Take a look at the American League leaders in ERA+ last season:
1. Zack Greinke, 205
2. Felix Hernandez, 174
3. Roy Halladay, 155
4. Jon Lester, 138
5. Justin Verlander, 133
With the news that the Detroit Tigers have locked up Verlander, three of those five pitchers now have signed contract extensions this winter -- and the other two signed extensions last winter. It's only natural to compare them. It's worth looking again at those five pitchers -- only this time in the context of their contracts:
1. Greinke, $38 million over four years ($9.5 million/year)
2. Hernandez, $78 million over five years ($15.6 million/year)
3. Halladay, $60 million over three years ($20 million/year)
4. Lester, $30 million over five years ($6 million/year)
5. Verlander, $80 million over five years ($16 million/year)
Any one of those stand out to you?
Lester last season ranked second in the American League in strikeout rate, fifth in ERA and sixth in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Among lefties in the American League, he's as good as it gets -- and that includes Cliff Lee, traded from Philadelphia to Seattle as part of the Halladay blockbuster.
The structure of the system, of course, had quite a bit to do with each of the above contracts. Halladay was set to hit free agency after the 2010 season, so his contract had to come close to his value on the open market.
Hernandez was arbitration-eligible last season for the first time and would have had two years left under team control before he got to the free-agent market. Same goes for Verlander. Greinke likewise had just two seasons of salary arbitration left when he signed his contract a year ago.
Lester wouldn't have been arbitration-eligible until this season, meaning his five-year contract really only bought out one or two years of free agency. His annual salaries ($3.75 million in 2010 and $5.75 million in 2011) don't exactly line up with what he'd earn in arbitration, but they're not too far off.
Still, though, in terms of raw production, the Red Sox might as well be stealing from Lester. If the lefty pitches anything like he has since he was pronounced cancer-free, he'll be a perennial Cy Young Award contender -- but he won't even earn $7 million in a season until 2012.
Maybe the Red Sox should buy him a pickup truck.