In their quest to load up on expensive veterans after unloading all of their other expensive veterans, the Red Sox have reached an agreement with starting pitcher Ryan Dempster to bring the 25-year-old right-hander to Boston. Dempster will get $26.5 million over the next two seasons after having a solid 2012 season between the Cubs and Rangers. Dempster was the object of affection for many teams after he posted a deceivingly low ERA in the first half of last season, and he became more attractive to the Sox after many other options were cleared from the free agent market over the past couple of weeks.
Dempster’s 2012 season featured a 3.38 ERA, 3.69 FIP, and 3.77 xFIP over 173 innings. He struck out 7.96/9 and walked 2.71/9 en route to a year that FanGraphs valued at 3.3 WAR. Dempster began the year with a sexy ERA in large part thanks to an abnormally high strand rate and plenty of luck. After reaching Texas, the aging pitcher was hit much harder. In fact, he surrendered 10 home runs in his 69 Texas innings versus nine in his 104 Chicago innings. His WHIP in Texas was 1.43 versus 1.03 in Chicago. Neither of his home parks were pitcher friendly and the sample size is small, but there’s little reason to believe Dempster will excel in the AL East.
Still, there’s a decent chance that Dempster approximates the value of the contract if he can hold it together at his age for just two more seasons. He’s not a premier starter, and the Red Sox were at least wise to make sure they didn’t give him anything beyond two years. The biggest problem with this contract is that the best case scenario seems to be Dempster giving his new team even money on their contract. That’s if Dempster stays healthy, doesn’t begin to decline, and suffers less from the change of leagues than he did after making the jump last summer. All of this seems fairly unlikely, and it’s almost just as probable that he’ll begin the downward spiral that happens to most pitchers at the end of their careers.
This is by no means a completely embarrassing contract for Boston, as they have reason to believe Dempster will be a perfectly solid addition to the team’s starting rotation for the next two seasons. Even if he can’t live up to his stretch of solid seasons over the past few years, which he probably won’t, it’s doubtful the deal will look like an all-out disaster. This is a case of the team paying for decent innings, but perhaps more problematically it also continues the organization’s confusing path. The team clearly wants to remain competitive even as the rest of the AL East gets better, but this signing along with those of Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, and Jonny Gomes seems to signify a blown chance to start from scratch.