Cubs hope Dempster can return to form

Updated: January 21, 2004, 7:46 PM ET
Associated Press

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs are taking a chance that Ryan Dempster will be as good as old.

The Cubs and the right-hander agreed to a one-year contract Wednesday that includes a team option for 2005, a deal that guarantees him $500,000.

"I'm really ecstatic, I really am," Dempster said. "I love the tradition of the Cubs, I love going to Wrigley Field. It's a great place to play as a visitor, and I always thought what a great place to play as a Cub.

"I'm really thrilled with the opportunity."

Dempster had ligament replacement surgery on his elbow Aug. 4, and spent the final two months of last season on the Cincinnati Reds' disabled list. Dempster said he's on track with his rehabilitation program, and hopes to be throwing off the mound in spring training.

Still, it will probably be July or August before he's ready to pitch in the majors again. But that gives the Cubs time to see if he can return to the form that made him an All-Star in 2000.

"He's 26 years old, so you've got a guy that if he comes back to what he was before, can be a real good pitcher," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "You can never have enough pitching. This just seems like a real solid gamble."

An inexpensive one, too. Dempster will earn $300,000 this season, a salary that would increase to $500,000 if he's activated. The club has a $2 million option for 2005 with a $200,000 buyout.

"I'm just looking forward to contributing again," Dempster said. "I'm excited to get the chance to work with (pitching coach Larry Rothschild) all the time, work with Mark Prior and (Kerry Wood)."

Dempster was 3-7 in 22 games for the Reds last season, including 20 starts. He has a career record of 50-55 with a 5.01 ERA and eight complete games.

"When your team is struggling so much, you want to be guy that pulls them out of it. But when you're running at 50 percent, you're not going to do your team much good, let alone yourself," Dempster said of last season.

"You're hurting and then your confidence is gone, and that's a bad combination to have."

But Dempster knows his potential. He's won 10 or more games and pitched over 200 innings three times. His best season came in 2000, when he went 14-10 with a 3.66 ERA for the Florida Marlins and was selected for the NL All-Star team that year.

Taken by the Texas Rangers in the third round of the 1995 amateur draft, Dempster moved quickly through the minors, making his major league debut for the Marlins on May 23, 1998. When he was traded to Cincinnati in 2002, he was Florida's leader in wins (42), strikeouts (628), starts (121) and innings pitched (759 2/3).


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press