July 7, 2008
, Brad Lidge was awarded a three-year, $37.5 million extension from the
Philadelphia Phillies. The deal locks him up him as the Phillies' closer through
at least 2011, or 2012 if the club chooses to exercise a $12.5M option. Philly
fans and critics seemed to like the deal at the time, as it didn't let Lidge
enter free agency and the dollars looked fair enough--especially before we
watched prices fall for 90% of free agents in the 2009 off season. It's hard to
doubt the initial trade for Lidge was worth it. On the Houston Astros' side,
Gary Geary had a nice '08 campaign, but Micheal Bourn put up a putrid 57 OPS+.
For the Phillies, Lidge contributed a 2.2 WAR, second in relievers to Mariano
Rivera's 3.1 and tied with Kerry Wood, helping
edge the New York Mets for the National League East crown. In the postseason
the hard-throwing right-hander allowed a single run and recorded the final out
to clinch the World Series.
All is not well in
. A short six months later, is it time to call Lidge's extension into question?
First, we should look at what could have been if the Phillies didn't make the
extension. Lidge would have become a free agent, further deepening the reliever
pool. The Phillies could become passive buyers in the reliever market. Even if
they did not pick one up via free agency or trade, Ryan Madson could have slid
into the spot with relative ease. Closers are made, not born. For reference, a
look at what the top relievers earned in free agency this year:
Brian Fuentes: 2 years, 17.5 million
Francisco Rodriguez: 3 years, 37 million
Kerry Wood: 2 years, 20.5 million
Juan Cruz: 2 years, 6 million
Lidge actually ended up earning more from his extension than any closer in free
agency, barely edging out Rodriguez. Fuentes, K-Rod, and Cruz would have cost
the Phillies their first-round pick, but the Raul Ibanez signing and declining
Pat Burrell arbitration shows their attitude toward picks. If they were willing
to burn a first-rounder on their left fielder, they might as well use their
second in free agent compensation as well. Late second-rounders are somewhat
easy to burn when you consider the sandwich picks, which push the late second
round into the 80s or 90s overall. Not that another Anthony Hewitt would do the
Phillies any good, anyway.
Adding Lidge to the mix could have possibly further saturated the market,
bringing prices down especially if the Phillies decided not to buy a
replacement. This might have been a wise move, because this cash could have been
used to fix their glaring need for a starting pitcher behind ace Cole Hamels.
As it was, the Phillies believed that Jamie Moyer has found his third or fourth,
rewarding his '08 campaign with a multi-year deal and giving Ibanez a 31.5
million over three years. A little more prudent spending there along with the
no-Lidge cash could potentially netted a Derek Lowe or on a smaller scale Randy Wolf or Randy Johnson. A little patience could have saved the Phillies some
money in left field, too. The Phillies were willing to increase their opening
day payroll nearly 15 million, but they might have mismanaged just enough to
endanger their hopes of repeating. As it stands, that 15-million-plus a little
more is already tied up in sunk costs for Adam Eaton and Geoff Jenkins.
All these potential troubles have not even considered Lidge's 2009
performance, which really calls into question the acceptability of the
extension. Here's a look at some of his '09 stats to date, compared to that of
You can see Lidge has worsened in every possible
category except line drive %. Unfortunately, those line drives and a portion of
ground balls are turning into fly balls, and those fly balls are turning into
home runs at an alarming rate. Increasing your flyball rate isn't a good idea
when your home park in a band box.
It's unwise to think that Lidge will be nearly this bad for the rest of the
year. However, when a team invests 37.5 million in you, and you're a closer,
you're expected to put up much better numbers than he has so far. Perhaps it was
unwise to believe he could repeat his 2008 peripherals, and it is asinine to
assume he would convert every save opportunity.
Lidge has also shown a very up and down career path--perhaps thanks to Albert Pujols, whose HR off Lidge a few postseasons ago still might not have landed.
But what level should we expect from Lidge, especially with his concerning stats
so far? As it stands the Phillies are third in the league for salary dedicated
to their closer at slightly over 10% (the Cincinnati Reds put 16.4% into
Francisco Cordero and the Toronto Blue Jays 12.5% to B.J. Ryan who does not
currently close), so clearly they need Lidge to contribute like he has shown he
can in year's past.
For a team with as many holes in its rotation as Philly, and not much salary
relief or internal options in the future (Carlos Carrasco notwithstanding),
Lidge will need to pitch to his worth or find himself holding the Phillies back
in more ways than one.
John Connelly is a statistics major at Rice University and writes at Around The Majors.