal of $30m over the next five seasons with a team option for year six, how would you feel about it? I know I’d be thrilled. Can we make this happen, say, now-ish?