Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

2011 FA Market Analysis and Predictions for Starting Pitching

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Is CJ Wilson worth a 9 figure contract this off season? We’ll see. Photo Chris O’Meara/AP via livesportsdb.com

As the World Series ends, and as clubs start exercising (or more importantly, declining) player options, the FA market for starting pitching is starting to really take shape this off season.

The Nats don’t “need” Starting Pitching as they have in the past, but a quality veteran starting pitcher would certainly be preferred to the question marks that we might have if we used the likes of Ross Detwiler, Tommy Milone or Brad Peacock as a 5th starter in 2012.

Lets take a look at the starters on the market, put in some predictions as to what kind of money they’re going to get, and discuss whether or not the Nats should (or might) pursue them.  For reference, here’s a list of 2012 FAs from mlbtraderumors, as well as the Elias rankings as of the end of the 2011 season.  Remember, thanks to their end of the season run, the Nats 1st round pick is NOT protected and would be forfeited if they signed a type-A free agent.  So the FA types will be of importance when talking about each of the pitchers below.

Category: Aces (or nearly Aces) and Type-A starters.

  • CC Sabathia seems certain to opt-out of his remaining Yankee contract and will almost certainly re-up with the team.  11/1/11: he has done just that.  5yrs, $122M, fewer years honestly than I thought he’d demand.  He raises his AAV from $23M in the last deal to $24.4M and gets one additional guaranteed year.  The structure of the deal pays him $23M/year for the first four years, then $25M the last.  There’s an option for 2017 at $25M that he most likely makes if he stays healthy.
  • CJ Wilson is also a type-A FA and seems set on testing the market.  I would too if I were Wilson; I don’t think he’s an ace but he’s certainly going to be paid like one.  He seems set to get an AJ Burnett type deal (5yrs $85M) or perhaps more.  I hope the Nats don’t over-spend and get him.  I’d guess he heads to Boston; his free-spirit personal seems to fit with that franchise and the team just got a shock bit of news that John Lackey, despite how bad he was in 2011, is out for the entirety of 2012 with Tommy John surgery.
  • Roy Oswalt had his team option for $16M bought out on 10/25/11, but I’m guessing this is just a procedural move to re-sign him and keep the “big 4″ together for a few more years.  Oswalt’s on the wrong side of 30 and had a rough season of declining stats and missed starts, but still slots in as the best #4 starter in baseball and certainly didn’t come to Philadelphia for anything less than a World Series shot.  I’d guess he re-ups for 3 years, $36M with the Phillies.  Other pundits disagree and see him moving back to Texas to take over Wilson’s #1 spot on the Rangers rotation.
  • Edwin Jackson: another guy whose post season performances seem certain to hurt his FA prospects.  Big arm, good numbers, right age (only 28 hitting free agency), but a propensity to get hit hard and often.  Mike Rizzo loves him, tried to trade Adam Dunn for him in 2010, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see the Nats go after him again.  Look for him signing with the Nats for 3 years and $28M.  Unless a pitching-starved big-money team like Boston or New York offers him a ton more than that.  I’m not really in favor of this deal for the Nats, but wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen.
  • Yu Darvish: as I opined here, I really do hope that the Nats do not spend fools money after Darvish.  A posting fee in the $40-$50M range, then at least that amount to sign the guy.  I know he’s got great numbers in Japan.  So did Dice-K.  There’s a halfway decent chance he doesn’t even get posted this year, so all ink spilled over Darvish could be moot.  Baseball Prospectus put out a great article about Darvish, including lots of analysis and links to others who share the same concerns that I do.  If you’re in the “pro-Yu” camp there’s a couple good articles on places like fangraphs that support your case.

Category: Mid-rotation/decent starting options.

  • Mark Buehrle is hitting the FA market, but i’d be shocked if he leaves Chicago at this point in his career.  I’m sure he’ll take a team friendly deal that extends his career out 3-4 more years, at which point he may very well retire a one-franchise guy with a surprisingly high number of career wins.
  • Hiroki Kuroda just finished off a sneaky-good season, going 13-16 with a 3.07 era.  The problem is that he’s 36 and had a ton of innings on his arm in the Nippon league prior to getting here.  He’d be a risk.  The Dodgers franchise is a mess but its the only team he’s known, and I’d guess he wants to stay on the west coast.  I’d guess he gets a decent 2-year deal from Seattle if the Dodgers can’t find the money.
  • Javier Vazquez looked washed up during last year’s FA market analysis, having lost 3-4 mph on his fastball and getting shelled in NY.  However, he had a great bounce-back season in Miami and i’d guess he re-ups there for the new season and new stadium.  However, there’s word out there that he may retire.  Hard to see a guy who just put in a decent, comeback season retire though, especially if guaranteed money is thrown around.

Category: Aging/Back of the Rotation starters

  • Bruce Chen has very quietly put together two pretty good seasons for the Royals all things considered, but will be 35 and may see a precipitous drop in production.  He’s not any better than the options the Nats face now, when you consider price and productivity.
  • Freddie Garcia had a revelation of a season for the Yankees; I’d think he stays there as insurance for 2012.   Still hard to believe the Yankees won 97 games giving no less than 51 starts to Garcia and Colon.
  • Bartolo Colon is in the same boat as Garcia, but is 38 to his 34 and may be cut loose to find another team willing to give him a shot with his stem-cell enhanced shoulder.
  • Joel Pineiro has never stayed healthy long enough to reach his potential, and he just laid an egg in his contract year in LA.  I’d be surprised if he got anything more than a 1yr $5M deal.
  • Aaron Harang: beware the veteran pitcher who goes to San Diego and suddenly looks like a #2 starter.  2011 numbers: 14-7, 3.64 era.  Home/Away splits?  3.05 era at home, 4.70 on the road.  I’m sure he’ll get some money, somewhere for a back-of-the-rotation job.
  • Livan Hernandez reportedly offered to move to the bullpen for the Nats, in order to stay here.  Unfortunately he pitched so poorly, and takes so long to warm up, that using him in extended relief really isn’t much of an option.  My guess is that Livan returns to his roots in Miami as the Marlins’ 5th starter on the cheap and enjoys one more spin around the league.
  • Jason Marquis, in a remarkable sense of timing by the Nats, was traded for Zack Walters and then promptly broke his leg.  Its too bad for Marquis, who clearly was using 2011 to regain some market value for his free agency this off-season.  At this point he certainly won’t be getting any 2year deals for 8 figures.  I’d guess he gets a 1yr $4M deal with some incentives, if that.
  • Chien-Ming Wang, by virtue of being in THIS section and not the next, has already had a successful 2011.  He is what he is right now; a guy trying to reclaim former glory and his former sinking fastball, and a guy who looks like a #4 starter who has capabilities of improving as he gets more and more innings into his repaired shoulder.  My guess is that he repays the Nats for nursing him back to health while providing him millions in salary and signs for a 2-year deal worth roughly $6-7M overall.
  • Tim Wakefield; I would have predicted him to possibly hang up the spikes until news of Lackey’s injury and Dice-K’s question mark.  Wakefield’s stats have really declined the past two years, but Boston seems in need of a back of the rotation guarantee that Wakefield’s $4M standing salary can fill, cheaply.
  • Brad Penny, Jeff FrancisPaul Maholm, Chris Capuano, Vicente Padilla, Rodrigo Lopez, Zack Duke, Aaron Cook, Kevin Milwood, Dontrelle Willis and anyone else not already mentioned: all of these guys were either so mediocre in 2011, went unsigned in 2011, or are so old, that i’d be surprised if more than just a few of them got major league deals for 2012.

Category: Reclamation Projects/Injury recovery guys.  The Nats have a history of pursuing former glory with recovering stars.  Would they try it again?

  • Adam Wainwright: his injury in spring training 2011 amazingly didn’t really cost the Cardinals, who marched right into the World Series without their #2 starter.  Wainwright’s injury couldn’t have been worsely timed in terms of his contract options; St Louis dodges a major payroll bullet by being able to opt out of millions of dollars of guaranteed money.  But Wainwright is free to look elsewhere.  Will he?  Doubtful: i’d guess he signs a one-year incentive-laden contract with St. Louis aimed towards regaining his career.  10/26/11 update: the team exercised its options on Wainwright, meaning he’s off the market.
  • Justin Duchscherer: had some lights out seasons, but missed all of 2009 and 2011 with injury.  Will anyone take a flier on him?
  • Chris Young and his 6′ 10″ faster-than-it-seems fastball only got 4 starts (2 against the Nats) before getting shoulder surgery.  Seems to run in the NY Mets family (see Santana, Johan).  It wasn’t as bad a surgery as it could have been, and he should return for 2012.  He’s now missed games in 4 straight seasons and its buyer-beware.
  • Jon Garland had season-ending surgery in July after just 9 starts, but when healthy is a 105 ERA+ guy, a 4th starter who can eat innings and be solid.  He had great durability up until this injury, having not missed a start since 2002.  But now its not clear if he’ll even be ready for 2012.
  • Ben Sheets is in almost the identical spot as Duchscherer; ironically both have a history of pitching in Oakland.
  • Rich Harden; mr Day Game split (or Mr. Unreliable Injury guy, if you play fantasy baseball) just finished yet another unproductive season with a 5+ ERA pitching in one of the best pitchers parks in baseball.  He seems set for a minor league contract for one last flier at a comeback.
  • Eric Bedard wasn’t half bad for Boston down the stretch, with a 9.0 k/9 rate on the season.  But at the end of the season he was yanked early in two critical games and i’d bet the team won’t be willing to roll the dice with him again.  We’ll see who overpays for his injury-plagued services in 2012.  With Boston’s sudden shortage of starters, look for Bedard to resign in Boston and start the year as Boston’s #4.
  • Brandon Webb: got some looks in spring training 2011, including from the Nats, but then went under the knife yet again.  You can usually come back from TJ surgery.  Shoulders are tougher.  He may be done.

Predictions:  I’d guess the Nats throw their name in the mix for Wilson but get scared off by his price tag.  Maybe we’ll post a respectable figure for Darvish.  But Rizzo goes hard after Jackson and we get him.  Meanwhile Rizzo also signs one of these injury reclamation projects to a nominal guaranteed contract to see what pans out.

11 Responses to '2011 FA Market Analysis and Predictions for Starting Pitching'

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  1. Good stuff, Todd. After watching him in September, am rooting for the Nats to re-sign CMW.

    As much as I love watching Livan pitch, I’m sad to say I agree with both of your posts about him.

    Mark L

    2 Nov 11 at 10:25 am

  2. I’m really curious to see what the Nats do with Free Agency. If you sign Wang, that’s basically all 5 rotation spots locked up (Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan, Wang and Detwiler). Detwiler out of options and Lannan who will be tendered unless the team loses its mind. Any more signings and something has to give. Trade Detwiler for something?

    Todd Boss

    2 Nov 11 at 11:13 am

  3. As I said in another thread, I somewhat disagree with your take on Darvish. I can’t read the BA article, but there is a real debate going on Fangraphs about Darvish with competing postings yesterday (“Darvish is not Daisuke” vs. “Don’t Overpay for Darvish”). I’m in the middle on Darvish, and think that if he posts (and I’m dubious as to how likely that is) the Nationals should absolutely prepare a substantial but not stupid posting bid. If someone goes all stupid, laugh at them and go to Plan B. The posting process is pretty quick, so it’s not really going to set back your offseason timetable.

    If the bid wins, use the leverage created by the sole bargaining rights to get a relatively team-friendly contract. If Darvish balks, walk away. The posting fee is rescinded. Up until Darvish signs a contract with the team it’s virtually a no cost transaction, and the team is completely in control of how much they want to put at risk.

    John C.

    2 Nov 11 at 11:56 am

  4. After Darvish I don’t know how aggressive the Nationals are truly going to be in the FA pitcher market. I do think the team will offer Lannan arbitration and re-sign Wang, and at that point (as Todd pointed out) the rotation is looking pretty crowded even with Peacock, Milone, Maya, (Brad) Meyers and possibly Stammen in the wings at Syracuse. I just hope that Rizzo doesn’t feel pushed by the seeming surplus to make a dumb trade (I’m looking at you, B.J. Upton).

    John C.

    2 Nov 11 at 12:16 pm

  5. The gist of the Baseball Prospectus article (i think i said it was BA when it really was BP) was to look at Darvish’s stats in the NPN, compare them to his rivals, and list some scouting reports. Low-mid 90s rising 4-seamer peaking at 97, good two seamer at 90, plus cutter, good forkball, average curve, weak change up but two sliders that offer different looks to the hitter. Lots of pitch variety, just as with Dice K. Except that his numbers are better in the NPN. Weaknesses listed as command. Article lists the favorites to get him here (in order): Rangers, Blue Jays, Nationals, Mariners, and Royals. Yankees still burned by the Igawa deal, Red Sox burned by the dice-K deal and probably not in on him.

    I understand where you’re coming from. I’m not against putting in a sensible bid either. However, why play if you know you’re not going to win? If Darvish is considered to be the japanese strasburg, then why wouldn’t the bidding process Start at Dice-K’s number? The article quotes scouts estimating that it will take $110M to get him between posting and a contract. My big worry is that something in the team will say “We MUST get this guy” and they’ll overpay and he’ll fail to live up to his massive contract and we’re basically stuck with him for 5 years. And since we’re not the Yankees and we have roughly 8% of a sh*tty TV contract instead of 100% of a fantastic one, we’ll never have the revenues to pave over such a contract mistake.

    So, don’t make the mistake in the first place. Continue great drafting and great player development and augment FAs as needed. The Atlanta Braves are the perfect model; lots of homegrown talent (McCann, Freeman, Jones, Prado, Heyman, Hanson, Jurrjens, Beachy, Ventors and Kimbrell ALL developed in house), then key cogs acquired by “spending” other prospects and players (Uggla, Gonzalez, Bourn, and Hudson all acquired in trade). In fact, of the entire starting Braves team last year they only had one FA (Derek Lowe, recently traded for salary relief). They should have been in the playoffs this year, were in the playoffs last year, have a manageable payroll and a top-3 farm system. Can’t beat it.

    Todd Boss

    2 Nov 11 at 1:16 pm

  6. Seen various “top FA lists” with the Nats in on all sorts of random guys. Freddie Garcia, Mark Buehrle, CJ Wilson.

    Word on the street is that the Rays will non-tender Upton, who should probably earn $6M+ in his 3rd arbitration year ($3M first, $4.8M second year) to save some money. Upton just had his best season in a while and may put in a request for $6.5 or so. 23 homers, 36sbs though his avg and obp were less than career standards. Maybe this keeps the price down on Upton. I mean, you can’t trade the world for a guy with just one guaranteed year left right? Or, Rizzo cuts a deal w/ Tampa for prospects to keep Upton off the FA market and retain him for 2012. Or maybe he negotiates in a 72-hour window to extend Upton out of arbitration and get another year or so. I’d be up for these scenarios.

    Todd Boss

    2 Nov 11 at 1:25 pm

  7. As brilliant as Rizzo is with drafting and development, he’s still prone to big rookie mistakes at the major league level. (Gomes,Werth).
    Upton is the very definition of ordinary, his stats suggest his best days are behind him.

    Mark L

    2 Nov 11 at 3:57 pm

  8. You can “explain” away both Gomes and Werth deals. Or more to the point, you can easily argue both sides. I’m convinced the Gomes deal was 100% to appease Johnson’s desire to have a better bench flexibility (and to replace Stairs). I know we all liked Manno, and its tough to lose prospects for 1/2 a season of a very poor hitter, but taking a step back both Manno and Rhinehart were pretty low-end prospects and face uphill struggles to make the majors. Werth had to be a statement FA, a contract that served notice to the league that the team wasn’t a pushover anymore. Werth may not have produced on the field per his salary, but he’s still a plus defender, a consummate pro, and the kind of player that won’t be complacent losing.

    Here’s his trade history:
    x 2009: Veloz for AHernandez
    x 2009: Logan Kensing for Kyle Gunderson
    x 2009: Aaron Thompson for Nick Johnson
    x 2011: Gorzelanny for Morris, Burgess, Hicks
    x 2011: Komatsu for Jerry Hairston
    x 2011: Dykstra+cash for Nyjer Morgan
    x 2011: Gomes for Rhinehart/Manno
    x 2009: Morgan/Burnett for Hanrahan/Milledge
    x 2010: “future considerations” for Andrew Brown (minors)
    x 2009: Mattheus, Fabian for Beimel
    x 2011: Walters for Marquis
    x 2009: Garcia, Garate for Ronnie Belliard
    x 2011: Erik Davis+cash for Alberto Gonzalez
    x 2009: ptbnl (? no idea who it ended up being) for Mike O’Conner
    x 2011: Olbrychowski for Maxwell
    x 2009: Bruney for ptbnl (eventually rule5 top pick Jamie Hoffman)
    x 2010: Wilson Ramos, Testa for Matt Capps
    x 2009: cash for Daryl Ward
    x 2011: Caldera for cash
    x 2010: Tatusko, Roark for Cristian Guzman
    x 2011: CBrown, HRodriguez for Willingham
    x 2009: Hopper for cash

    Rizzo’s “biggest” trades:
    – 2009: Morgan/Burnett deal
    – 2010: Ramos for Capps deal
    – 2011: Henry Rodriguez/Willingham deal
    – 2011: Gorzelanny deal

    Rizzo’s “best” trades:
    – 2010: getting Wilson Ramos
    – 2011: getting Gorzelanny?

    The Ramos deal really looks fantastic in retrospect. The Burnett/Hanrahan seems to be looking worse. Gorzelanny? i dunno. Willingham deal? I know you think it was salary dump; we could have used his bat last year eh?

    Todd Boss

    2 Nov 11 at 7:31 pm

  9. Thanks for reminding me of Willingham, he had worked his way up to average defense and always had a + bat.

    BTW, Willingham is a Type A free agent, so the A’s will come through with this one.

    Thanks for the trade history, it’s a trip down memory lane. :)

    Mark L

    2 Nov 11 at 8:32 pm

  10. Here’s a topic for discussion, in the “hindsight is 20/20″ department. After a season, would you rather have had Willingham’s plus bat added to our existing lineup and now have a type-A free agent (and potential compensation picks), or would you rather have middling AAA outfielder Corey Brown and mercurial reliever Henry Rodriguez?

    Todd Boss

    3 Nov 11 at 12:10 pm

  11. […] I predicted previously that the Nats would sign Edwin Jackson and not one of these other candidates this off-season.  Yes […]

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