John Lackey: Free Agent at the End of the Season

Josh LevittSenior Analyst ISeptember 18, 2009

BOSTON - SEPTEMBER 15:  John Lackey #41 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim delivers a pitch in the third inning against the Boston Red Sox on September 15, 2009 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. The Red Sox defeated the Rays 3-1.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

There's no doubt that John Lackey is the big name starting pitcher on this year's free agent market. Lackey is the only guy available, who can be legitimately counted on to lead a starting staff and be a No. 1 starter.

However, there's considerable risk with John Lackey. In each of the past two seasons, Lackey has missed significant time because of injuries. That fact has to be very concerning.

So I look at John Lackey's free agency like this: it will be a struggle between two sides. One side will see Lackey the ace, who is the only legit No. 1 starter on this year's market, while the other side will see risk and a bad contract waiting to happen.

How will this struggle play out on the free agent market? Let's take a look:

The Case for Lackey

Consistent: Over the past five seasons, Lackey has never produced an ERA greater than four. In each season since 2006, Lackey's WHIP has ranged from 1.21 to 1.26. In addition, Lackey's K/9 (an impressive 7.2) has remained the same in each season since 2007 and his BB/9, during the same time frame, has ranged from 2.1 to 2.4. And most importantly (by team standards), Lackey has won more than 10 games in every season since 2003.

Studly: It's worth repeating, is there another pitcher on this market that you would feel comfortable shelling out $12-$15 million annually for?

John Lackey=Mr. Consistency

The Case against Lackey

Injuries: This is where teams need to be concerned. In each of the past two seasons, Lackey has started the year on the DL with various arm issues (tricep, elbow). Sure, Lackey has made it back to the Angels both years and his performance has not taken a hit, but the threat of more arm injuries has to make teams think twice about investing in Lackey.

He's No CC Sabathia: Lackey is a very, very good pitcher. At times, Lackey is a great pitcher. He has the potential to be dominant. But make no mistake about it, John Lackey is nowhere close to CC Sabathia, Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, or any of the other great pitchers in baseball. Lackey is not too far behind those guys, but make no mistake about it, Lackey is behind.

And just for the record, I'd rather have Lackey take the ball every fifth day for me than A.J. Burnett.


As I stated before, there's no one on the free agent market that's in Lackey's league. The real competition could come from the trade market if big names like Roy Halladay and Carlos Zambrano hit the trading block.

Elias Ranking: Type A

In my opinion, there's no reason for the Angels not to offer Lackey arbitration. He only earned $9 million this season and if the Angels can keep Lackey around next year without a long term deal for $14-$15 million, I'd say that's reasonable. And if Lackey gets a big contract elsewhere, then the Angels would get two high draft picks in return.

A win-win situation.


(Five years/$80 million)

Here are some comparable contracts:
Oliver Perez (Three years/$36 million)
Derek Lowe (Four years/$60 million)
Carlos Zambrano (Five years/$91 million)
A.J. Burnett (Five years/$82.5 million)

The A.J. Burnett contract would be great for Lackey's agent to use as a basis of negotiation. Sure Burnett's stuff might be better, but Lackey is more consistent.

Lackey's injury history makes him less attractive in my opinion, but considering that he's the best option out there on the market, he's bound to get $14-$16 million a season from somewhere.


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