Market Weak for Back End Left-Handed Starter
By Garret Craig
Earlier today, Chris Iott of MLive.com outlined some tweaks the Tigers will need to make to their club for 2012. Though it’s not their most pressing need, Iott pointed out that the club will likely be looking for a starter to replace Brad Penny and to hold them over until Jacob Turner is ready (hopefully sometime mid-season). As Iott writes, a cheap left-handed starter who could eventually move to the bullpen would be an ideal signing. So I decided to take a look at who could be available as a free agent and whether anyone out there fits those criteria.
There are just ten left-handed pitchers on the list of potential free agent starters compiled by Cot’s Baseball Contracts. I’ll give a short synopsis of each one to give you an idea of what’s out there.
CC Sabathia — The hefty ace made more than $24 million this season, making him the third-highest paid player in baseball, but could be looking for even more. His current deal runs through 2015 and would be worth $92 million over the next four years (or $23M/year). Should he opt out, the Yankees will almost certainly scramble to find the absurd amount of money it will require to re-sign him. Whether they are successful or not, there is absolutely no chance that Detroit will be in the running for this guy.
Mark Buehrle — He’s already drawing interest from a number of teams, but the latest report I can find on a potential signing is from Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated, who reports that his current team, the White Sox, are “expected” to offer him a two-year deal to stay in Chicago. This would be his first trip to free agency, however, so there’s a good chance he’ll want to test the market, especially considering the relative scarcity of starting pitchers. His agent, Jeff Berry, says he and his client are “not going to eliminate any team from consideration.” However, he made $14 million this year and had a solid season; that, combined with the high demand for starters, will likely drive him out of Detroit’s price range.
C.J. Wilson — How cool would it be to add Wilson to the Tigers’ rotation? Unfortunately, like Sabathia and Buehrle, it looks as if he will be far too expensive for Detroit. He made just $7 million this year, but Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote that he believes a five-year, $100 million deal could be in play for the current Rangers’ ace, a free agent for the first time. Danny Knobler reports that he won’t get that much from Texas, but, as I said before, the weak market for starters means he’ll at least get something close to that. Unless they plan to do some serious reallocating of their payroll, a guy as costly as Wilson will not figure into the Tigers’ plans.
Scott Kazmir — One of the most promising young pitchers in baseball as recent as 2008, his stock has fallen sharply over the last few years. This year, he made just one start at the major-league level before being placed on the disabled list. His minor league rehab stint with the Salt Lake Bees, the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate, was a disaster. Finally, in June, he was released unconditionally and paid $14.5 million to not pitch. Despite his falling out, MLB Trade Rumors has linked him to all of the Rangers, Mets, Rockies, Marlins, Padres, Diamondbacks, and Pirates since his release. Though he has failed to find a team so far, he intends to pitch in winter ball. The Tigers need a reliable back-end starter who will eat innings and keep them in games; Kazmir does not fit that profile. If he does resurrect his career and find a major-league job for next year, there’s very little, if any, chance it will be in Detroit.
Oliver Perez — Like Kazmir, Perez is looking to rebound after his three-year, $36 million contract turned disappointing. Despite still being owed $12 million, the Mets released him before the 2011 season. He was picked up two days later by Washington, but with the Nationals organization, he didn’t pitch in the majors, instead spending all of his time with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators. His career has been so similar to that of Kazmir, MLB Trade Rumors wrote an article about it before this season. For the purpose of this article, the most significant similarity they share is that neither is likely to be pitching for the Tigers in 2011.
Paul Maholm — The Pirates do not plan to have Maholm, who has a $9.75 million club option on his contract, on their squad for 2012. They have not yet declined his option, however, because, as Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com writes, by keeping the option on the table, Pittsburgh could try to trade him to a team who “doesn’t want to take the risk of letting Maholm go into the free agent market.” At just 29, Maholm will probably get more money and years in free agency than the Tigers can give him, and he probably would not be too terribly excited about the prospect of being replaced in the middle of the year by Turner. Though he would likely give you enough innings and keep you in games, Maholm is probably not the guy the Tigers are looking for.
Zach Duke — Baseball Reference gives Maholm a 956 similarity score to Duke. The latter, who made $3.5 million this year and is expected to become a free agent despite a $5.5M mutual option for 2012, is almost a full year younger, but on the surface he looks like the worse pitcher of the two. He was booted from Arizona’s rotation after nine starts this year, spent some time in the minors, and pitched out of the bullpen for most of the year. Reliability is not a quality Duke would bring to the table, and, for that reason, he’ll probably not be in a Tiger uniform in the foreseeable future.
Scott Olsen — The 27-year-old born in Kalamazoo, MI did not throw a pitch this year due to a hamstring injury and was released by the Pirates in May. He’s only thrown 143.2 innings in the majors since 2008 and has a career ERA of 4.85. This one’s pretty simple. You’re probably not going to sign a kid who is four years separated from a productive major-league season and expect him to pitch better than Brad Penny did for the Tigers this year.
Bruce Chen — Chen projects as a Type B free agent and will likely be offered arbitration by the Royals. Craig Brown of Royals Authority suggests that Chen, who made $2 million in 2011, could be awarded around $3.5 million by an arbitrator. He also notes that he could decline and look elsewhere for a two-year deal. The Tigers probably wouldn’t give him more than one year, but they might be willing to outbid Kansas City for his services.
Jeff Francis — Francis was serviceable in 183 innings this year coming despite looming questions about the condition of his shoulder. Like Chen, he made $2 million this year. Unlike Chen, he projects as an un-ranked free agent, meaning signing him would not cost a draft pick. He’s proven capable of throwing lots of innings with consistent results. If the Tigers are lucky, he’ll fly under the radar of most teams and they’ll be able to snag him for fairly cheap.
After looking at everyone who could be available, I see Chen and Francis as the only two viable options if the Tigers want to sign a free agent left-handed starter to fill out their rotation. Of course, they could also try to fill the void in their rotation via trade or even within the organization. They may even feel that Turner will be ready to start the year. What do you think?