If the Jays have any intention of appearing like a serious contender in 2013– and it’s within their grasp to do so, and would almost certainly flush most of what’s left of the vast reservoir of goodwill they’ve built up in the early part of the Anthopoulos era if they didn’t– they’ll need to improve the overall quality of their starting rotation.
Aaron Laffey and Carlos Villanueva have filled in admirably this season; JA Happ is another depth option under team control; Chad Jenkins might be as well, or John Stilson, or Deck McGuire; Henderson Alvarez has been okay-enough to be a four or a five, but that’s not a terribly inspiring base of talent. And with injuries to the most promising of their young, near-ready arms– Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison– and confidence in the potential contributions of Brett Cecil and Dustin McGowan even less than where it was coming into this spring, it simply will not fly to hope to cobble together a trio of pitchers from this group to slot in behind Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero.
Help must come from outside the organization, and with some dollars saved in the construction of the bullpen, cash in reserve due to international spending tamped down by the CBA keeping, and the mythical spectre of Rogers’ spending power ever looming, free agency has to be an option that’s on the table. So, who are some of the potential targets?
Well… these guys, basically.
Though, obviously some of these players may choose to re-sign with their current clubs, some may have options picked up unexpectedly, and there may be others whose options are declined or who are non-tendered that could change the nature of this list a bit by the time we get to the Winter Meetings in early December. But as it stands right now, here’s what the market for pitching looks like…
Now that Cole Hamels is off the market, the obvious crown jewel of the free agent market, and one that will draw considerable attention from the newly wealthy Dodgers, as well as the Angels, and other front offices not beholden to crippling layers of bureaucracy, an austere plan that enabled their employment, or a team president dead set against lengthy deals to pitchers, and probably smarting after the season had by Ricky Romero, the homegrown hurler for whom he bent the rules. Greinke likely will be too expensive and too coveted by others to be a serious candidate to land in Toronto.
In 2012 Dempster has improved on his career low walk rate of last year by nearly three per cent, giving out free passes to just 6.6% of batters faced, while maintaining a strikeout rate of over 20%– as he’s done in the previous four years, each of which he’s also logged over 200 innings on the hill. He’s durable, effective, and is doing so all while his fastball velocity has slipped by about a mile per hour, down to 89.4 this season. At 35, though, he’s probably looking at one last multi-year payday, and he’ll be aiming to maximize it– plus, as we learned leading up to the trade deadline, he’s got a hankerin’ to play with his pal Ted Lilly on the suddenly cash-rich Dodgers. In other words, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson
Sanchez hasn’t blown the doors off since his move to the American League in a July trade that sent him and Omar Inflated to Detroit, but he was reliable in Florida, posting a sub-3.50 FIP the previous two seasons (including a 4.4 fWAR 2010), and exiting Miami having pitched well this year, before a pair of rough outings for the Tigers blew up his numbers slightly. He generates above average swing and miss, and was striking out a career high 24% of batters faced at the time he was dealt, with a career low walk rate as well. Provided this rough patch in the AL proves to be just a blip, he’s solid and dependable, if unspectacular… kind of like Edwin Jackson.
Jackson, and agent Scott Boras, found no long-term takers last winter, and the pitcher will be re-entering the market this year (minus the agent), following yet another workmanlike season, this time in Washington. Either he or Sanchez would be a fine fit in Toronto as a number three, especially on the kind of deal Jackson’s currently on– $11-million for a single year– or a two-year pact at a lower average annual value. Or maybe even more than that– what the hell do I know??? I’d wager they land somewhere for longer term, but I’d have said that this time last year, too.
Peavy is having the kind of terrific, healthy season that the White Sox hoped he was capable of when they acquired him from the Padres in 2009. Thing is, having to point that out kind of suggests that the previous years haven’t been so hot, doesn’t it? Peavy’s got a club option for $22-million next year, and while I suppose it’s possible the Sox pick it up, I just don’t think it reflects the market value for a guy who is on pace to hit 200 innings for just the first time since 2007, excellent as his 3.33 FIP, 3.08 ERA and 3.8 wins so far look. The south siders have a knack for keeping their pitchers healthy, so maybe I’m wrong and they hold onto him, but if not, he could be an intriguing name out there, provided some club doesn’t come along certain that his medical issues are behind him and willing to pay for talent and potential alone. The velocity isn’t quite what it used to be, but perhaps Peavy has successfully transitioned into a new phase of his pitching career. I’d be wary, though, of this kind of high-risk high-reward play.
Last year McCarthy finally put together the kind of season that the A’s, along with the Rangers and White Sox before them, thought he was capable of, posting a 2.86 FIP to go along with 4.7 wins above replacement in just 25 starts. But the thing is, he only made 25 starts, as he was bothered by a wonky shoulder… like he was this year, as well. And 2009. And 2010.
How much of a discount does that mean someone will get on McCarthy? The market will dictate that, but whichever club he lands with will likely have themselves a nice low-risk high-reward arm, even if any production they get from him has to be viewed entirely as gravy– making him an unlikely candidate for a club looking to prudently spend limited dollars.
Familiar old Shaun Marcum lost it down the stretch and in the playoffs for the Brewers last year, but pitched well enough for most of the season to reach 200 innings for the first time, putting up 2.7 wins above replacement in the process. While nothing close to a hard thrower, he’s still got a great swing-and-miss changeup, and was on course for another fine season before elbow tighness sent him to the DL in mid-June. The injury red flags were part of the reason the Jays were comfortable enough to part with him two Decembers ago (getting Brett Lawrie in return was another big part), so maybe they’re not interested in bringing him back for that reason, but he was reportedly fond of playing in Toronto, would slot in nicely to the Jays’ rotation, and the whole falling apart down the stretch thing doesn’t come into play unless his club is actually playing for something, in which case… I’ll totally take it.
I read a piece recently that mentioned something about Kyle Lohse looking for Mark Buehrle-type money this off-season, which the author thought might be difficult, on account of Lohse being older. Older! This blew my effing mind, but turns out to be absolutely true. And while Lohse has had a pair of very solid seasons in St. Louis the last two years, if I was a GM I’d be concerned about how he spent the better part of the last decade pitching like Kyle Lohse– or that my scouts were mixing up the two pitchers on account of their consonant-mangling last names. Not my idea of a guy to pay what he’ll be asking to come and pitch in the AL East.
I almost feel weird even bothering to put Kuroda’s name on this list, because let’s face it: he’s probably going to remain a Yankee. I say that based on no special insight, nor on a growing chorus of innuendo or anything like that, but because he’s transitioned fabulously from the National League, and I’m pretty sure that if the Yankees want to retain them– and I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t– they’ll probably find a way to make it happen. If he did happen to hit the market, as an older pitcher who won’t necessarily be insistent on more than a one- or two-year deal, I’d be all over that. Not holding my breath, though.
Saunders, a soft-tossing lefty, is better than you probably think– which is to say, he’s about league average. With an uptick in his strikeout rate, fewer free passes issued, and the best numbers of a solid career, though, Saunders is in line for a decent payday as he hits free agency looking for a raise on the $6-million he made this year. If he fails to get to thirty starts, it will only be just barely, ending a string of four straight years in which he did so– including those where he pitched effectively for Anaheim, showing that he may not be merely a creation of the National League. He’ll probably require a deal of more than one year, and he’s not the kind of power arm you may prefer in the American League East, but with a wealth of arms hitting the market, he might see his value depressed, making him an interesting, cost-effective potential pick-up.
Lewis was leading the AL in K/BB ratio and was pitching to a career-low ERA when his season was lost in late July to elbow injury– not Tommy John, but a torn flexor tendon. “Pitchers return from this, though there’s not the precise recovery time frame that we see from Tommy John surgery,” wrote injury expert Will Carroll in a post at Sports Illustrated. “Lewis should be throwing around the time the Rangers open camp next February, but whether he’s ready to pitch at that point remains to be seen.”
That will certainly limit his options on the free agent market, and possibly push him out of the reach of a club looking to solidify their rotation, not take expensive fliers on guys. But a savvy GM– perhaps one using some creativity when it comes to the term of the offer– might be able to land an excellent pitcher where others are scared off. This kind of risk, though, may be better for a team who are better suited to spending for the luxury of a potentially great option, again, not one looking to use limited dollars to cement a key area of their roster.
If the Jays feel confident enough in what they’ve got coming for 2014, and don’t see the value in the guys getting multi-year offers, or if they acquire a front-line guy and still want to add a second arm to reinforce the rotation, there are a number of guys who would fit the bill, and they could do a lot worse than looking at Kevin Millwood. Clearly not the guy he was long ago, Millwood has been solid this season in Seattle, putting up a 3.90 FIP outside of Safeco, and a 3.44 mark at home after signing a minor league deal with the Mariners last January, and making only $1-million. This followed a 2011 season spent mostly at Triple-A, bouncing around on minor league deals with the Yankees, Red Sox and ultimately the Rockies. Like all the arms from here down, there’s a definite chance the magic wears off, but the opportunity cost would be relatively minor.
Like Millwood, Bedard sure would have looked good in a Jays uniform this year, especially knowing what we know now about how decent he’s been, how he’s managed to stay healthy, and how four of the Jays’ top seven rotation options would get hurt and the other would be Brett Cecil. And he’s Canadian! But if Bedard gets to 130 innings this season (currently at 111), it will be the first time since 2007 that he’s crossed that threshold (barely missing it last year, with 129.1 innings pitched). He cost just $4.5-million for the Pirates and his 1.6 wins so far are equal to that of Matt Moore and Mat Latos… uh… and Dillon Gee, Vance Worley and Matt Belisle.
Another once-great pitcher having a renaissance, Colon has pitched well in 2012 for the A’s– his fifth team in five years– posting a 3.73 FIP, which isn’t being suppressed by pitching in Oakland, as he has a 3.76 FIP while on the road. With 2.3 fWAR already he may be on his way to his best season since 2005 by that metric… which is precisely why he’s playing for just $2-million this year, after making $900K with the Yankees in 2011, after having signed with them on a minor league deal. Sure, he won’t likely come quite as cheap next time around, and it’s somewhat alarming that he’s thrown 10% more fastballs than the next highest qualified pitcher (89% of his pitches), but he looks like he should be able to help out the back of a rotation somewhere.
Liriano has been something of an enigma his entire career, with an injury-plagued 2007 and ’08, and a shaky recovery year in 2009 bookended by four and six win seasons in 2006 and 2010. He dealt with shoulder troubles all of last year, but has made 20 starts in 2012, looking better as the season progressed– especially past an ugly April and May. His walk rate isn’t where it was during the two brilliant campaigns of his career, but he’s still capable of getting strikeouts, and leads the Majors in swinging strike rate. The minimal price the White Sox paid to acquire him in trade from Minnesota suggests that there’s still a lot of concern there, even in just the short-term– and long-term there are red flags when it comes to health. But the salary and term of his next deal won’t be exorbitant, and if he continues pitching the way he has in the last three months, it certainly looks like he could help a club.
After injury woes in 2011, Blanton returned healthy to the Phillies’ rotation this season, and put up some nice numbers, if you’re willing to look past the ERA. He’s posted a 3.95 FIP, despite a HR/FB rate of 18.1% when pitching at home– a number that would be bad enough for third-worst in the Majors– compared to an 11.4% rate on the road. As such, his xFIP is an even more impressive 3.44, and he’s posting the highest strikeout and the lowest walk rates of his career. I can’t help but wonder if his best option may be to go to arbitration with the Dodgers– who traded for him last month– assuming they offer it. He makes $8.5-million this year, and a one-year pact with a raise on that is about equal to what the Yankees gave Hiroki Kuroda last winter coming off a similar season, statistically– if, again, you look past the ERA. Should Blanton hit the market, he too would be a decent addition to the back of a rotation.
The Twins’ Baker went for Tommy John surgery back in April, and has a $9.25-million option for 2013, which it’s unlikely the club will pick up. He’d been plagued by elbow trouble since 2010, and if the surgery rights what’s been ailing him– and he’s able to return to form quicker than most– his next employer could end up with a relative steal on a guy who was worth between 2.5 and 3.5 wins every year from 2007 to 2011, with K/BB ratios that put him in the neighbourhood of the top 20 qualified starters in the league. A one-year deal with a modest salary and a nice option might be enough to land a very decent arm, provided the Twins let him go rather than pay $9-million for his first post-TJ go-round.
Though he’s missed much of this season with shoulder trouble, Pavano is rehabbing, and making his way back to health, appearing like he’ll be ready to go next spring, in whatever form he can muster. He showed over the previous two seasons in Minnesota that, when healthy, he’s capable of eating innings, surviving on his good command (a 3% walk rate in 2012), despite a lack of great stuff. However, his velocity before this season’s shoulder issues was down over two ticks from what was a career low of 89 in 2011, and any club looking at him would surely want to see that creep back up before considering him to be back close to the guy who averaged over three wins above replacement per season from 2009 to 2011. Possibly a useful piece, but not a guy that’s about to turn around a club’s fortunes.
Garcia has been OK when pressed into duty for the Yankees this season, and was solidly average– though not a whole lot more– when making 25 starts for them in 2011, pitching to a 4.12 FIP and 4.36 xFIP. Hardly numbers to make anyone go rushing out to sign the aging veteran, but he’s more than just a warm body, even if the days of him being worth 3.5 or more wins– which he’s done six times in his career!– are behind him. Not the free agent solution to anybody’s rotation problems, but not a value-less piece of insurance either.
Like every pitcher, it seems, Guthrie has struggled when asked to pitch for the Rockies, but before this season he rather unimpressively ate innings for Baltimore, posting a couple of two-plus win seasons in a row in 2010 and 2011, and a pair of 2.6 win efforts in ’07 and ’08. He’ll come cheap and he’s capable of not getting blown entirely apart in the AL East. Um… so there’s that.
After a relatively nice (read: league average-ish) year with the Padres in 2009, Correia has been pretty much bang on replacement level, posting fWARs of exactly zero in each of the two seasons heading into this one. He’s been slightly better this year, but the 4.82 FIP/4.53 xFIP is still pretty ugly. Look elsewhere.
Zambrano would come cheap and he isn’t that far from pitching to a sub-4 FIP– which he did in both 2009 and 2010– but the strikeout rate is way down from his heyday and the walk rate is up. Maybe he could rediscover some magic and a club will up getting a real bargain, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Even at the best of times, Sanchez has had trouble staying away from free passes, but this season has been an off-the-charts disaster for a guy who was at least useful for the Giants for a couple years. Traded to Kansas City after what appeared to be a down year, Sanchez absolutely fell apart, finding himself now a member of the Rockies, and currently on the DL. He’ll be available for a song, but… uh… there’s totally a reason for that.
Image via CBC.ca.