Cubs Dempster Farewell Tour in 2012?


As Jordan mentioned yesterday, with the end of the World Series begins the official start of the Major League Baseball off season. Cubs fans are well aware of the anticipation surrounding what player moves new President Theo Epstein and front office company will pursue, among all of the things the new regime will be looking to mold from the ground up.

While most of the attention will surround possible free agent targets, whether the Cubs can send Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano packing, and figuring out who else from the current roster stays or needs to go, there is one move that has already been decided on for Epstein. Today it was announced that starter Ryan Dempster has exercised his player option to remain with the Cubs for the 2012 season. The decision will add $14 million to the Cubs payroll next year.

After a sub par season in which the Cubs Opening Day starter finished with a record under .500, the price tag probably gets Cubs fans thinking more along the lines of Soriano and Zambrano than one of a sound investment. Dempster had a rough April to put it nicely. He ended up allowing 33 runs over six starts to begin with a 9.58 ERA while going 1-3. While he bounced back to put up more respectable numbers over the course of the season, he finished 2011 without a win in his last six decisions. That included a win-less September, capped off by an ugly final start in which he allowed nine earned runs.

The bright side is that Dempster has totaled at least 200 innings each year since being converted back to a starter while with the Cubs after being the team’s closer. That stretch includes the past three seasons that fall under the big money deal Dempster signed with the Jim Hendry regime. The popular teammate in the clubhouse figures to revert back to his 2008 to 2010 numbers in what will officially be a contract year for him.

With the Zambrano situation up in the air, the Cubs rotation as it currently stands consists of Matt Garza and Randy Wells. Dempster figures to slide in between the two for 2012, as the Epstein led front office figures to try to plug the back end of the rotation with low risk, high reward free agents if they determine what the Cubs have in the minors is not fit to step in immediately.

Regardless of how well or poorly Dempster pitches, 2012 figures to be his last as a Cub. The starter will become 35 years old next may, and would have the leverage to command at least a three year contract when he hits the market a year from now with a quality 2012 season. A multi-year deal at double digit millions annually may not be attractive to the new front office. Another sub par season similar to the one he just had, and the Cubs front office would have good reason not to pursue keeping Dempster as a top of the rotation option for 2013 and beyond.

Epstein and company have a lot of work and decisions to make now that they have officially settled in with their new team. But at least one decision has been made for them for 2012.