Locking Up Bonderman

With Jeremy Bonderman reaching arbitration, he won’t be had for the $400,000 that he made the past two years. The 2006 season will be the first of 3 seasons where Bonderman will be arbitration eligible before reaching free agency. Now there is a school of thought – that has been applied very effectively in the past by the Indians – that it is wise sign young talent to multiyear contracts and secure their first years of free agency. Of the subset of Tigers eligible for arbitration, Bonderman is the most likely candidate to warrant a long term deal. The question is should the Tigers try to do it?

Bonderman is still extremely young, and still an injury risk. He’s been relatively healthy so far, but has yet to accumulate 200 innings in a season (which is probably a good thing). Bonderman has shows moments of brilliance, but when looking at his seasons in total he is simply an above average pitcher at this time. He started off excelelnt, but a line drive combined with other soreness contributed to a sinking strikeout rate and subpar performance in the second half.

At the same time, the Tigers moves this season have indicated that they plan on Bonderman being a fixture in the rotation for years to come. They didn’t pursue the top shelf pitchers in the hopes that Bonderman can fill that role. Additionally, the spending on free agents continues to drive the price for talent higher. Bonderman will stand to benefit from this surge regardless of if he signs a one year deal or something long term. Will the market continue to get above average pitchers $7 million or more a year, or will there be a correction with a new CBA on the horizon?

As a matter of comparison, last year the Twins signed Johan Santana to a 4 year contract which secured Santana’s first two years of free agent eligibility. To get the deal done it cost the Twins $40 million over 4 years. Now Santana just happens to be the best pitcher in the American League. But, pitchers who have done a lot less in their careers (or are well past their prime) have managed to secure contracts in the same neighborhood just one year later. Some continued growth from Bonderman, and continued growth in the free agent market and 4 years at $6 million per might seem like a bargain.

If you’re the Tigers, do you use the second half struggles as a way to save millions over the next several years? If you’re Jeremy Bonderman, do you turn down a long term contract because you know you can get a bigger payday when you put all the pieces together?

4 Comments

  1. Edman85

    December 27, 2005 at 1:21 am

    The problems he had at the end of the year worry me to the point that I’d go one more year before trying to lock him up. He should be reasonably priced, since I don’t think age and hype count for much. It just seems like an unnecesary risk to lock him up long term.

  2. Tim D

    December 28, 2005 at 12:02 am

    Definitely sign him. He’s 22 and has shown plenty. With consistency he will be a #1 or #2. Even if they were to decide to move him he would be more valuable if signed to a relatively inexpensive deal (ala Jeff Weaver). Kevin Millwood (!!) just got $60 mil. Bonderman comes out and wins 17 games and Ks 200 and you are looking at 12 mil. They could lock him up for four years now for probably 32. It will be a real bargain in two years. I would also like to see them buy out a year or more of free agency. The longer he is in Detroit, the more established he is, and the better the team gets the more likely he will be to stay.

  3. Matt L

    December 28, 2005 at 7:22 am

    I think it’s wise to wait one more year and leave him with two arbitration years. I think one more year will give the organization a good idea what kind of pitcher he may be in the coming decade. I’m a big believer in Bonderman but let’s see how he handles being the #1 from opening day, and also how he adjusts to Verlander’s presence.

    It may cost the Tigers a bit more if he wins 18 or more but really it’s not about money with Illitch anyway. He’s all about the team and players proving themselves so if Bonderman can win 20 and get more out of the deal, I’m happy for him. But as an organization I think they need one more year to see if they have a frontline starter, or just a talented guy that will never be consistant.

  4. Chris

    December 31, 2005 at 1:16 am

    Give him the money now. Get him signed for 4 years at a discount. This guy has what it takes why wait, lets show Bonderman that we believe in him and build that loyalty. Even if he turns out to be a #3 starter and not a #1 its money well spent as #3 starters are getting $7 – $10 million a year on the marget right now. You need to spend money to make money.