What will C.J. be worth?

Last winter, the free agent pitcher headlines were dominated by the courting of Cliff Lee. Everyone seemed to be following his contract negotiations with the Phillies, Rangers and Yankees. Sure there were other semi-big players on the market, but he was the one to sign.

This year there’s not that one big name everyone is after. CC Sabathia has an opt-out clause in his contract, which he will probably use, but he will more than likely stay with the Yankees with a more lucrative deal. Other fairly big names include Chris Carpenter, Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson, Erik Bedard and Japanese sensation Yu Darvish. But it seems the most sought-after prize will be C.J. Wilson.

Unlike the others listed above, Wilson, 31, is not too old, not injury prone, and not inconsistent. Or he’s just flat-out better. After breaking out in 2010, he has followed up with another very good season. He has pitched to an ERA/FIP/xFIP line of 3.08/3.07/3.43 and has already thrown 181 innings for Texas in 27 starts. It should also be noted that his strikeouts are up (over eight per nine innings) and his walks are down (slightly above three). He did have injuries in the past, but hasn’t suffered from anything since converting to the starting rotation.

This all being said, what type of money should Wilson be looking for? To figure this out, let’s take a look at what some comparable pitchers got and the type of walk years they had. In 2008, A.J. Burnett struck out more nine per nine innings, pitched to a 3.45 FIP and threw over 200 innings. Sure this was a good year for him, but it was an anomaly. Burnett, who was 32 when he hit free agency, spent a lot of time on the disabled list prior to this season and although he always showed great stuff, he was inconsistent and didn’t have command. He wound up getting $82.5 million over five years from the Yankees.

The following year, John Lackey hit the market and received the same contract as Burnett, but from the Red Sox. Lackey, who was also 32, didn’t have the same upside, but still put up solid numbers. He struck out more than seven per nine innings while walking almost two-and-a-half per nine. His velocity was also up in this year, he had a low home run rate, but was injured for a small part of the season. Lackey wasn’t great, but he was a solid starter in a pretty thin starting pitching market, which got him the big deal.

Wilson will get more money than either of these guys, and it’s probably a safe bet that he’ll get a contract that nets him around $100 million. Not only is he younger and a lefty, but he’s just a better pitcher and the best pitcher on the market (not counting Sabathia).

Two things that might hurt him, however, are the fact that there are a lot of pitchers that are a tier or two below him, and if his price is too high, teams could settle for one of them. Also, there is a very strong crop of pitchers in next year’s market (Cole Hamels, John Danks, Matt Cain, etc.), so some teams might be willing to wait another year.

I think the Rangers will make a deal at around $100 million over five or so years to lock him up because they don’t want another Cliff Lee episode.

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  1. Michael said...

    I like CJ, but no way is he a $20 mill/year pitcher. I could see him get a 6 year $100 million, but a 5 year $75 million deal seems more reasonable.

  2. Glen said...

    Only fly in the CJ ointment – and I doubt it will make the difference in the end—is that he’s an obnoxious jerk. And I don’t just mean because of his propensity for having diarrhea of the mouth with the press; I mean he’s pissed off his teammates over the years by saying he’s smarter than they are, consistently isolates himself (rented his own jet to fly to the all-star game rather than ride with teammates), and acts like he’s God’s gift. From what I hear he is one of the few widely disliked guys in an otherwise very tight clubhouse.  Will that matter to Nolan Ryan?  Probably not if he believes he’ll compete well for the duration of the contract, but CJ hasn’t always shown great mental toughness either and doesn’t have that long a track record on reliability.

  3. MikeS said...

    Unlike the others listed above, Wilson, 31, is not too old, not injury prone, and not inconsistent.

    Wait a minute. Buehrle is only 20 months older and I don’t think he has ever been on the DL.  Even if he has, he has 200 innings in 10 straight years and will probably make 11.  Wilson has thrown 100 innings twice.  And consistency?  Really?  You think any pitcher in baseball is more consistent than the guy wearing 56 for the White Sox?

    So how exactly is Wilson substantially younger, less durable or more consistent than Mark Buehrle?

  4. Matt Filippi said...

    If you keep reading, I write “Or he’s just flat out better.” It wasn’t that Wilson has all of those things on all of those pitchers, it was just at least one thing on each guy I listed.

    And Wilson is definitely the better pitcher. He has struck out almost double the amount of hitters that Buehrle has. I understand that he has been consistent, but Wilson is a better top-of-the-rotation guy and I’m sure that Texas will be willing to pay him a lot to make sure he stays there.

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