Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Go West, Young...No, Wait

The second in a series regarding the contract extensions being discussed in Winter Haven.
Part II – The Snake
The lone FA on the Tribe roster after the 2007 season that will be approached by the club for an extension is Jake Westbrook.

The Numbers
Over a 3-year stretch (from 2004 to 2006), Westbrook has gone 44-34 with a 4.01 ERA and a K/BB ratio of exactly 2/1. Opponents have hit .272 against him over 638 1/3 innings (average of about 213 innings a year, over which he’s posted a WHIP of 1.32.

Westbrook’s numbers are indicative of an excellent middle of the rotation starter – an innings-eater who keeps his team in games and saves the bullpen due to his tendency to pitch late into games.

Contracts to Comparable Players
The wildness of the past off-season can be summed up with the words, “Gil Meche”; but there were a number of big contracts given out to similar pitchers to Jake.
A breakdown of the deals, with $7M per being the low number:
Gil Meche – 5 years, $55M
Jeff Suppan – 4 years, $42M
Ted Lilly – 4 years, $40M
Vincente Padilla – 3 years, $33.75M
Adam Eaton – 3 years, $24.5M
Jason Marquis – 3 years, $21M

Interestingly, Baseball Reference lists Marquis and Eaton as two of his closest comparables, so the point of reference isn’t far off. Two of his other comparables are Aaron Harang (who signed a 4-year, $36.5M deal in February) and Bronson Arroyo (who signed a 2-year extension for 2009 and 2010 worth $25M, again this February).

You could argue that Westbrook is a superior pitcher to any of these, but this at least sets the ballpark, because it’s unlikely that Westbrook is going to get Barry Zito/Jason Schmidt money ($16M-$18M), as he’s not an ace. Some team may see him as an ace and pay him as an ace, but that’s on them.

Also, it just so happens that today the White Sox extended Javier Vazquez, who was also in the last year of his deal. His deal looks like this:
Javier Vazquez – 3 years, $34.5M
It gives hope to those that think that Westbrook is going to be looking for a 5 or 6 year deal as Westbrook and Vazquez are very comparable pitchers, in terms of age and recent performance.

Who Would Be Interested?
Just about any team interested in having a solid #2 or #3 starter, but teams that play in notorious hitters’ parks (or famed launching pads) figure to be even more interested in the groundball-inducing Westbrook (he was 4th in MLB last year in his Groundball/Flyball ratio, behind Cy Young winner Brandon Webb, Derek Lowe, and Chien-Ming Wang).

Teams that play in parks with high HR rates would be particularly interested and teams on that list are teams that have expressed interest in Westbrook in the past.

Suffice it to say, there would be a pretty active market for Jake Westbrook, Free Agent. Most notable among those (with the ways and the means) who would be interested include:
Arizona Diamondbacks
Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds
Colorado Rockies
Houston Astros
Philadelphia Phillies
Texas Rangers

What would those teams offer? It depends on whether they think that Westbrook can anchor a rotation or if he’s another cog in the wheel. The D-Bags would love to couple Westbrook and Webb in their launching pad and if the Cubs lose Zambrano, Westbrook is an attractive replacement.
But that’s further down the road.
Just remember, as we’ve all learned…it only takes one to pay more than the Tribe

Bottom Line
Westbrook has gone on the record that he enjoys playing for the Indians and the stability that the team provides him may lead to the extension being talked about. BUT…that’s a line straight from the “going into contract negotiations” handbook to feed to the media.

The Indians are likely to approach C.C. and Hafner before getting to Westbrook and, if they are rebuffed or if they have money left over to spend on Westbrook – they’ll come to the table in the range around the Vazquez deal ($34.5 over 3 years). Going much longer than that may be something that Shapiro shies away from, particularly with Miller and Carmona sitting in AAA.

Whether Westbrook is sincere about his feelings toward Cleveland will be tested this Spring; because if a deal isn’t reached in Winter Haven, Jake will hit the FA market in the top tier of FA pitchers behind Zambrano (alongside the likes of Mark Buerhle, Bartolo Colon, and Jason Jennings).

With the possibility that Westbrook could be the second-most desirable pitcher in the FA class (or 1st, if the Cubs extend Zambrano) after 2007, the fact that many teams go into FA looking to spend some money (wisely or not) to make a splash means that Jake would become the subject of a bidding war that will likely price the Indians (and most other prudent teams) out of the Westbrook Sweepstakes.

1 comment:

Cy Slapnicka said...

Well, my fears have been realized.

Now I have to decide how I'm going to deal with it. Do I just listen on my new XM radio, try to get satelite with a Cleveland signal so I can get the package for free, or just bite the bullet and get DirecTV and the package?

I was leaning towards Dish Network with a Cleveland signal, but their quote to end the article makes me mad. They have a checkbook too.