Even though we are only in Spring Training of the 2011 season, we have already gone at length into talking about the Cubs off-season plan for the 2012 winter. Obviously, the reason there has been so much time talking about the 2012 off-season is because that is when Albert Pujols is set to become a free agent. Assuming you believe the countless media reports, then you would feel that the Cubs will be right in the middle of the Pujols saga once the 2011 season concludes. With the expiring contracts of Carlos Pena, Carlos Silva, and Kosuke Fukudome coming off the books at season’s end, the Cubs figure to be one of few teams that could actually afford Pujols. However, instead of focusing on Pujols, Cubs fans should be focusing on one of their favorite players possibly becoming a free agent after the season.
Bruce Levine, of ESPN Chicago, reports that Cubs’ Opening Day starter Ryan Dempster could become a free agent after the 2011 season. According to Levine, for a brief period of time in October, Dempster has the option to opt out of his current contract with the Cubs. Currently, Dempster is entering the 3rd year of a 4 year, $52 million extension he signed with the Cubs after the 2008 season. Dempster is set to make $13.5 million this season, with the option of making $14 million in 2012.
Now, do I expect Dempster to leave the Chicago Cubs? No. Much like Kerry Wood decided that his family and career are in Chicago for the rest of his playing days and beyond, I’m sure Dempster is echoing the same sentiments.
Even if Dempster wanted to remain with the Cubs and opted out for the sole purpose of working out a new contract with the team, that would not really work to his benefit. With the exception of Cliff Lee, the pitching market was incredibly bare this winter. Making it hard to compare Dempster’s value to that of a free agent this winter. One example, though, would be former Cub Ted Lilly. Lilly went 10-12 last season with the Cubs/ Dodgers and had an ERA of 3.62. Lilly then signed a 3 year, $33 million extension with the Dodgers after the season. In comparison, Ryan Dempster went 15-12 last season with a 3.85 ERA. If Dempster were a free agent, he probably would have netted a deal that would have paid him $13MM-$14MM a season. Assuming Dempster pitches at the same level, the $14 million he could make in 2012 is about fair value for both sides.Thus increasing the chances that Dempster won’t even try to gain more money by opting out of his current contract.
While the thought of Dempster becoming a free agent is a bit frightful, I would not worry too much Cub fans, because Dempster is not going anywhere.