We keep hearing — and I keep writing — that this winter’s free agent market offered very little in terms of rotation options. But just how true is that statement?
The Yankees focused on Cliff Lee and hoped that Andy Pettitte would decide to pitch again, and now that Lee is gone and Pettitte is still uncertain, there are few alternatives available. Should the Yankees have been more aggressive early? Have they missed out on legitimate pieces because of their pursuit of Lee?
Using the handy free agent tracker over at MLBTradeRumors — I prefer that one to the MLB.com version — I’ve listed every starting pitcher who has signed this winter. I’d say the idea of a thin market is absolutely accurate. This list offers very few sure things, and although hindsight is never fair, it’s worth looking back to the month and a half before Lee signed — and those frantic days when Lee was making his decision — to try to find missed opportunities. The Dodgers were the most aggressive team in the beginning of the offseason, re-signing Ted Lilly before he hit the open market and locking up two more starters before the end of November.
Off the board quickly
As you might expect, most of the early moves were re-signings.
This period covers the start of spring training through the Winter Meetings.
Dodgers: 1 year, $12 million
Kuroda will be 36 this season and he’s spent his entire three-year career with the Dodgers. He’s been good for them — losing record but a 3.60 ERA and a good strikeout-to-walk ratio — and it’s hard to say whether he would have been willing to leave, especially with the Dodgers making an early push.
Dodgers: 1 year, $5 million (plus vesting option)
In retrospect, this is the kind of durable starting pitcher who might have helped the back of the Yankees rotation. Nothing flashy, but Garland is consistently good for 200 innings (of course, we said the same about Javier Vazquez). His career NL ERA is 3.74. His career AL ERA is 4.47.
Jorge De La Rosa
Rockies: three years, $32 million
The Rockies had a deal to re-sign De La Rosa in place before the first of December. It was the crew at FoxSports that broke the news, and they noted that De La Rosa wanted to stay in Colorado. They also reported: “The Yankees also have checked in, as they do on most prominent free agents, but their priority is Lee.”
Cardinals: two years, $16.5 million (plus mutual option)
The Cardinals traded for Westbrook last season, then they moved quickly to re-sign him this winter. Westbrook is a bit of an injury risk, he came back from Tommy John surgery last season and pitched well, especially after moving to the National League.
Mariners: one year, $1 million
This market has no shortage of Bedard-type starters. He’s made a total of 30 starts in the past three seasons, none of them coming in 2010. The Mariners are still hoping to get something out of him, and they moved quickly to re-sign him to a non-guaranteed deal.
Marlins: one year, $7 million
No chance the Yankees were going to re-sign him. No chance Vazquez was going to try to come back. Best for everyone to move on, and that’s exactly what they did.
Padres: one year, $4 million (plus mutual option)
Harang is from San Diego. In the past three years, pitching in the NL Central, he’s gone 18-38 with a 4.71 ERA and a steadily increasing WHIP. If I’m the Yankees, I’d rather take my chances with Sergio Mitre, but that’s just me.
Within the Cliff Lee window
From the Winter Meetings through Lee’s signing with Philadelphia.
This seems to be when the Lee talks were at their peak.
Pirates: one year, $500,000 with heavy incentives (plus club option)
Olson’s first big league season showed promise, but since then he’s been pretty bad while pitching for the Nationals and Marlins. Now it’s the Pirates who have signed him. From Florida to Washington to Pittsburgh. That says a lot.
Dodgers: 1 year, $2 million
Early in his career, Padilla had some good years with the Phillies, but he’s since become a back-of-the-rotation starter capable of stringing together a few dominant outings. Injuries last season made him even more of a risk than usual, and the Dodgers might use him in the bullpen instead of the rotation.
Padres: one year, $900,000
The Yankees offered Moseley a Major League deal, but he decided to shopping for a better offer and found on in San Diego, where he could land a spot in the Padres rotation. Moseley was a solid spot starter for the Yankees last season.
Pirates: two years, $8 million
News of the agreement broke on December 8. Hard to know what to expect rom Correia. He’s spent all of his career in the NL West, and his ERA has been a roller coaster the past four years, from 3.45 to 6.05 to 3.91 to 5.40.
Astros: one year, $750,000
Last season, the young lefty won one game and had a 6.75 ERA with the Mariners. He was solid the three years before that, but he’s generally been more effective as a reliever than as a starter.
Athletics: one year, $1.5 million (plus incentives)
Harden is coming off another injury plagued season that saw him pitching out of the bullpen in September. He might fall into a bullpen role again this season. When he did pitch last season, he carried a 5.58 ERA in Texas.
After Cliff Lee
Amazing how quiet the market has been since Lee came off the board.
Jeff Francis, Justin Duchscherer, Kevin Millwood and others are still out there.
Nationals: one year, $1 million with heavy incentives
One day after Lee signed with the Phillies, Wang re-signed with the Nationals. You know the Wang story, so I’m not going to rehash it here. There were — and are — several Wang-type starters on the market.
Rangers: one year, $3 million (plus heavy incentives)
Webb has one big league start in the past two seasons. He was once among the best starting pitchers in the game, but reports this fall of a low-80s fastball in instructional league were not encouraging.
Tigers: one year, $3 million
The most recent big league starter to come off the board, Penny is one of those risk-reward starters who have been fairly prevalent in this free agent market. He pitched well but made only nine starts last season.
Dreaming of best-case scenarios • 12.18.10
There is no such thing as a can’t-miss, top-of-the-rotation starter on the free agent market. The closest thing — other than Andy Pettitte — might be Carl Pavano, and that’s a tough sell for the Yankees for many, many reasons. One thing the Yankees might try is a high-risk, high-reward, low-dollar signing. They’ve already added Mark Prior on a minor league deal, and one of these starters could have significant upside to go with a small price tag and a large injury risk.
Left hip impingement
Duchscherer has been an all-star starter and an all-star reliever, but a series of injuries have limited his career through seven DL stints. Most recently, a hip injury that wouldn’t quite go away required surgery in early June, limiting Duchscherer to five good starts with the A’s. He previously missed all of 2009 because of elbow surgery and depression, but in 2008 he had a 2.54 ERA in his first full season as a starter.
A shoulder injury began causing problems in 2008. It cost Francis all of 2009 and landed him on the disabled list twice in 2010. He’s had surgery, and last season he kept battling soreness. Francis was a pretty promising young pitcher with the Rockies in 2007, but he’s had an ERA above 5.00 his past two seasons. If he’s healthy, maybe he could bounce back. His best years haven’t been as good as the others on this list.
Shoulder, forearm and elbow issues
I wanted to mention Lowry because he technically fits on this list, but the guy hasn’t pitched in the big leagues or minor leagues since 2007. Various things have gone wrong, and he never quite made a comeback last year. He was a good young pitcher with the Giants, but that was a pretty long time ago, and it’s hard to consider him a viable option at this point, even as a long shot.
Strained right lat
Penny made just nine starts last season before taking his familiar spot on the disabled list, where he also spent much of 2008. Those nine starts were good — he had a 3.23 ERA with the Cardinals — but his rehab didn’t go well enough for him to pitch beyond late May. Penny didn’t pitch well with Boston in 2009, but he finished that season in San Francisco and actually pitched very well for the Giants.
Torn elbow tendon
I decided to include Sheets because his name is on various free agent lists, but truth is, Sheets is not a legitimate option. He’s out at least the bulk of this season, probably all of it — maybe the rest of his career — after Tommy John surgery.
For three straight years, Webb was among the top pitchers in all of baseball. He was the Diamondbacks Opening Day starter in 2009, and he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since. Webb tried to avoid surgery in 2009, but finally had a procedure in August of that year and coming back has been a struggle. Like Wang, Webb pitched this fall. If the Yankees want to dream big, the best-case scenario probably doesn’t get much better than Webb, who won the Cy Young in 2006 and finished second in 2007 and 2008. At his best, he was kind of a more dominant version of Wang.
Associated Press photo
Back to the Magic Kingdom • 12.05.10
As much as I’d love to see Brian Cashman put on an elf costume and climb down a building in Connecticut, I’m instead making my way to Orlando for this week’s Winter Meetings. That means one thing: Cliff Lee.
Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are done, and the Yankees focus will shift to the rotation, which is the team’s most glaring need. Of course, the Yankees aren’t the only team interested in Lee. The Rangers are also going to make a push, and the Dallas Morning News took a look at the backup options should Lee sign elsewhere.
They’re basically the same for the Rangers as they are for the Yankees.
1. Trade the farm for someone like Zack Greinke.
2. Hope for a remarkable resurgence from someone like Brandon Webb or Chien-Ming Wang.
3. Try to catch lightning in a bottle with an internal candidate. I’m looking at you Ivan Nova.
Obviously, the preference is Lee. My guess is you’ll hear his name a lot this week.
Associated Press photo