As Tigers fans, we’ve talked about quite a few second and third basemen over the past few weeks. The roster of available free agents, however, is generally uninspiring, as evidenced by Ramon Santiago’s presence on most short lists of the top second baggers on the market. The limited number of free agent options at Detroit’s primary positions of need has sparked a plethora of trade speculation. Dave Dombrowski is fairly widely expected to cross some items off the Tigers’ off-season wish list through trades. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a lot of extra pieces to move. That is, except, as Chris Hannum recently pointed out, for left-handed pitchers in the upper levels of their minor league system.
A surplus of southpaws is certainly a great problem to have; a baseball team can never have too much pitching, and lefties, given their relative scarcity, are especially high in demand. But how much can guys like Andy Oliver and Casey Crosby, who are currently struggling in the Arizona Fall League, return? Can the Tigers use their unproven hurlers to acquire major-league ready talent that can help them make a return trip to the American League Championship Series next year?
In order to answer that question, I looked into which teams are likely to be actively shopping for left-handed pitching this winter.
Among the clubs lacking most in this area are the Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, Philadelphia Phillies, and New York Yankees.
The Pirates’ lone lefty starter this year was Paul Maholm, who is unlikely to return after the Pirates recently decided to buy him out rather than pay his substantial $9.75 million option. Their best left-handed relief option, and the only one to log significant innings this year, was Tony Watson, a rookie who got right-handed batters out consistently but posted peripherals (a 4.66 FIP, for example) that suggest he outpitched his talent. To further underscore their deficiency, I’ll add that Pittsburgh’s internal options are very few. They do have a pair of 23-year-old lefties, Rudy Owens and Jeff Locke, who will probably throw in the majors at some point next year, but neither seems to project very highly.
The Angels are in a similar position. Though they seem set with left-handed relief, they have no left-handed starters in their rotation and, it would appear, no viable options for one in the upper levels of their minor league system. Their rotation for next year is mostly set, with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana making up an exceptional top three, but it appears extremely likely that they will try to add another starter to compete for the fourth or fifth spot; ideally, such an addition would be left-handed. There are a few veteran lefties on the free agent market, but with so much money already committed to starting pitching (they have almost $30 million committed to the three aforementioned pitchers for next season), the Angels may be willing to take a gamble on a cheaper commodity; Oliver, for example.
While the Angels are lacking a southpaw in their starting rotation, the Rangers, their division rivals, might be more focused on filling voids in their bullpen left by the departure of one or more left-handed relievers; Mike Gonzalez and Darren Oliver are both free agents, and they cut ties with Arthur Rhodes back in August. In addition to restocking their relief pitching, the Rangers have shown interest in adding a back-end left-handed starter. Such a move would be a very small step towards offsetting the potential loss of their most consistent starter, C.J. Wilson, who, of course, is left-handed.
Teams with plenty of cash to burn have some options, like Wilson and Mark Buehrle, as far as left-handed starters in free agency, but teams looking for a cheap, back-end guy, will find themselves lacking choices outside of Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis. Both of those guys, of course, pitched for the Royals this year. Chen was, in fact, by most measures, the best pitcher in their rotation. Many believe Kansas City will try to re-sign Chen; he told Bob Dutton of The Kansas City Star that “there are two teams that have already called to say they have major interest” in him, but that “Kansas City has expressed numerous times that they would like to sign” him. His departure, along with that of Francis, would leave Danny Duffy, who sported a 5.64 ERA this year, as the lone left-handed starter in the Royals’ possession. They also need help in the bullpen, as the only two lefties to pitch in relief this year for Kansas City were rookies Tim Collins and Everett Teaford. The Royals, in this off-season, will scramble to add any pitching, as that is undoubtedly the major weakness of their club–that pitching being left-handed might be a bonus.
Unlike the Royals, the Phillies don’t have a ton of weaknesses pitching-wise. They do, though, have a somewhat pressing need for a left-handed specialist. Their postseason bullpen included just one southpaw, Antonio Bastardo, a late-innings pitcher who was often called on to pitch in a set-up role. Joe Savery, the lone lefty expected to graduate from the Phillies’ minor-league system, has been labeled a specialist by some, but Philly will still want some insurance. They will more than likely go after some bullpen help outside of their quest to find a replacement for free agent closer Brad Lidge.
When asked what his focus would be in the off-season, Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman answered “pitching, pitching, pitching.” His club needs pitching like the Rangers need a new bullpen phone, and they are supposedly among the teams who have shown interest in acquiring Francis. Though they could without question afford the former-Royal, they may prefer to add a younger pitcher with immeasurably more potential.
Even more teams lacking left-handed pitching out of either their bullpen or their rotation include the New York Mets, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, and Colorado Rockies.
As you can see, there is surely not a shortage of teams who could use some left-handed pitching help. But do any of the teams I’ve mentioned have major-league ready players that the Tigers could realistically acquire?
I’ve been attempting to answer that question for a while now, and the answer is a resounding maybe. Over the next few days, I’ll hopefully be getting some posts up about some talents who are blocked from a major-league spot with their current club by established players and could be flipped for a left-handed pitcher or two. Stay tuned.