WilsonDespite going 0-3 with a 6.08 ERA in five postseason starts, Texas Rangers ace C.J. Wilson is in a great position this offseason. Wilson is the best starter available on the free agent market, now that CC Sabathia signed an extension with the New York Yankees. His case is aided by the recent history of free-agent spending on starting pitchers.
Going back to the offseason prior to 2006, there have been nine contracts of $50 million or more given to starting pitchers. Excluding Daisuke Matsuzaka -- since he had no major-league statistics to compare prior to coming to MLB -- Wilson’s seasons leading into free agency compare well.
Highest-Paid Starting Pitchers, MLB History
By Average Annual Value on Multi-Year Contracts Only
Derek Lowe, Ryan Dempster and Gil Meche are poor comparisons given pre-free agency track record and the return expected around the industry. Wilson will be in his age-31 season in 2012. He’s accumulated 10.5 Wins Above Replacement in the two seasons preceding his free agency, third behind only Sabathia and Lee during the period being analyzed.
Interestingly enough, the three best-compensated pitchers during this period are all left-handers. Barry Zito’s contract is considered among the worst ideas of all-time, which seems to place Wilson in the “gap” between the Sabathia/Lee class and the Burnett/Lackey class.
Wilson’s 10.5 WAR is 29.6 percent higher than Burnett’s 8.1 mark prior to his free agency. If you scale that relative to Burnett's contract, Wilson could expect to receive $21 million per season.
On the flip side, Wilson contributed 76.1 percent of what Lee did prior to his free agency. Based on that, he’d be expected to receive $18 million per season. Splitting the difference, Wilson could be looking at a contract with an average annual value of $19.5 million, or $97.5 million in a five-year deal.
His agent can argue Wilson is superior to the likes of John Lackey and A.J. Burnett -- even without the aid of hindsight -- and thus we’re already starting to look at contracts approaching $90 million.
As we saw with Jayson Werth this past offseason, it only takes one team to change the expected market for a player. As such, don’t be surprised if the Rangers ace lands one of the richest contracts in the history of the sport for his position, particularly given the idea that he has so few innings on his arm relative to most pitchers who reach free agency.