The Chicago Cubs are going to owe starting pitcher Ryan Dempster $14 million if he picks up his player option for the 2012 season. In all honesty, why wouldn't he? At 34 years old, Dempster knows that he isn't likely going to get good money anywhere else, especially when other guys on the market are players like C.J. Wilson, CC Sabathia, Mark Buehrle, Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson.
This $14 million is going to be a tough situation for new president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer to get around.
Ever since Dempster officially became a starter for the Cubs in 2008, his ERA has gone up every season. He ended the '08 season with a record of 17-6 and a 2.98 ERA. Dempster certainly looked like he was going to be a great pitcher, but fast-forward to the present and we can tell that 2008 was his peak.
This season, Dempster went 10-14 with a 4.80 ERA. Honestly, Dempster shouldn't even be considered a guy who makes over $5 million a season. This was Dempster's first losing season in Chicago, but it is was a surprise that he was going to drop off this much.
Dempster was somewhat successful in the Cubs' bullpen, but ultimately he found himself being the starter. In four seasons, Dempster has been a consistent innings eater. Not once has he dipped below 200 innings on a season, while he has also been remarkably healthy.
He has also been pretty high in strikeouts, sticking around the area of 200 over all four seasons. Dempster wasn't terrible in the reliever role that he initially played when he came to Chicago, but those days are far behind him.
Dempster is being paid too much to be sent into the bullpen, but he is also being paid too much to not produce at a high level. The issue is there really isn't much the Cubs can do. Perhaps if they look to trade him and eat up some money, it could be a win-win situation.
If they can't move him, the Cubs may have to stick with him. What they will have to hope is that a revival in what will be known as the "Cubs Way" will rejuvenate the aging pitcher into what the Cubs were hoping for.
At this point in time, the Cubs have no solid ace. It looks to be Matt Garza, or perhaps a guy like C.J. Wilson if they pick him up in free agency. It would be tough for Epstein to shell out this money, though, knowing that he is already going to be wasting $14 million on Dempster with many other holes to fill. In the end, he may have to look for cheaper options.
The Cubs could do a lot with that $14 million.
The other thing that could possibly happen is Dempster will restructure his contract. Dempster is a fan favorite, and he certainly really likes Chicago. Most wouldn't complain with having Dempster fall to the No. 4 or 5 spot in the rotation, but his salary impact per season is going to have to come at a much lower number than $14 million.
His overall contract will obviously have to trump this amount of money, but his 2012 footprint can be greatly reduced. This isn't a possibility Dempster has eliminated, as he would like to possibly explore a multi-year contract.
In the end, it really is Dempster's decision. If he accepts his option, the Cubs will likely have to just deal with it, as they swallow up the last few years of Jim Hendry's mess. I don't think many Cub fans would want to see Dempster go, just like they didn't with Kerry Wood. Maybe Dempster will find the passion like Wood did for the Cubs, and will take less money to stick around, but also be able to continue to enjoy his time on the North Side.
Jeff Chase is from Chicago and is an undergrad at Arizona State University. He currently is interning with B/R and is in process of becoming a Featured Columnist for Arizona State football.
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