In Dillon Gee, the Royals Land the Bargain of the Offseason

The Kansas City Royals landed themselves the deal of the offseason last week, signing veteran Dillon Gee to a one-year minor league contract. According to reports, Gee turned down guaranteed major league deals in order to try to latch on with a contender (Twitter).

Gee’s base salary, if he is added to the major league roster, is only $1.75MM, which can increase up to a maximum of $5.3MM with incentives. He is also given the right to opt-out of his contract as early as March 2nd if he is not added.

Despite those wrinkles, the Gee deal is an absolute coup for the Royals given the price of reliable pitching these days. Take a look at some of the prices being paid for pitching lately. Lottery tickets like Jeff Samardzija, are getting almost $100MM in free agency. Samardzjia’s deal is guaranteed for five years, at an average annual value of $18MM per year. Samardzija inked this deal coming off a season with a 4.96 ERA (79 ERA+), 6.9 K/9, and 1.29 WHIP.

But it’s not just Shark. Marco Estrada just signed a two year, $26MM deal with the Blue Jays. Notably below-average Mike Pelfrey signed a two year, $16MM deal with the Twins. Oft-injured Chris Young signed a two year, $11.5M deal with the Royals. Total unknown Rich Hill signed a guaranteed $6MM deal with the Athletics, and he’s  only thrown 104 IP in the majors since 2009. Brandon McCarthy got $48MM from the Dodgers last offseason, while Brett Anderson got $10MM from the Dodgers after pitching only 43 innings the year before. Rick Porcello received an $84MM extension from the Red Sox without even testing free agency.

I’m belaboring the point here, but only because there are so many examples.

There are only 132 starting pitchers who were able to throw 300+ innings in the major leagues over the last three years (data courtesy of Baseball Reference). Of that group, Dillon Gee ranks 88th in ERA, almost in the middle of the pack. His FIP ranks 102nd, and his WHIP ranks 81st. Gee has had the benefit of pitching in a pitcher’s park, but the Mets defense has been strictly average over the last three seasons, at best. As a result, his ERA+ is a modest but useable 88.

Where do some of these other, now wealthy, pitchers listed above rank on this list?

  • Estrada: 3.74 ERA (63rd); 103 ERA+
  • Porcello: 4.18 ERA (99th); 98 ERA+
  • Samardzjia: 4.09 ERA (95th); 94 ERA+
  • McCarthy: 4.35 ERA (104th); 88 ERA+
  • Pelfrey: 4.94 ERA (126th); 83 ERA+
  • Anderson: 3.96 ERA (pitched less than 50 IP in 2013 and 2014)
  • Young: 3.40 ERA/4.80 FIP (missed the entire 2013 season)

Most of these pitchers (Pelfrey and Young being the obvious exceptions) present some upside over Gee. But Gee is most likely a reliable back-of-the-rotation starter who will give you a palatable performance. That’s essentially what the Mets signed Bartolo Colon to do (Colon has an ERA of 4.13 over the last two seasons, a poor ERA+ of 86) and they guaranteed him over $7MM.

Make no mistake, there is some value to guys who can eat innings at the unremarkable level of a Gee or a Colon. An amazing 28 starting pitchers threw 100 innings or more last year with an ERA+ worse than 85, or in other words, with an ERA of 4.50 or worse. Charlie Morton (PIT, 4.81 ERA), Drew Hutchison (TOR, 5.57 ERA), Ryan Vogelsong 4.67 ERA (SFG, 4.67 ERA) and Chris Tillman (BAL, 4.99 ERA) and many others all struggled on teams that were battling for playoff spots.

We’d all rather have Samardzjia (projected 4.19 ERA, but with upside) than Gee (projected 4.21 ERA, but with downside). But given the choice between Gee and these guys, I’ll take the money and run.

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Brian P. Mangan is an attorney living in New York City

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