Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Hefty Lefty

The fourth part in a series regarding the contract extensions being discussed in Winter Haven.
Part IV – The Crooked Cap
Rare in MLB is the true “ace” – the pitcher that you put down every five days with the expectation to win, or at least be in EVERY game that he pitches. You can count the aces in MLB fairly easily (Santana, Carpenter, Webb, Oswalt, Halladay, Peavy, Zambrano), so the development of Sabathia to that level of the elite pitchers is nothing to dismiss. While it may be premature to lump C.C. with that group, he’s not far off.

The Numbers

Last year, C.C. was 5th in MLB for OPS allowed, ahead of Halladay and Zambrano among others as he posted a 12-11 record. His 1.17 WHIP ranked 9th in 2006 and his 3.91 K to BB ratio ranked 8th. Considering that C.C. won’t turn 27 until July and has 81 career victories, it seems that C.C. is entering the next stage of his career, that of an anchor.

He can anchor a rotation, averaging over 192 innings over the past 3 years (oblique muscles be damned) while his ERA,WHIP, and HR allowed have decreased each year as his strikeouts have incrementally risen. That’s what referred to as trending upwards.

For a 26-year old, perhaps just hitting his stride, there’s going to be quite a market for a ready-made ace if C.C. continues his development into his pending Free Agency.

Contracts to Comparable Players
This is a hard area to address, because few would have thought that Barry Zito would have received his 7-year, $126M deal from the Giants this off-season, completely throwing the idea that any contract over 5 years for a starting pitcher is insane (see Hampton, Mike) and even 5 years is a stretch (see Park, Chan Ho).

How out of whack is the 7-year deal? Omar Minaya, the Mets GM who is certainly not averse to giving out long-term deals said that he dropped out of the Zito talks when the years hit 5.

How about the fact that Jason Schmidt signed a 3-year, $47M deal with the Dodgers just prior to Zito getting his 7 years.

Need more proof that the 7-year deal broke the mold? Look at the deals signed in the past year by elite pitchers:
Roy Halladay – 4 years, $42M signed March 2006
Roy Oswalt – 5 years, $73M signed in August 2006
Chris Carpenter – 5 years, $63.5M signed in December 2006 (admittedly with injury concerns)

These are the types of contracts that were the norm for the quality of these arms until the Zito deal. Again, take a look at the OPS allowed leaders from last year, and tell me that the Zito deal isn’t completely outrageous (Zito ranked 48th).

But is the Zito deal the natural progression of the way that contracts are going or is it the aberration that the Hampton and Park deals were, one that will be reviewed as a one-time deal, a regrettable contract.

There’s plenty of time (and at least one off-season until C.C. becomes a FA) to find out, so if Shapiro and the boys find the number that Sabathia is looking for, they’ll help determine the direction that the market will take.

Will it continue to go up and force the Tribe to give C.C. a deal in the range of 6 years, $108M (that’s a ton of money and way too many years) or will it regress back to the mean of the Oswalt deal and figure in around 5 years, $80M?

If the Indians can figure that out, it will go a long way in determining the values for the very talented class of Free Agent pitchers after the 2008 season.

Who Would Be Interested?
Simply – any and every team that has a starting rotation.
What team couldn’t use a 28-year old power LH ace?

But there’s something that complicates the matter. C.C. will hit Free Agency with a ridiculously talented group of pitchers, headed by Johan Santana. After Santana, there are also Jake Peavy, Ben Sheets, Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Jon Garland, and John Lackey – and that’s just the upper crust.

What becomes complicated is that when the Santana Sweepstakes finds its winner and the market is set, there are going to be teams that lost out on Santana that are sitting on a mountain of money looking for someone to take it.

What if the Red Sox outbid the Yankees for Santana?
Will the Yanks be OK not adding a stud to the rotation?

Or what if Peavy moves on from San Diego and heads elsewhere, leaving the Padres a huge hole in the rotation? Signing C.C. to pitch in his native California (where he would put up absurd numbers in Petco in the NL West) would pacify a fanbase upset about losing Peavy?

Or what if the Giants decide that they need a yin to Barry Zito’s yang to anchor a rotation that will, by then, include Noah Lowry, Matt Cain, and Tim Linecum? C.C.’s Bay Area roots aren’t going to hurt that negotiation process.

Just thinking about the prospective suitors makes my head hurt and my heart heavy…and he’s not even a Free Agent for another 18 months.

Bottom Line
Hearing the comments from C.C. about his excitement hearing the riches of the Zito deal don’t really bode well for the contract extension. If, however, he’s looking for a 7-year deal to match Zito’s deal, it’s unlikely that the Indians would offer a contract of that length. Regardless of any concerns about Sabathia’s long-term health (which could certainly have some validity with his weight and body type), it’s doubtful the Tribe would give a 7-year, or even a 6-year deal, to any pitcher.

The dollars per year that C.C. will be in the market for ($16M to $18M) may not be the ultimate problem in the contract extension talks; it will be the years that will be the stumbling block. The Indians’ comfort level for those 6th and 7th years (and whether C.C. includes them in his demands) in the negotiations will be what ultimately decides whether he is wearing a Tribe uniform in 2009.


Anonymous said...

So I'm all over the place on this. You could say C.C. will be inclined to take the extension to avoid a decline in his market value due to the supply of aces for the 2009 season. You could, but you'd probably be wrong: First, at least a few of those guys will be locked up by then. Second, while it may seem to be a fairly homogeneous group at first glance, C.C. and Johanissimo are both reliable, durable, powerful, lefty arms. They're a class above, and expect to be paid like it.

I'm dreaming of a C.C./Miller punch, mostly because all the really great World Series teams ride twin aces. (Feller/Lemon, anyone?) Think of how far Santana and Liriano carried the Twinkies last year with a crap lineup.

But they're all dreams. I'm preparing myself emotionally for C.C.'s departure (or -- In Shapiro We Trust -- trade). Simply put, there's no way Dolan ponies up for this, and frankly I can't blame him. I love my Tribe, but it's just a baseball team.

Hafner, on the other's like this. To me, even an ace's value is wrapped up in the rotation around him. It takes two or three good starters, working together, to carry a staff, and even then they only work 40% of the games. Travis brings the day-in, day-out ability to win ballgames single-handedly. Why haven't they extended him yet?

Mevs said...

This site is tremendous and I have linked it. It will be a daily stop for me from now on. From one die hard to another, I'd feel honored if you did the same.

Go Indians! I am counting down the minutes till the opener.

Rockdawg said...

7 years....That's nothing. Aunt Jo just turned 90 on Saturday, and she still hits the links with regularity! There is only one person who knows what this comment means. Consider this, PTC, when the Indians won the '48 series, Jo was 31!!! Sorry it's been awhile....GO BUCKS!!!

Paul Cousineau said...

I am also preparing myself for C.C.'s departure and think that we should enjoy the last 2 years we have of him.

As I said, I think it will come down to someone giving him a 7-year deal in the $140M range, which is just absurd for a starting pitcher. The Indians should not extend themselves that far.

As for Hafner, I think that the Indians will get an extension done with him for the reasons that you stated above.

RD - Aunt Jo is still playing golf?

Remember the game at old Muni when the foul ball went under her seat (I thought she was 90 then) and she hammered the guy going after the ball under her seat with her purse as a couple of open-mouthed 8-year-olds looked on?