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Change is in the air in Chicago, with new President of Baseball Ops Theo Epstein and presumed-new-GM Jed Hoyer on the way, ushering in an era of player development, free agency conservatism, and redirecting resources wisely away from the big-league payroll.

Here’s the thing: none of those hallmarks square particularly well with retaining 34-year-old starting pitcher, Ryan Dempster.

But the decision is not entirely up to Epstein and/or Hoyer, because Dempster holds a $14 million player option for 2012, so, if he wants to be a part of the Cubs next year, he can be. Despite the value of that option – no one is going to argue he could get more for 2012 on the open market after a few years of decline and a rough 2011 season – Dempster is still not ready to confirm he’ll be back with the Cubs next year.

“You know what’s funny is people sit there and you see the kind of money that it is and automatically you just assume that it’s a no-brainer,” Dempster said of his 2012 option. “And to me, I never played the game for money. I never do. It’s a great byproduct of what we do, but I play to go out there and try and win, and win as a team. I don’t know what the direction of the team is with somebody [new] in charge …. Do they want to go younger? Do they want to go older? Those are questions that obviously I gotta ask.

“But I love playing in Chicago. I love being a Chicago Cub, and I want to be here for the rest of my career. I’m happy that Theo is going to be in charge now and really looking forward and excited and getting an opportunity talk with him. And hopefully it’s not just picking up an option for this year, but I’ll go out there and play the best I can and be here for a long time.”

In other words, Dempster would like to remain with the Cubs in 2012 and beyond, but he’d prefer that it was on a multiyear extension, rather than a one-year option, even if that option is for great money.

The Dempster decision marks just one of many difficult spots facing the new men in charge. Dempster, who will be 35 for most of the 2012 season, is well-liked both by the fans and by his teammates. He’s been in a steady decline since the 2008 season, posting ERA+ numbers each year worse than the previous year, culminating in an 81 ERA+ this year (suggesting he was 19% worse than the average starting pitcher). Would the Cubs commit to Dempster beyond 2012?

As I see it, the Cubs have three choices when it comes to Dempster:

1.) Negotiate a two or three year extension, which reduces Dempster’s 2012 take-home to something more reasonable than $14 million, and adds a couple of years at no more than $7 to $9 million per year. That gives Dempster the security of knowing he’ll be in Chicago for the next few years (he said it isn’t about the money, though this would guarantee him more than the $14 million option), and could give the Cubs a reasonably-priced back-end starter who can simultaneously mentor the young pitchers the Cubs will hopefully soon be accumulating; or

2.) Let Dempster pick up his $14 million 2012 option, but do not extend him at this time. After 2012, depending on his health and performance, his future with the Cubs can be addressed at that time; or

3.) Gently discourage Dempster from picking up his option by informing him that the team will not be resigning him after 2012 under any circumstances. Would Dempster take the money for 2012 and leave his future uncertain? He wants to stay in Chicago, but, were he a free agent, he could probably get a two or three year deal elsewhere. This, you’ll note, is the kind of tough love Jim Hendry never had the stomach for.

Ultimately, it feels like the first is the best option. If Dempster’s annual salary is within reason, the Cubs could do a lot worse when it comes to a back-end starter over the next few years. If you take out his disastrous April (which, I know, is never a fair proposition), he had a 3.94 ERA and a .740 OPS-against this year. If he could duplicate that in 2012, he might not be worth $14 million, but he’d have a great deal of value.

As for the better of the latter two choices, number three is probably it. The Cubs are unlikely to be a top contender in 2012, and that $14 million could be put to better use, either on the amateur side, or in 2013. But, like Hendry, I’m not sure I’d have the stomach to say it, either. That’s why Epstein and Hoyer will get the big bucks.

For whatever it’s worth, Dempster sounds ready to turn things around.

“I just had a subpar year and I’m gonna go out there and bust my tail this winter. And I’m gonna … do the best I can to go out there and have a better year next year.”

  • amoo22

    I  believe when dempster says he is going to workout hard this winter and try to improve he actually is going to, unlike other veterans like zambrano soriano aram. Good luck to dempster next season!

  • die hard

    Reduced salary for 3 yrs only if goes back to middle reliever. Give Smardzja his spot. Make Marmol starter and give Carpenter try at closer may work.

    • Mike

      Marmol a starter? you can’t be serious. The guy can’t even pitch ONE clean inning. and he’s already past that age to convert him to a starter anyways. What the Cubs should do is trade him while he’s still valuable and get a nice return on him.

      • Larry

        I couldn’t agree more, trading Marmol while he still has value could go a long way towards getting the pieces needed to make the Cubs competitive again. Even if they could move him and bring in a bat and an arm, that would be a huge step in the right direction.

      • Mike Foster

        Yes, please trade him……out of the division though.

  • Toosh

    Dempster should be among the least of the Cubs’ concerns. It’s HIS option to stay or go. The Cubs should let him make his choice, then go from there.

  • Cubsklm

    Wasn’t Dempster the leading supporter for Quade? Fought for him to get the job. That’s all I need to knwo about Dempster.

    Workout get in the best shape of your life for 2012. And play to win the games.That’s what all professional ballpalyers should be doing.

    Now lets talk money. Obviously if he exercises his “Jim Hendry clause”, he will be grossly overpaid. I like the idea of extending him for 2 years and reducing the overlay in 2012. Lets see how his team attitude excepts that.

  • Montelle

    “I just had a subpar year and I’m gonna go out there and bust my tail this winter. And I’m gonna … do the best I can to go out there and have a better year next year.” – I hate to say it, but they all say that when their back is against the wall. Just like how we cubs fans say “there’s always next year!”. I’m guessing Soriano, and Ramirez would tell you they’ll be better next year too LOL.

  • hansman1982

    I would not mind him at something like a 3 year deal at $21 million – 9 next year, then 7 and a club option at 5.  He is still a solid pitcher who is capable of putting up 200 innings while being a positive clubhouse presence.

    • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

      3/21 I think is fair and Demp would be worth that contract

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        I would gladly do that deal.

    • Jim

      I think that’s a fair deal also…plus we’ll see if Dempster is in it for the fun, like he says, or the money.

  • BFM

    the way i see it is that the Cubs need to address the pitching issue. Z is gone and there was a monster hole in the rotation this season. They need to look for at least 2 to 3 decent pitchers…..either through trade, free agency or the minors. Keeping Garza, Dempster and Wells should help in the transition of the organization. If they don’t keep Dempster and something happens to Wells, then they need to get 4 starters. This is the same thing that happened to them this year. They had trouble early on and never recovered by depending on a weak rotation with no regular 5th starter. Keeping Dempster is damage control, but necessary.

  • willis

    He showed me enough this year to not cry too hard if he walks. In fact, I kind of hope he does. If not, it won’t just be the worst thing, but like was said, $14 million can go a lot better places than to a declining 35 year old starter. But also, this is the least of the concerns right now. If he picks it up…so what? It solidifies the #4 spot in the rotation. Whether he does or doesn’t, it isn’t going to affect 2012 too much.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I’m not sure I understand how $14 million and the future of the Cubs’ rotation qualify as the “least of the concerns.” Since a couple of you have said it, I must be missing something. There are a number of fish to fry, but, given Dempster’s popularity and the crappiness of the rotation, this strikes me as one of the top five.

      • hansman1982

        I am in the same boat as you – currently this represents a little more than 10% of what next years payroll will be (assuming a $125m payroll) so I would certaintly say it should be one of the top issues…

      • willis

        I guess I’m thinking more so in the short term than long. If that $14 million is open and distributed to help rebuild, then yeah it matters long term. But whether Dempster stays or goes isn’t a main concern for me, because I don’t see him as having a place in the future on this squad. Obviously that changes if we do a 3/21 like is being talked about.

        Also, dealing Z and Soriano, dealing Marmol (god willing), the development of the young guys in AA and AAA, who/what Cashner will be, Shark being a starter or set up, Brett Jackson, the new manager…those all trump if we will have a 4.50 ERA 10-12 win starter or not in my mind.

  • MrCub73

    I say go the route of option 3 and hope Dempster walk. Dempster may be a great guy and all, but this is about winning baseball games. Since 2008 Dempters ERA and WHIP have increase every year. I don’t see any signs of this turning around any time soon and if the trend continues, what will 2012 hold for Dempster? Dempster might be serviceable if he is willing to accept a 3 year 24 million deal, but will he really want to play the last two years for basically 5 million a year?

    Although others will not agree, the Cubs should target CJ Wilson. The guy is 30 years old and had an ERA of 2.94 while allowing only 16 HR in the homerun haven in Texas. This was only his second full year as a starter, so it is not like his arm has been over used. I have seen some suggest Mark Buehrle, Buehrle would be a decent option, I almost see him going to St Louis if they have the money to sign him. Anyone remember a few years ago when the Cardinals where in the World Series and Buehrle was there sporting his Cardinal hat? The guy is from St Charles, Missouri and did grow up a Cardinal fan.

    Someone suggested moving Marmol to the rotation, I am not convinced that is a bad idea. You can not really use the age argument, look at CJ Wilson who transitioned at 28, Marmol would be the same age and was a starter when he first came up and in the minors. Marmol’s control is horrendous at times, but some guys find a better grove and can harness the control better over the course as a game when they are a starter. Not saying it would work, but might have some legs, although I don’t expect the Cubs will go this route.

    • Robbo

      Marmol is the last guy I want in the rotation. He only has 2 pitches and can’t throw either one for strikes with any regularity. He would reach his pitch count max by the 4th or 5th inning every start and our bullpen would get taxed even more than they already are. Give me a starter that can go 200 innings and stay healthy.

  • http://TheoWaiting Cheryl

    There will be at least four starters available through free agency. I was keen on C.J. Wilson for a while but think he’ll end up in Boston or New York. Buerle is a possibility. I don’t trust Marmol’s control so can’t see him remaining with the cubs. Cashner and Wells are question marks. Dempster is also a question mark. He probably won’t be back next year, not because of the money, but because he’ll be uncomfortable with the changes. My feeling is that money will be targeted toward piching. Any trades considered will probably be used for some high-level prospects fior pitching.

  • Deez

    It’s Dempster’s option. If he wants to walk away from $14M then walk.
    I think there are “viable options available for 2012 that are inexpensive.
    Zach Duke, Chien-Ming Wang, Kazmir, & Aaron Cook are guys who we can sign to one year or two year deals to get us over until we possibly see what the minors has in 2013 -2014.

  • Montelle

    I’m sure I’ll get flack for saying this, but it appears to me that all of our lazy overpriced vets living it up on hendryville contracts are all scared now….and that’s why they are saying they are unsure if they will return. I’m sure of this though……they can choose to lead, follow, or get out of the way. I prefer option 1 or option 3, we’ve had too much following the last couple years.

  • BFM

    @Montelle………I agree with you about the “lazy vets” comment. I don’t think that it applies to Dempster. Just because he had a bad season, doesn’t make him lazy. I think of all the vets, Dempster is the one who has been mentoring younger players and has made an effort to give 100%. Guys like Rami, Soriano, Z, etc…. fall under the category of lead or get out of the way.

    • mac

      I would never call Dempster lazy, but I do call him not very good at baseball.

  • mac

    “I just had a subpar year and I’m gonna go out there and bust my tail this winter. And I’m gonna … do the best I can to go out there and have a better year next year.”

    His career record is 112-116. He’s had a subpar career. His 3 biggest contributions to the Cubs, in my eyes, were breaking his foot hopping over a railing, walking the world in game 1 of the 2008 NLDS and campaiging for Quade to get the job.

    I pray that the Quade firing is closely followed by the trading of Dempster if he picks up that option.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Dempster has 10/5 rights, and cannot be traded without his consent.

      • mac

        It’s tragic that he’s been a Cub for over 5 years. And, that was the loophole for Hendry not giving him a no trade clause, right? Because he technically has one. Gah!

        • hansman1982

          yes, it is tragic that he has provided 13 bWAR here in Chicago, god why do we waste our time on such crappy ball players…oh and as a starter in Chicago he is 53-41 with a 113 ERA+ with 206 IP per year…DAMN YOU RYAN DEMPSTER DUMPSTER

          • mac

            Stats can be misleading. Not saying I’m right or you’re wrong, but I just don’t/can’t/won’t agree that he is part of the solution. He laid an egg in the biggest game of his career as a Cub and that is what sticks with me. I don’t feel like he is a winning player.

            • Bails17

              He would be part of he solution as a 4th or 5th starter.  He is just not a 1 or a 2 guy.  And to say he is not very good at baseball is seriously ridiculous.  The guy is a class act and a competitor.  He will have a better year this year than last.  I would love to have him for 3yr/25 mil.  Any more…then I am ok with him walking.

              • mac

                “And to say he is not very good at baseball is seriously ridiculous.”

                Ok, but it is just my opinion that he has been paid and touted as a front of the rotation/big game guy and I don’t think he is that guy. And, clearly neither do you. Most 4th or 5th rotation guys are not very good (some are), and I just feel like we could do better, and should strive to do better. Settling for mediocrity seems to be ok becuase, well, he’s likeable. I just don’t want to keep settling for the likeable mediocre guy. Why not aim higher?

                • Jason

                  Since 2008, Dempster has accumulated 15 WAR, which places him in 18th place in baseball during that time. I’ll take that production. Plus, he hasn’t been that expensive relative to some other arms.

                  Some other general comments

                  1) 2008 was one bad game – it happens. MLB playoff outcomes are random because of the SSS so there is a lot of luck involved (if you don’t believe this, ask yourself is the 2006 Cardinals were the best team in baseball). That’s why the key is to build teams that can get there multiple seasons in a row.

                  2) Pitchers don’t determine Wins – there have been numerous, numerous studies on this. If Dempster pitched for the Yankees his entire career, he would not have a record below .500.

                  3) He was never annointed the ace – that’s what Z was supposed to be. It isn’t Dempster’s fault that Z couldn’t fill the role because he is less mentally stable than a 13-year old girl (no offense to 13-year old girls).

  • STO

    Stats can be misleading…(except the anachronistic ones mac decides mean something), but mac’s emotional judgment based on one game he felt Dempster should have pitched better trumps all the many many others where he did pitch well, and should be how we view Dempster’s tenure as a starting pitcher for the Cubs.

    Mac, if feelings and W-L records are your basis for evaluation, you are going to be one unhappy little boy during the Theo Epstein Era.

    • mac

      I’m really not making an emotional judgement. I just don’t think he is very good. I have no personal hatred towards him and I root for him to do well whenever he pitches, but I feel like more often than not he does just enough to lose. As I previously said he’s fine as a 4th or 5th starter, but I don’t really want to pin my hopes on Ryan Dempster carrying the Cubs to victory. I just don’t see it happening.

      As for your second comment, STO, I’m not sure what you mean. I thought the point of playing the games was to win, no? I assumed Theo was coming here to create a new winning culture as opposed to clinging onto the old losing culture.

  • Edwin

    I don’t see why people are so quick to get rid of Dempster. He’s been a very valuable Cub for a long time, he’s been worth more than the contract he signed, and hasn’t been a problem in the locker room. And it’s not like Demspter is keeping any young prospects out of the rotation. While his ERA has been trending downward, most advanced statistics show that his 2011 wasn’t as bad as his ERA would suggest. He’ll continue to get worse, and just like any 35+ pitcher, he will have injury risk, but right now he’s still an average to slightly above average pitcher. As long as it’s not too expensive, I’d like Dempster in the rotation. It sure beats having Doug Davis or Rodrigo Lopez making another 20 starts or so.

    • mac

      Edwin, since I don’t agree with all that you said (and it’s ok to not agree) what has he really done to make him a valuable Cub for a long time? I just don’t see it. I agree with him being better than Doug Davis and Rodrigo Lopez, but that is such a low bar.

      • Edwin

        Mac,

        I find him valuable based off of what he has done for the Cubs. In 2004-2007, he was a good relief pitcher. He certainly wasn’t a “shut down” closer by any means, but he was still valuable, especially compared to other relievers. Since he has been a starter, he has posted WAR totals of 5.2, 3.7, 3.4, and 2.8. Other than this past year, all of those numbers are above average.

        If WAR isn’t your thing, and I don’t think WAR is the be-all end-all of statistics, Dempster has had good ERA’s over the years as well. His ERA- has been 66, 84, 92, and 121. In other words, in 2008 he was elite, was above average the next 2 seasons, and was below average last season.

        I guess “for a long time” was a bad way to put it, but my main point is that he has been valuable over the past 4 years, and even if he is just an “average” pitcher nowadays, that doesn’t mean he isn’t still valuable or worth keeping in the rotation. League average pitchers are harder to come by than you might think. I think that anything under 3 years/30 mil would be a good deal.

        • mac

          Great explanation, Edwin. Thanks for taking the time to explain your opinion.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          ERA-, eh? I haven’t heard of that, but it looks like it’s just another way of conveying the same info as ERA+. Is that right?

          • Edwin

            I think it is. I normally go with Fangraphs for my advanced stats, and that’s what they started using. I don’t know why they use ERA-, maybe to set themselves apart from Baseball Reference?

            I think sometimes I’m guilty of blindly regurgitating whatever number Fangraphs uses.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              I bet you’re right – it’s fine by me, because it is as easy to understand as ERA+.

  • STO

    Mac, W-L for pitchers is one of the most misleading stats there is, which is what I was referring to. But even to play that game…Dempster as a SP for the Cubs: 53-41. Hardly the record of a pitcher you believe not to be very good at baseball. And when you look at the rest of his numbers including the geekier ones, he’s been a very solid SP for vast majority of the past four seasons and would be fine as a member of the rotation for another season.

    And to touch on your belief Dempster doing just enough to lose most days…what in the world does that mean? Especially when, over the past four seasons, more times than not, he wins?

    Gotta get away from word “feel” mac.

    • Bails17

      Well said STO….and Mac might want to consider Dempster’s upside.  Great club house guy…leader and mentor to the young pitchers…and he still has the kind of stuff that could win 15 plus games in a season.  He is a relatively safe bet as he is not injury prone, and he is going to take a lot of pressure off of your bullpen by eating up 180 plus (more like 200) innings every year.  There is value there for sure….just not as a number 1 or 2 guy.

      • mac

        I do consider Dempster’s upside, and like I said I have nothing against him as a person, but I don’t fall in love with the “clubhouse guy” and “mentor” angles. He didn’t seem like a great clubhouse guy or mentor when he was berating Quade in the dugout last season. And, yes, isolated incident and all, but still. He was quick to ridicule Zambrano for that type of behavior and then he does it? Not to mention all the Gatorade machines/buckets he’s smashed up over the years. Those things sort of fall into the losing mentality that I get from him.

        Anyway, you guys all have great opinions and ideas, but I just don’t agree with you on this one.

  • mac

    STO, I get what you are saying. Truly, I get it. But I can’t help but go on my feeling with this one. It’s the same with Ramirez and, to an extent, Soriano. At the end of the season their numbers were respactable, if not pretty good, but do you consider them winning players? I don’t.

    In Dempster’s first 6 starts of 2011 he gave up 6, 4, 4, 5, 7 and 7 earned runs. Yes, he settled down and pitched well in the middle part of the year, but those first 6 starts were brutal and, kind of, when the team could have used him to deliver.

    And, that’s where the Ramirez & Soriano comparison comes from, yes, their numbers ended up being solid, but where were they in the beginning of the year?

    Sometimes the eye test works better for me than all the geekier stats, as you put it. To me Dempster is just a guy. Not the worst, but nowhere near a $14 million guy, either.

  • Jim

    If he cuts the crappy Will Ferrell as Harry Caray impersonation, I’d be OK with re-signing him to an extension.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      But he does an excellent Will Ferrell as Harry Caray!

      • Jim

        You’re right, his WF as HC is good – then he needs to cut out the corny comedy act.

  • Dumpman

    I think we all secretly hope Dempster declines his option.. but its just that.. his option. Even though we have new leadership here, contracts are contracts. I think Dempster will pick up his option.
    If he restructred his deal that would be beneficial to us for sure, But I doubt he does. He said its not all about money, but it usually is. If he feels he has some still left in the tank, what he’ll do is pick up his 14mil option, work out a bunch and put in a really good year. That will set him up for his last big contract.

    • mac

      I’m openly hoping Dempster declines it. No way to Oswalt!

  • Kevin

    Since Oswalt has been declined his option, what are the chances the Cubs try to sign him?
    He would be a clear upgrade over Dempster, and giving him a 3 yr 45 million contract would be reasonable.

    • EQ76

      I’d be okay with that.  If we could get him and maybe another innings eater type we could be okay with our staff next year.. not over the top great, but competitive.

    • Kansas Cubs Fan

      3yrs at 45 mil?? NO WAY
      He had back injury problems last year and hes pretty old.

      BTW that sounds like a Hendry idea.
      Are you Hendry?

  • Kevin

    He is 34 by the way same age as Dempster. Maybe 3/45 is too high, but he is going to get something decent on the free agent market even with potential back issues. I’d rather have Oswalt at 3/40-3/45 then Dempster at 3/30 not even close. We gave Ted Lilly 4/40 and he isn’t close to being as great as Oswalt.

    • Kansas Cubs Fan

      Dempster for 3/30 is too high if the Cubs are going spend money on pitching it needs to be young pitching.

      I think Casey Coleman will be able to be a decent number 5 starter, His last few starts after he made some adjustments were pretty good. So why not save ALOT of money and go after a guy like Scott Kazmir? Kazmir is still pretty young and was on the Rays staff with Garza.

      .

      • Kevin

        I agree to move onto younger pitching, I just don’t know about Kazmir he hasn’t been the same the last few years. I was just suggesting Oswalt as a viable option, since he has pitched in the post season, been to the World Series, he has incredible experience which could be important if this team wants to compete in a few years.

      • Bails17

        Coleman has a TON of adjustments to make before he should even be considered.  NO THANKS!!!

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I agree that I’d pay slightly more for Oswalt, but only slightly, given the health risks. 3/30 for Oswalt seems pretty generous, but worth considering.

  • http://TheoWaiting Cheryl

    Never liked Oswalt. In some ways he’s very mercurial. I’d rather take a chance on a younger player.

  • MrCub73

    If Epstein is as good as we a think he is, should we still assume the top guys likes Wilson will go to the Yankees or Red Sox? I am tired of that being the Cubs motto, I hope that is changing, Theo is not only got name recognition to us fans, but also to the players he is trying to sign. The Cubs need to stop focusing on guys that are second tier. I guess that is ok, if you want to finish second. Look at the rotations of the playoff teams, you do see many second rate guys. I can only hope the Cubs use the same approached they used to get Theo, will be the approach they take with players. Find the ones they want and go get them!

    • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

      The key part of that is “find the ones they want.” Fans are going to clamoring for Pujols or Fielder… but do the Cubs want either of them? That’s going to be Epstein’s greatest challenge, I think. Going for the big splash would be popular, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the right move.

      I’m ambivalent on Wilson. If the price is right, sign him up. But I think his price is going to climb significantly, and that point I think I’d rather pass.

  • Lou

    Is everyone that quick to bash Dempster now? everyone is throwing stats that he had a sub par year and he did but he had 7 quality starts that ended up in no decisions or a blown game. I believe that they should offer the three year contract first year at 9 mil, second at 7, and the his final year a player option of 5 mil. Yes, he is getting up there in age but he can still put out 200 innings a year. As long as we have guys producing behind him he can most definately be a number 3 or 4 pitcher with the pitching staff we have right now.

    • Bails17

      Lou…he has a 14 mil player option for this year….there is no way he will sign for that.  It will take 25-27 over 3 years to get it done.  And I would still sign him for that $$.

  • montellew

    Yes, I’m still quick to toss him. Without the temper, he pulled a Z on hendry. He got the money and the performance dropped.

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