Lester is More For Billingsley

Jon Lester has signed a 5-year extension with the Red Sox for a total of $30 million, and a club option year for $13 million in 2014.  Per Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports:

The deal is contingent on Lester passing a physical Tuesday. The impending deal is the largest given to a pitcher with around two years of service time, doubling the four-year, $15 million deal Cleveland’s Fausto Carmona signed at the beginning of last season. If the Red Sox exercise the option, they will have kept Lester off the free-agent market for two years.

The Red Sox have been locking up their young stars this offseason, signing Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Lester to contracts that bought out at least two years of free agency.  This is something the Dodgers need to seriously consider, and soon.

Let's compare Lester with Dodgers' ace Chad Billingsley:

Pitcher Age* Service Time IP W-L HR/9 BB/9 K/9 ERA+
Lester 25 2.072 354.2 27-8 0.79 3.55 6.65 123
Billingsley 24 2.110 437.2 35-19 0.74 4.15 8.25 132

*Age is as of June 30, 2009

Billingsley more than holds his own compared to Lester.  Billingsley is even comparable to Cole Hamels of the Phillies, who also signed an extension this offseason.  However, Hamels' "Super Two" status blurs the comparison somewhat.  Jon Lester, in the same service class as Billingsley, is as close a comparable player to Billingsley as you will find.

There are no details of Lester's contract as of yet, but this is clearly a good rubrick for Billingsley's multi-year deal with the Dodgers, whenever that may be. Think about this:  if the Dodgers had signed Billingsley to a long-term deal after 2007, he may have received something similar to what Ubaldo Jimenez signed for with the Rockies earlier this offseason.  Comparing the two at similar service times:

Pitcher Age Service Time IP W-L HR/9 BB/9 K/9 ERA+
Jimenez 25 1.087 288.1 16-16 0.69 4.46 7.58 115
Billingsley 23 1.110 237.0 19-9 0.84 4.63 7.59 130

Jimenez signed with Colorado for 4 years, $10 million, with two club option years that could take him through one year of free agency, and bring the total value of the deal to 6 years, $22.75 million. 

Removing the first year of the deal for Jimenez, his final five years of his deal -- his 3rd through 7th year -- could be worth $22 million.

Lester's five-year deal -- also through his 3rd through 7th year -- is worth $30 million.  That doesn't even include the $13 million option for 2014, which is sure to be below market value for a top flight starter like Lester, or Billingsley.

Basically, by waiting a year to lock up Billingsley, the market for his services has gone up about 36%.  We all know Billingsley is one of the best pitchers in baseball, even if the rest of the world hasn't recognized it yet.  It's time for the Dodgers to capitalize on this information gap and sign Billingsley before he gets even more expensive.

The sooner the Dodgers get a long-term deal done with Billingsley, and all of their young talent, the better.

UPDATED 3/8/09 3:42pm -- Ervin Santana's contract signed earlier this offseason is four years, $30 million, and takes him through his first free agent year plus a $13 million option for his second free agent year, just like Lester.  Santana has one more year of service time than both Billingsley and Lester, but is still comparable. 

Pitcher Age Service Time IP W-L HR/9 BB/9 K/9 ERA+
E.Santana  
26 3.104 706.2 51-37 1.11 2.83 7.39 101
Billingsley 24 2.110 437.2 35-19 0.74 4.15 8.25 132

Billingsley has a good chance to catch Santana in wins, and will certainly have a better ERA+, albeit in less innings.  It seems clear the market for the next five years of a pitcher of Chad Billingsley's caliber is roughly $30 million.

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