Somewhere, Jon Lester Sheds a Tear

papeljig.jpgLook at that! Two Jon Lester posts in four days. By now, you’ve probably heard about Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon’s comments about Manny Ramirez to Esquire

So Manny was tough for us. You have somebody like him, you know at any point in the ball game, he can dictate the outcome of the game. And for him not to be on the same page as the rest of the team was a killer, man! It just takes one guy to bring an entire team down, and that’s exactly what was happening. Once we saw that, we weren’t afraid to get rid of him. It’s like cancer. That’s what he was. Cancer. He had to go.

Now, I normally wouldn’t comment on such a thing, because it’s not really baseball-related and sorting out the truths from the rumors about that situation is often impossible. Hey, maybe he’s right, and maybe he’s not. But I can’t help but point out that… hey, Jonathan. Your boy over there in the corner? Jon Lester, one of the best young pitchers in baseball? Just signed a big contract this week? Yeah, he had cancer. So I’m just going to go out on a limb and say that maybe making cancer jokes around your locker room, maybe not the best idea. Besides, do we really want to be taking advice from the jackass shown at right doing the Riverdance?

Moving on, I mentioned yesterday that I wasn’t that enthused on signing Pedro Martinez, especially for the price he was asking for. But since this is the story that seems like it just won’t go away, let’s take a second to address it again. Ken Rosenthal seems to agree with me, saying:

The Dodgers’ curiosity about free-agent right-hander Pedro Martinez ends with his asking price. The only way the Dodgers will sign Martinez, major-league sources say, is if he agrees to “pitch for pay,” accepting a low base salary with incentives.

Well, that’s pretty much what I said yesterday – if the price is a lot lower than the $5.5m guaranteed/$5.5m in incentives he’s looking for, I’d be willing to give it a shot. But even then I’m not huge on it, because I think Pedro’s mostly cooked. Eric Seidman over at Baseball Prospectus agrees and adds in with:

Considering his projected performance, there are simply not many teams that would be vastly improving their rosters by adding Martinez, and if the former All-Star is only going to provide a marginal level of production over either prospects or freely available talent, why bother?

When he does sign, the 13-year-old inside me who witnessed the dominance in that 1999 All-Star Game will be pulling for a career renaissance, but at this point, Pedro Martinez is a fifth starter with just a little bit left to contribute, whose past success may garner present and future opportunities even if the actual production fails to justify the playing time.

Exactly. The fact that he was so good in 1997 doesn’t have any bearing on how good he’d be in 2009 (are you listening, Yankee fans? That applies to Derek Jeter, too), so there’s no sense in paying him millions over the replacement-level return he’s likely to give you.

So, we’re all on the same page, right? Right? Oh, Bill Plaschke. When will you learn?

The ghost of Delino DeShields has haunted enough.

It’s time to bring Pedro Martinez home.

One year after an opening day in which the Dodgers ceremonially connected with their past, they could do it for real by turning a humongous mistake into a homecoming king.

So because the Dodgers made a big mistake 15 years ago, they should make another mistake by bringing back a player who’s a shadow of himself? Again, don’t get me wrong – if Pedro’s willing to work for the minimum, I’m not against giving him a shot, but there’s just no valid baseball reason for advocating bringing him back.

But I suppose that was my mistake – why would I expect to see Bill Plaschke having any use for “valid baseball reasons”? Carry on, Bill.

Help Chad Billingsley Buy a Home Where There’s No Ice

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.

87toppschadbillingsley.jpgBut 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:

Right-hander Scott Baker has agreed to a $15.25 million, four-year deal with the Minnesota Twins.

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