Earlier this evening, the Dodgers put out a press release confirming the signing of Ted Lilly, though no dollars were announced. Moments ago, Jon Heyman broke the financials in a decidedly low-key tweet – $33m over three years.
I guarantee that I’m going to be in the minority here, but I’m not thrilled with this. The casual fan is going to see this as some sort of sign that Frank McCourt is willing to spend, but there’s a big difference between spending and spending wisely, and spending big on a 35-year-old pitcher entering his decline years is not wise. Isn’t this how we ended up being stuck with Casey Blake next year?
I voiced my concerns about Lilly’s future a few weeks ago:
Lilly’s fastball, never all that noteworthy in the first place, has declined in each of the last five seasons, down over 3 MPH from 2006. He’s allowing more flyballs than he’s ever had before (hence the homers), and his K/9 has decreased for the second year in a row. The lessened velocity may not be as important for a so-called “crafty lefty” as it might be for someone who lives and dies on heat, but it’s not a good trend.
As Jon Weisman noted at Dodger Thoughts, the history of giving long-term deals to older players (he mentions Randy Wolf, Derek Lowe, and Casey Blake, though you could of course go on for hours), especially pitchers, rarely ends well. It’s not hard to think that Lilly’s going to fall squarely into that same camp.
Now, I do think Lilly can be an effective pitcher in 2011. I’m less sure about 2012, and all bets are off about 2013, when he’ll be 37 years old.
If Lilly’s coming back to the Dodgers, I want it be on a one-year deal, two at the most. Offering arbitration is the only way to make that happen, and it carries with it the benefit of draft picks should he decline. Your other choice is to not offer, and then either see him leave for nothing, or even worse, be the team that foolishly gives him a three- or four-year deal.
So sure, I’m happy to see him back in 2011, but we can’t be short-sighted about this. Remember, Lilly just finished a 4-year, $40m contract, which is an average annual value of $10m/year. Somehow, despite being 4 years older, less than a year past shoulder surgery, and on the decline, the Dodgers saw fit to give him a deal which increases that value?
I’m not arguing that he wouldn’t have found a contract like that on the market, because he would have. I would have just preferred it be some other team to make a foolish investment. Spending money does not equal spending wisely, because while Lilly’s a good pitcher, he’s hardly a difference-maker, yet he’s being paid like one. Though I’m glad he’s back for 2011, I really think we’re going to regret this deal in 2012 and 2013 – which is basically exactly what I said about Blake’s deal after 2008.
Besides, do we really think the club has another big-money contract in them? If not, then Lilly’s the grand prize of the offseason, and that means you added a #3 starter while the offense remains the same.
Update: Dylan Hernandez clarifies that Lilly’s deal will not have any deferred money, and has a full no-trade clause for the first two years.