Is Carl Pavano Really Second Best?

The following article is a guest post from Getting Blanked contributor Travis Reitsma.  Travis is the creator and operator of Baseball Canadiana.

It’s generally accepted that with Cliff Lee having shocked the baseball world by signing in Philadelphia, the next best option on the free agent market for starting pitchers is Carl Pavano.  Currently, teams such as the Brewers, Twins, Nationals and possibly the Rangers and Yankees seem to have at least mild interest in signing him.

Pavano is likely to receive a lucrative payday no matter where he signs.  I’m speculating here, but he’ll likely garner a raise over the $7-million he made in ’10, so expect a salary in the area of $9 to $12-million over at least two and probably three years; aka Ted Lilly numbers.

The Yankees know all about signing Pavano and provided they aren’t on tilt over losing out on Lee, they will likely stay far, far away.  The other teams would do well to look back on those Yankee years with focused monocles.

It’s not that Pavano is a bad pitcher, he’s a serviceable mid-rotation guy who can eat some innings provided he stays healthy (something he has had trouble with in the past), but for anyone to throw a ton of money at him would be crazy.  There’s little doubt, however, that either the Brewers or Twins will pony up the dough.

But are there better, cheaper options out there?

Here are Pavano’s career peripherals compared to the career numbers of some other pitchers who may be available, either through free agency or through trades:

Age in 2011 Expected Salary ERA FIP GB% HR/FB% HR/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
Carl Pavano 35 $9M-12M 4.34 4.15 46.0 10.3 1.01 2.26 5.72 2.54
Joe Blanton 30 $8.5M-$9M 4.30 4.21 43.7 9.5 1.02 2.51 5.82 2.32
Ricky Nolasco 28 $6M-$7M 4.45 3.91 38.9 11.1 1.23 2.12 8.02 3.78
Kevin Millwood 36 Inc.-laden 4.11 3.98 42.4 9.7 0.98 2.80 6.97 2.49
Chris Young 32/33 Inc.-laden 3.80 4.22 28.5 8.1 1.08 3.53 7.82 2.21
Brandon Webb 31/32 Inc.-laden 3.27 3.50 64.2 13.2 0.63 2.97 7.26 2.45

*Inc.-laden means Incentive-Laden…in case you didn’t already know that.

Pavano and Blanton have strikingly similar numbers across the board which is interesting when you think about it.  Blanton is 5 years younger, will likely end up being slightly cheaper in terms of salary and the Phillies would probably give him up for very little considering they would love to get out from under his salary (he’s under contract for that amount through 2012).

Nolasco is in a class all his own among these pitchers, but a team who could part with a few quality prospects could land him for significantly cheaper than Blanton and Pavano.

Millwood is older than anyone on the list and is coming off a horrid campaign in Baltimore which suggests he’s in full decline and will likely only get worse, but he’d come cheap and if he rebounds at all, he could be a nice addition to a club who needs some depth in the rotation.

The last two on the list are certainly wildcards as combined they’ve made only 19 starts over the last two seasons (Young made 18 of them), but both are solid options.  Young’s FIP, GB% and BB/9 numbers would suggest that he’d probably see his numbers decline in a less pitcher-friendly environment than San Diego’s Petco Park and Webb’s shoulder may never recover to what it was previous to 2009, but both would come cheap on incentive-laden deals and have high ceilings.

If Webb can even come close to posting the kind of ridiculous career numbers he’s put up, he might be the best option on this list.  His high HR/FB ratio means nothing because of his surreal 64.2 GB% and 0.63 HR/9 rate, and even that number would likely go down outside of the homerun haven in the Arizona desert where Webb has pitched his whole career.

All I’m saying is that if I’m the GM of the Twins or the Brewers or any other team, I might not be so quick to jump at Carl Pavano.  Let’s also consider that he’s cashed in on good seasons before, just ask the Yankees.

There are cheaper, younger and higher-ceiling players available that won’t cost you 3 years and more than $30-million.

*Statistical information garnered from FanGraphs.