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That Answers That Question
by Derek Smart
For those of you wondering what the Cubs would be doing or not doing about next season's closer situation, wonder no more, as the Cubs inked Ryan Dempster to a three-year, $15.5M contract today.
I suppose I'm of two minds on this:
Dempster has really done the job at the end of games for the Cubs this year, posting a 1.85 ERA while blowing only 2 of his 35 save opportunities - both of which still ended in a Cub victory (not that he had anything to do with that). He also had a much lower BA against as a reliever versus a starter - .218 to .280 - and a far better K/BB ratio out of the pen, improving from 36/22 in his 34.2 innings starting to 53/27 in 58.1 innings thus far in relief.
Nearly all relievers are fungible, at least to a certain degree, and while I think Dempster has some intangibles in his favor - basically, what appears from observation to be an ability to not allow the previous outing's results to affect what he does next time up, although admittedly, he's been successful enough to not have much of an opportunity to exercise that theoretical skill - it's nearly impossible to know from just under 60 innings what he's going to do for the next three years, making a commitment of that length and that amount of cash seem a little large.
So, I'm left thinking that the Cubs could either get burned in this or get a great bargain - after all, a guy like Billy Wagner is likely to get $8-9M a year for an even longer commitment, and while he's a demonstrably better pitcher, if you get 2005-style results from Dempster over the next three seasons, I don't think Wagner's worth that much more money or time.
Spending huge amounts of cash for a guy to throw as few innings as most closers do seems awfully wasteful, but at the same time this team absolutely foundered without someone to anchor that final frame. Whether Dempster is a great closer or not, getting a guy who at least appears to be able to throw at the end for just over $5M a year is a pretty solid deal.
Still, there's been little reason to have confidence in the organization's ability to identify where their bullpen money should be spent, so while I do like Dempster, you'll pardon me if I'm a bit skeptical.
If it sounds like I'm waffling, it's because I am - if I were more certain of Dempster's ability to get the job done over the next three seasons I'd be a lot more enthusiastic - but if I had to give it a rating of some sort, I'd suppose I'd go with a slight thumbs up.