With the Superbowl coming up in 2 weeks it means that Spring Training is not far away. It’s this time of the year when roster tinkering gets serious as the resources available are increasingly scarce. It’s no secret the Mets are shopping their veteran starting pitching, most specifically Dillon Gee, so I thought I’d take a look at both the remaining free agent options and the teams who need a starter (or two).
Cream of the Crop
Without a doubt, James Shields is the premier free agent pitcher still on the board. For the Kansas City Royals he’s produced records of 13-9 with a 3.15 ERA in his 2013 season and followed that up with a nearly identical 14-8 with a 3.21 last year for the World Series-bound team. I think people were waiting for a landing place for Max Scherzer before turning their attention to Shields who is older and theoretically should command a smaller deal in terms of both years and average annual value. With Scherzer having secured 7 years and $210 million (though half is deferred, giving the Nationals a relative bargain at $15 million per year for the life of the contract and another $15 million per year due for 7 years following his probably retirement from baseball). It’s likely Shields will get someone to bite at 4 years and probably close to $100 million and there aren’t too many teams with that much coin to toss around at this late stage of the Hot Stove season.
The Second Tier
Here you have one highly credible pitcher coming off injury concerns. Chad Billingsley is a career 81-61 pitcher with a 3.65 ERA and average control. He’s been out of baseball for nearly 2 full years but he’s allegedly healthy now and ready to take on a new contract after his last one paid him $12 million. For a frame of reference, Jon Niese for the last three years has pitched to ERAs of 3.40, 3.71 and 3.40 while earning less than $8.8 million COMBINED for that three year time period.
The Third Tier
Ryan Vogelsong has had a bit of a strange career with time in the majors, 3 years in Japan, back to the majors, a year out with injury and then back pitching for the World Champion San Francisco Giants. His 2011 and 2012 seasons were truly outstanding (including being named to the All Star team in 2012). Then he lost 12 weeks of the 2013 season after breaking bones in his hand being hit by a pitch but he was pretty awful both before and after the injury. In 2014 he signed a $5 million deal and returned with fourth/fifth starter stuff -- 4.00 ERA but better control than he’s exhibited in the past. Unfortunately he’ll start 2015 at age 37. Rumors abound that the Astros are interested in adding him to their somewhat shaky rotation.
Kyle Kendrick, Kevin Correia and Paul Maholm are essentially the same pitcher (albeit Maholm is a lefty). They have career losing records with poor control, high batting averages against and ERAs well above 4.00. They are warm bodies that won’t hurt you much but won’t help you much either.
Here you have the guys who have bounced all over the place – Ryan Dempster and Brad Penny. Neither appears to have much left in the tank. Felipe Paulino is younger but hasn’t accomplished much in his major league career. Ditto Franklin Morales.
The Mets Trio
The Mets have a three veteran starters, all of whom exceed the performance of most of these options. They probably slot between the 2nd and 3rd tier pitchers. Oddly, it is the elder statesman, Bartolo Colon, who comes with the least injury risk. Both he and Dillon Gee only require a single year of financial commitment. Jon Niese has posted the best numbers, but with an all righty rotation he is the least likely to be moved. However, if you matched any of their numbers up against the available options, you could make a case all of them are the best alternative for a team who misses out on or simply can’t afford James Shields. Billingsley is likely going to have his salary depressed due to injury concern though not nearly as much as the one other starter whose name I left out of this listing – Johan Santana. His duct-taped arm will likely result in a minor league invitation or a very low salary deal with heavy incentives attached to it. Billingsley will get more but how much more is anyone’s guess.
So Who Needs Pitching?
In all of the stories about the landing zones for Dillon Gee you keep hearing the names of the Rockies, the Giants and the Padres. The Rockies make sense with Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and a lot of hopes and dreams after that slated in the rotation. The other two teams seem a little odd to be looking to add a starter. The Giants in particular seem like an odd choice given a rotation that includes Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson and Tim Lincecum. The Padres brag about their plethora of young starters. Perhaps they are hedging their bets against some not flourishing in their rotation.
There are some other teams who seem to have vulnerabilities in their rotation as well. The aforementioned Astros have Brad Peacock slated to be their fifth starter. The Arizona Diamondbacks don’t have a lot of depth and the Philadelphia Phillies appear to be going to war with Jerome Williams or Miguel Gonzalez in their rotation. (It could get worse is Cole Hamels is traded). The Texas Rangers despite the addition of Yovani Gallardo, appear vulnerable at the back end of the rotation as do the the free spending Chicago White Sox. The Cincinnati Reds are trotting out Dylan Axelrod as a starter and the Twins counter with Kyle Gibson (though they do have old friend Mike Pelfrey on their payroll).
The two teams who could use a boost but who aren’t shy about spending are the Boston Red Sox with Justin Masterson and the Detroit Tigers banking on converted reliever Alfredo Simon who excelled for the Reds last year but it was his first as a starter at age 33. They also have the lackluster Shane Green in the rotation. After losing Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer, it’s pretty certain they would be a player for James Shields’ services. The same goes for the Red Sox. I can’t, however, see either being interested in the Mets pitchers as upgrades to what they have if they lose out on the big prize.
So where do you think one (or more) of the Mets pitchers will land…and why?