Saturday, April 14, 2007

Jake and the Fat...Paycheck

With the overwhelmingly good news that Jake Westbrook signed a 3-year, $33M extension to keep him in an Indians’ uniform through the 2010 season, it’s time to examine the ramifications of locking the sinkerballing innings-eater into the Tribe rotation.

Three is the Key

Westbrook’s contract not only keeps him in Cleveland, but also does it with a contract that doesn’t contain the risks associated with a longer contract. The money involved ($11M annually) is in line with the going rate, so there’s no surprise there (if the $ surprises you, you haven’t been paying attention). The years, however, is what makes this contract look so good from so many angles.

The contracts given this past off-season became irresponsible as the guaranteed years mounted up. Jeff Suppan (4 years…not bad), Ted Lilly (4 years…not bad), Gil Meche (5 years…ugh), and Barry Zito (7 years…good God) all received contracts longer than Westbrook’s extension. The wisdom in limiting the number of guaranteed years is tied to the idea that pitchers, and the inherent risks of their profession, can have SO many things go wrong going forward that the risk of a long-term contract can be minimized by limiting the guaranteed years.

By limiting the extension to 3 years, the Indians don’t extend themselves out too far into the future, but lock up an innings-eater that’s averaged nearly 15 wins, with a 1.32 WHIP over the last 3 years. Comparable production for the next 4 years (2007 under his current contract, then the 3-year extension) is certainly worth the $11M per that the Indians will be paying.

By the way, I don’t mean to brag, I don’t mean to boast (though I’m smooth like warm butter on your breakfast toast), but this exact contract is what I said would be a prudent and sound move for the Indians going forward a little over a month ago.

A Sign of Things to Come?
Will the contingent that said that the Dolan ownership would NEVER EVER sign a player to an extension or pay a player more than $10M a year please issue their mea culpas, in writing, to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario? The truth is, that the payroll flexibility that the Indians have achieved allowed them to commit this money to Westbrook.

The signing of Westbrook’s importance also is tied into the fact that Westbrook is a current Indian, signed before he hit a FA market that was sure to reward him for his success. Sure, other teams can make splashy signings of other teams’ Free Agents that get a lot of headlines and pub on the Marketing Firm previously was known as ESPN, but to lock up a known quantity to an established (and emerging) core of talent is infinitely more prudent.

Does the Westbrook signing portend more signings to come? Perhaps, as the Indians have said that they’re going back to the table with Hafner’s people this weekend. It may or may not affect the C.C. talks, but let’s enjoy the fact that C.C. is here for another TWO seasons and that Westbrook will be locked into the #2 (or #3 or even #4, which shows the strength of the Indians’ starting pitchers) spot in the rotation through 2010.

Looking Ahead
The biggest news of the signing is the effect that it has on the Indians’ rotation for the next 4 seasons as it stabilizes a huge part of it. With Westbrook signed, it’s unlikely that the Indians pick up Byrd’s 2008 option worth $8M and can use that money for other portions of the roster. Taking that into account, the 2008 rotation looks like this:
If the Indians are able to extend C.C., that rotation stays intact until 2010.
Think about that for a moment…that’s 3 full seasons with that stacked rotation.
Assuming that Atom Miller is all he’s cracked up to be, that’s an absurdly good rotation.

If the Indians aren’t able to extend Sabathia, the 2009 rotation (assuming that Sowers and Miller continue on their current paths) looks more like this:
Carmona/Chuck Lofgren/TBD
Lots can happen between now and April of 2009, but that’s pretty solid as well. Obviously, adding Sabathia to that mix strengthens the rotation; but, even without him, the Indians still look strong.

As you can see, what the Westbrook signing does is start a trickle-down effect of allowing the Indians to fortify an evolving rotation that will serve as the backbone for this team. A team, now better prepared to continue their sustained run at the playoffs and…wait for it…some World Series pennants.

If you would have told me in December that the Indians would sign Westbrook to a 3 year extension this year, I would have been dancing on the ceiling.

Well, they did.


t-bone said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
t-bone said...

Buster Olney's take: Olney [Print without images]

Saturday, April 14, 2007
Money isn't everything


Jake Westbrook might have been the most coveted free-agent pitcher this offseason, with Carlos Zambrano likely to re-sign with the Cubs. Pitching-starved teams would have looked at Westbrook's reliability, his durability, his ability, and someone probably would have pitched him a $60 million offer.
But here's the thing: In Jake Westbrook's world, there really is no practical difference between $60 million and the $33 million he took to re-sign with the Indians on Friday, in a three-year deal. The difference is just numbers, money that he almost certainly wouldn't spend, anyway. "Not with the way I was brought up," said Westbrook.

He already has a home in Cleveland and a home in Georgia, and his family is comfortable, already. "We felt real strong about what we had here," Westbrook said over the phone Friday evening. "We know what we have here. The unknown is something we didn't really want to test out. I've got a comfort level here as a player, with the organization, but as a family, we've got one, too. In that sense, we're very happy."

Westbrook pitched briefly for the Yankees in 2000, and I can remember him sitting at his small locker in Fenway Park and reading a Bible. He was quiet and reserved, in a clubhouse of superstars, but as a beat writer, you got a really strong sense from Westbrook then that he was extraordinarily grounded, someone who knew exactly how he believed he should conduct himself, someone who had a strong faith; he still does.

"He is truly an exceptional guy," Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro wrote in an e-mail. "This job ultimately is about betting on people. We gather all of the objective information available, and in cases like Jake, all it does is confirm what we already know.

"There is not a player we know that has higher character, professionalism, and work ethic. He is an elite preparer at every level and has evolved into a leader on our team. In the end, this deal would not have gotten done unless Jake had wanted to be here and had made the choice to do so. Clearly, like Carlos Guillen, this is an example of a player appreciating his teammates and his environment and making a decision to remain without knowing all of the alternatives and upside out there. Special person."

If Westbrook had chosen to test the market and pursue more money, it would have been his absolute right. But it is not surprising that, in the end, he took far less cash than he might have made because he recognized that what he has now makes him happy.

"It's awesome," he said. "I'm very much at peace with this, and now it's just a matter of going out and trying to win baseball games for this team."

t-bone said...

one thing i find funny is that someone was writing that mr. westbrook should be pitching out of the pen about 11 months ago...

Paul Cousineau said...

Yeah...who was that hack?