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Signed RHP Jake Westbrook to a Three-Year, $33M Extension

The Past

Jake Westbrook came to the Indians from the Yankees in 2000 as part of the David Justice trade. He spent several years shuttling back and forth between the bullpen, the rotation, and Buffalo. His big break came early in the 2004, when he came in early in relief of Jeff D'Amico and pitched seven perfect innings against the Tigers. He hasn't pitched in relief since.

Westbrook hasn't missed a start since 2004, and has pitched over 210 innings in each of the past three seasons. He's a groundball pitcher who eats innings, and in today's game, that's extremely valuable.

Roster Management

If this deal means what I think it does, I don't like it.

Let me explain. The Indians started out this spring negotiating with three players who will be free agents within the next two years: Westbrook, Travis Hafner, and CC Sabathia. Jake's contract was scheduled to expire at the end of this season, while Hafner's and Sabathia's deals run through 2008. By all accounts, the Indians probably will not be able to retain all three, given present present market values of similar players.

Negotiations with Sabathia ended before Spring Training ended, probably indicating that there's quite a bit of distance between the two sides. Two weeks later, the Indians agreed to extend Jake through 2010. I don't know if this completely shuts the door on retaining Sabathia, but it's probably close.

Our problem is that we don't have the information that the two parties have, and so we're stuck making assumptions. If CC is wanting Zito-type money, then it's probably just as well the Indians made their decision, keeping the top two pitchers in the rotation together through 2008. If the two were relatively close (defined as within $10-15M), then I'd rather see Westbrook be cut loose than Sabathia. Again, this is assuming that the Indians are choosing between the two. Why do I advocate this?

Let's leave the money aside for a minute, and look at what production the Indians are likely to be getting from Westbrook. Here's what Jake's done over the full seasons in which he's been in the rotation:

And here's what Sabathia did in the same time frame:

The only thing Westbrook has on CC is innings pitched. Sabathia is also three years younger. There's a good chance that Sabathia will be one of baseball's 10 best starting pitchers over the next five years. So what I'm saying is this: signing Westbrook rather than Sabathia should have been a last resort. The Indians have to either develop star players or trade for players before they become stars, so replacing Sabathia's production is going to be next to impossible.

The Money

Strange is it may seem, $11M a season isn't that bad for a solid starter. He certainly could have gotten more dollars and more years on the open market. I'd classify this as a fair deal - both sides gave a bit, but I also don't think either the Indians or Westbrook will come to regret it, either.

The Future

The Indians now can keep their top four pitchers together through 2008, and more importantly won't even think about landing a free agent starter this offseason, because they have two good candidates to replace Paul Byrd.