Was The Lidge Extension A Mistake?

At the time that Brad Lidge signed his three-year, $37.5 million extension, it seemed like a great idea. Now, that investment seems a lot shakier than it did at the time, which begs the question of whether or not it was actually a good move.

On July 7, 2008 , Brad Lidge was awarded a three-year, $37.5 million extension from the Philadelphia Phillies. The deal locks him up him as the Phillies' closer through at least 2011, or 2012 if the club chooses to exercise a $12.5M option. Philly fans and critics seemed to like the deal at the time, as it didn't let Lidge enter free agency and the dollars looked fair enough--especially before we watched prices fall for 90% of free agents in the 2009 off season. It's hard to doubt the initial trade for Lidge was worth it. On the Houston Astros' side, Gary Geary had a nice '08 campaign, but Micheal Bourn put up a putrid 57 OPS+.

For the Phillies, Lidge contributed a 2.2 WAR, second in relievers to Mariano Rivera's 3.1 and tied with Kerry Wood, helping Philadelphia edge the New York Mets for the National League East crown. In the postseason the hard-throwing right-hander allowed a single run and recorded the final out to clinch the World Series.

All is not well in Philadelphia . A short six months later, is it time to call Lidge's extension into question?

First, we should look at what could have been if the Phillies didn't make the extension. Lidge would have become a free agent, further deepening the reliever pool. The Phillies could become passive buyers in the reliever market. Even if they did not pick one up via free agency or trade, Ryan Madson could have slid into the spot with relative ease. Closers are made, not born. For reference, a look at what the top relievers earned in free agency this year:

Brian Fuentes: 2 years, 17.5 million
Francisco Rodriguez: 3 years, 37 million
Kerry Wood: 2 years, 20.5 million
Juan Cruz: 2 years, 6 million

Lidge actually ended up earning more from his extension than any closer in free agency, barely edging out Rodriguez. Fuentes, K-Rod, and Cruz would have cost the Phillies their first-round pick, but the Raul Ibanez signing and declining Pat Burrell arbitration shows their attitude toward picks. If they were willing to burn a first-rounder on their left fielder, they might as well use their second in free agent compensation as well. Late second-rounders are somewhat easy to burn when you consider the sandwich picks, which push the late second round into the 80s or 90s overall. Not that another Anthony Hewitt would do the Phillies any good, anyway.

Adding Lidge to the mix could have possibly further saturated the market, bringing prices down especially if the Phillies decided not to buy a replacement. This might have been a wise move, because this cash could have been used to fix their glaring need for a starting pitcher behind ace Cole Hamels.

As it was, the Phillies believed that Jamie Moyer has found his third or fourth, rewarding his '08 campaign with a multi-year deal and giving Ibanez a  31.5 million over three years. A little more prudent spending there along with the no-Lidge cash could potentially netted a Derek Lowe or on a smaller scale Randy Wolf or Randy Johnson. A little patience could have saved the Phillies some money in left field, too. The Phillies were willing to increase their opening day payroll nearly 15 million, but they might have mismanaged just enough to endanger their hopes of repeating. As it stands, that 15-million-plus a little more is already tied up in sunk costs for Adam Eaton and Geoff Jenkins.

All these potential  troubles have not even considered Lidge's 2009 performance, which really calls into question the acceptability of the extension. Here's a look at some of his '09 stats to date, compared to that of last year:

2008 11.94 4.54 0.26 .204 1.23 82.9 1.43 21.5 17.6 3.9 9.6
2009 9.33 5.40 2.45 .317 1.91 69.0 0.63 16.9 13.3 16.7 10.5

You can see Lidge has worsened in every possible category except line drive %. Unfortunately, those line drives and a portion of ground balls are turning into fly balls, and those fly balls are turning into home runs at an alarming rate. Increasing your flyball rate isn't a good idea when your home park in a band box.

It's unwise to think that Lidge will be nearly this bad for the rest of the year. However, when a team invests 37.5 million in you, and you're a closer, you're expected to put up much better numbers than he has so far. Perhaps it was unwise to believe he could repeat his 2008 peripherals, and it is asinine to assume he would convert every save opportunity.

Lidge has also shown a very up and down career path--perhaps thanks to Albert Pujols, whose HR off Lidge a few postseasons ago still might not have landed. But what level should we expect from Lidge, especially with his concerning stats so far? As it stands the Phillies are third in the league for salary dedicated to their closer at slightly over 10% (the Cincinnati Reds put 16.4% into Francisco Cordero and the Toronto Blue Jays 12.5% to B.J. Ryan who does not currently close), so clearly they need Lidge to contribute like he has shown he can in year's past.

For a team with as many holes in its rotation as Philly, and not much salary relief or internal options in the future (Carlos Carrasco notwithstanding), Lidge will need to pitch to his worth or find himself holding the Phillies back in more ways than one.

John Connelly is a statistics major at Rice University and writes at Around The Majors.

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