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Considering Pitching Contracts This Offseason, is Jon Lester’s Deal a Relative Steal?

Analysis and Commentary

jon lester chicago cubsThe price of pitching was expected to rise exponentially and this offseason has yet to disappoint as teams threw money at big-name pitchers before baseball’s braintrusts set foot in Nashville for the Winter Meetings, and continued to do so after.

The two biggest deals were the first two signed, when David Price ($217M) and Zack Greinke ($206M) became the first free agent pitchers to sign new deals worth more than $200 million.

With Jordan Zimmermann ($110M) and Johnny Cueto ($130M) joining the Hundred Million Dollar Pitcher’s Club, with Jeff Samardzija ($90M) getting a significant pay raise to put him on the outside looking in, is there a chance we, as a collective, will look back at the Jon Lester signing and think of it as a steal? Especially when compared to the enormous deals signed by Price and Greinke?

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According to Cot’s, Lester has five years, $115 million remaining on his contract in salary and signing bonus payments (plus either a mutual option worth $25 million or buyout worth $10 million got 2021).

At minimum, Lester has $125 million in guarantees coming to him over the next five seasons.

Steamer’s projections peg Lester’s value at 4.4 WAR in 2016.

FanGraphs assumes a player loses half a win per year between their age 31-37 seasons. Meanwhile, the cost of 1 WAR increases by 5 percent each year — with 2016’s cost set at $8 million.

Putting those numbers and assumptions into action and we come up with the following.

First, a look at how Lester stacks up against Price.

YEAR LESTER SALARY VALUE PRICE SALARY VALUE
2016 4.4 $20M $35.2M 5.0 $30M $40M
2017 3.9 $20M $32.76M 4.5 $30M $37.8M
2018 3.4 $25M $29.92M 4.0 $30M $35.2M
2019 2.9 $25M $26.97M 3.5 $31M $32.55M
2020 2.4 $25M $23.28M 3.0 $32M $29.1M
5-YEARS 17 WAR $115M $148.13M 20 WAR $153M $174.65M

Lester is projected to out-perform the remaining five years of his contract by an estimated $33.13 million. Price projects to be worth $21.65 million more than his contract in the first five years of his seven-year deal.

That assumes Price doesn’t opt out after Year 3 in 2018 after he cashes in on $90 million in three seasons in which he projects to be worth $113 million.


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It’s not a bargain by any stretch, but it is still good value considering the cost of pitching these days.

And while Price is projected to be slightly better than Lester over the next five seasons, the tale of the tape shows Greinke and Lester are destined to be on similar paths over the next five years.

YEAR LESTER SALARY VALUE GREINKE SALARY VALUE
2016 4.4 $20M $35.2M 4.2 $34.4M $33.6M
2017 3.9 $20M $32.76M 3.7 $34.4M $31.08M
2018 3.4 $25M $29.92M 3.2 $34.4M $28.16M
2019 2.9 $25M $26.97M 2.7 $34.4M $25.11M
2020 2.4 $25M $23.28M 2.2 $34.4M $21.34M
5-YEARS 17 WAR $115M $148.13M 16 WAR $172M $139.29M


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What stands out here is the difference between Greinke’s annual salary and projected value. Unlike Lester or Price, Greinke is not expected to out-perform his contract over the next five years.

The average annual value for the first five years of Greinke’s six-year contract is $34.4 million — or $172 million through 2020.


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However, Greinke’s projected value in those seasons is $139.29 million— or $35.2 million less than what he is expected to make.

And for good measure, let’s compare Lester to Zimmermann:

YEAR LESTER SALARY VALUE ZIMMERMANN SALARY VALUE
2016 4.4 $20M $35.2M 2.5 $18M $20M
2017 3.9 $20M $32.76M 2.0 $18M $16.8M
2018 3.4 $25M $29.92M 1.5 $24M $13.2M
2019 2.9 $25M $26.97M 1.0 $25M $9.3M
2020 2.4 $25M $23.28M 0.5 $25M $4.85M
5-YEARS 17 WAR $115M $148.13M 7.5 WAR $110M $64.15M

Steamer doesn’t seem to give the newest Tigers frontline starter the kind of love he might get elsewhere with regards to a WAR number. But in any case, the price of pitching is steep and is exemplified by the contract Detroit handed Zimmermann this offseason.

It’s too early to say whether or not the Cubs put together a good deal when they signed Lester to a six-year deal. But it isn’t too early to suggest that they were wise in jumping the market a year before prices became astronomical.


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Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.

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