Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Red Sox Land Ryan Dempster on 2-Year, $26.5 Million Deal

Of all the Red Sox needs this season (first base, left and right fields), none was more critical than obtaining a reliable starting pitcher. The Sox need someone who can go deep into games and give them at least 200 innings per season. With that in mind, they may have found their guy.

The Red Sox have agreed to terms with Ryan Dempster on a two-year, $26.5 million contract. The righthander has been a solid No. 2 or No. 3 starter through much of his career, posting a 3.74 ERA and 911 strikeouts in 997 innings over the past three seasons, including a 3.38 ERA in 173 total innings this year.

Dempster came up with the Marlins and spent the first four-and-a-half years of his career in Miami.

In July 2002, he was shipped to Cincinnati. But after making just 20 starts for the Reds in 2003, Dempster underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery on his right elbow that August.

After his release by the Reds, the free agent joined the Cubs before the 2004 season and found success there for the better part of nine seasons.

From 2000 to 2002, Dempster threw more than 200 innings per season. But there were struggles along the way; he led the NL with a whopping 112 walks in 2001 and 125 earned runs in 2002.

Despite his propensity to eat innings, those struggles (and the reconstructed elbow) persuaded the Cubs to shift the righty to the bullpen, where he spent the next four years in Chicago.

The move worked out well; from 2005 to 2007, Dempster finished at least 50 games per season for the Cubs, leading the NL with 64 games finished in 2006.

Notwithstanding his success as a reliever, the Cubs converted Dempster back to a starter in 2008 and he proceeded to rack up at least 200 innings in each of the next four seasons.

In 2012, spilt between the Cubs and Rangers, Dempster tossed a combined 173 innings, marking the first time he failed to reach 200 in five seasons.

Yet, over that five-year span, he still averaged 199 innings per year.

The reason for the innings dip was because Dempster spent time on the disabled list twice last season; he missed time early in the season with a strained right quadriceps, and was sidelined for 19 games in mid-June with a strained lat muscle.

Over the last five seasons, Dempster posted ERAs of 2.96 ('08), 3.65 ('09), 3.85 ('10), 4.80 ('11) and 3.38 ('12). That's a five-year average of 3.73. Though 2011 was an off year in terms of ERA, Dempster still led the NL with 34 starts that season.

There is some reason for concern for the Red Sox, and they surely took everything into account. Though Dempster posted a nifty 2.25 ERA for the Cubs last season — which made him a hot commodity at the trade deadline — he proceeded to get knocked around by AL lineups upon joining the Rangers.

Dempster's ERA more than doubled to 5.09 when he arrived in the American League. The Angels (three times), Yankees and A's all pounded Dempster last season. The righty surrendered 39 runs in 69 innings as a Ranger, including 10 home runs.

Despite his struggles against AL clubs, Dempster still wound up with 70 strikeouts in 69 innings with the Rangers, and his 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings with Texas were the most of his big league career.

However, Dempster's fastball velocity has been dropping consistently for three years. Last year, his fastball averaged 89.7 mph, down from 90.3 in 2011 and 91 in 2010. Prior to that, he had regularly been throwing in the 91-92 mph range.

Yet, as he's aged, Dempster has learned to pitch more than just throw, incorporating a split-fingered fastball and a cutter into his repertoire in recent years.

Last season, Dempster had a career-best 2.7 walks per nine innings. This is indicative of a pitcher with good control who shouldn't issue a lot of free passes.

Dempster will be 36 on May 3, meaning he will pitch the duration of this pact on the other side of 35. That's why the Sox were so determined to have him under contract for just two years.

To be clear, Dempster is not a game-changer. Though he is a two-time All Star (2000, 2008), he is not a star or a stud. Hopefully, he will give the Sox at least 30 starts, and eat at least 200 innings, in each of the next two seasons. But it should be remembered that Dempster has a 4.33 career ERA and 1.43 WHIP. All expectations should be modest.

If you're looking for more upside, there's this: Dempster has posted at least 170 innings and at least 7.7 K/9 innings in each of the last five years. The only other pitchers to do that were Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez and Cole Hamels. That’s pretty good company.

Because he was traded mid-season in 2012, Dempter will not cost the Red Sox a draft pick, which was a major consideration in this signing. That's a bonus. The Red Sox have not had to part with any of their prized prospects this offseason, which will benefit them in coming years.

Dempster is also a good clubhouse guy, known for being really playful and fun. He's quite the jokester; if you've ever seen/heard his fantastic Harry Caray impression, you know what I mean. It's spot on.

Dempster will keep things loose in the Red Sox clubhouse and dugout. He's a high character guy and, along with the likes of Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino, should have a positive impact on the culture of baseball in Boston.

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