The Cubs signed Jon Lieber to a one-year deal today, putting him in their running for fifth starter.
Why the Phillies didn’t approach him to re-sign for a year is beyond me, but maybe they didn’t want injuries to creep back into the picture, and maybe the price is steep. I’ll update with more information and a short retrospective on Lieber later today.
Update: The deal is worth $3.5MM for one year.
Lieber went 3-6 with a 4.73 ERA in limited action between rotation and bullpen last season. He spent three years with the Phils â€” the life of his contract.
When he signed with the Phillies in December 2004, he was set to make $21MM over three seasons, just below the Adam Eaton deal. Lieberâ€™s track record, however, was much more impressive than Eatonâ€™s â€” he went 20-6 with a 3.80 ERA in a Top-5 Cy Young year in 2001, and for the majority of his career, was slightly better than average.
Lieber was acquired to be a frontline starter. I remember back in 2004 outlining my prospective Phils roster for the 2005 team. Scouring the free agent list, I noticed Lieber and thought â€œthis is a guy the Phillies would take a chance withâ€ â€” he had a few good seasons and was coming off a bad injury (he had Tommy John surgery in 2002). To me, Lieber would fit the No. 3 role after a poised Brett Myers and either Randy Wolf or a re-signed Eric Milton.
Instead, Lieber was tapped to be opening day 2005 starter, and while he had a good season (17-13, 4.20 ERA), he wasnâ€™t a No. 1 and probably not a No. 2.
Lieberâ€™s time in Philadelphia was filled with some good, consistent stretches, but overall, he was seen as a waste of dollars â€” a guy who didnâ€™t quite give what we hoped. I donâ€™t blame Lieber â€” the contract was substantial, No. 2-quality at its time. He never delivered, because really, he never exhibited a consistency of delivering at that level.
The best aspect of Lieberâ€™s game was control. Overall, he walked a little more than a batter per game, including an astounding 24 walks in 2006. But good control without great stuff means easy hits for batters, and Lieber was always one to give up his share of hits â€” 510 in 76 games.
But he was consistent. When he won, he won a bunch in a row. When he lost, he lost a bunch in a row. You knew what you were getting almost every time Lieber pitched, just by seeing what he did five days before. In the end, his consistency came to a halt with a foot injury last season.
When looking at the free agent class of 2004, Lieber was actually one of the better pitchers signed. Since the Phils werenâ€™t in the bidding for Pedro Martinez or Roger Clemens, Lieber really was the best available pitcher looking back (though Paul Byrd also had a good three seasons since). The bottom line, however, is Lieber wasnâ€™t worth the $21MM for three years â€” the kind of money youâ€™d more likely give to a No. 2 starter, at least in 2004. Lieber received jeers because he didnâ€™t quite live up to his contract, but looking at Lieberâ€™s career, how could you expect that?
His best days are likely behind him â€” maybe in Chicago heâ€™ll redeem himself a bit, putting together a nice string or two for the Central-contending Cubs. A 9-7, 4.80 ERA season isnâ€™t out of the question. Itâ€™s out of the question for the Phillies, which probably is for the best.