Red Sox Add Ryan Dempster, Stay Away from Big Contracts

The Boston Red Sox are continuing to put together a roster of veteran players on short-term contracts. After agreeing to deals with Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino, Ken Rosenthal is reporting the Red Sox have signed free agent pitcher Ryan Dempster to a 2-year, $26.5-million contract. The Red Sox have been looking for an affordable pitcher to fill out their rotation and passed on some other, more expensive options, like Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez, deciding, instead, on the 35-year-old.

Ryan Dempster
Ryan Dempster pitches during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park Bob DeChiara USA TODAY Sports

Until the midway point of last year, Dempster had spent his entire career in the National League. Starting 2012 with the Chicago Cubs, Dempster was shipped to the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline. He was very good with the Cubs, going 5-5 with a 3.38 ERA in 16 games. The Rangers brought him in, hoping he would be that same pitcher and help them during their postseason run. He did go 7-3 in Arlington, but his ERA ballooned to 5.09 in his twelve starts in Texas. He gave up 8 earned runs in two of his first three outings and didn’t make it out of the third inning in two September starts.

Through his career, though, he has been known as an innings-eater. He has topped 200 innings in a season seven times during his 15 Major League seasons, including all four between 2008 and 2011 after spending the previous four seasons working mostly from the bullpen. Last year he still reached 173 despite missing some time due to injury. If he is able to avoid further health problems, his durability will be a welcomed addition to the Red Sox rotation, especially with John Lackey returning from Tommy John surgery.

Dempster is a .500 lifetime pitcher with an even 124-124 record and an ERA of 4.33, but that was compiled mostly in the lighter-hitting National League. He has not fared as well against his new division rivals in the American League East. In 18 games against the Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, and Toronto Blue Jays, he is just 4-8 with a 4.91 ERA. He also hasn’t been good at Fenway Park, going just 1-1 with a 6.06 ERA in three starts. In fairness, though, that ERA is bloated due to a seven-run outing in 1999 when he was just 22.

This signing just further reiterates the Red Sox apparent team-building plan. The Sox have signed seven players this offseason: David Ortiz, David Ross, Jonny Gomes, Napoli, Victorino, Koji Uehara, and now Dempster. The deals for all of those players have two things in common—the team is not committed to any of them for more than three years and none, aside from Ortiz, received a qualifying offer from his previous team, meaning the Red Sox did not have to surrender any draft picks to sign them.

The Red Sox have valued their draft picks since the Theo Epstein era and, after the disasters of late-2011 and 2012, General Manager Ben Cherington is resetting the philosophy of the team, which includes keeping those picks. That means fielding a competitive, if not underwhelming, team for the next couple of years while the younger talent develops. So, with the championship potential in Boston appearing to be more realistic in 2014 and beyond, the Red Sox are willing to spend more now on non-high-end talent for less time in an effort to, once again, become a model franchise in the future.

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