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?