Tom Verducci wrote an excellent analysis of the starting pitching market this offseason in an article for Sports Illustrated and SI.com.
The longtime sports editor determined that the free agent market is loaded with pitchers that are the “baseball versions of a ’61 Corvette — only in poor condition.”
The pool of 30-plus starters includes four former Cy Young Award winners (Bartolo Colon, Roy Halladay, Johan Santana and Barry Zito). Let’s remove veteran pitchers who are in line for contracts of three or more years, including Bronson Arroyo, Ricky Nolasco, Ervin Santana and Jason Vargas. That leaves 33 veteran starters who could be had for one-or two-year deals.
Verducci asked a veteran talent evaluator with one NL team to rank the five best risks among those 33. Here are his rankings with my comments, and then my picks and comments for the next five:
1. Tim Hudson, 38: Hudson was throwing the ball well in July (4-0, 3.10 ERA) when his season ended with an ankle injury. Scouts admire his competitiveness, his clubhouse presence, the sound health of his arm and his late-career transition to a pitcher with effective breaking stuff and changes of speed. Hudson might find such a strong market that he could price himself out of Atlanta, but at this stage of his career he should remain in the NL. Case in point: Last season he posted a 5.89 ERA in three starts against AL teams and a 3.66 ERA in 18 starts against NL teams.
Best fit: If not a return to the Braves, he would fit well with the Giants.
2. Bartolo Colon, 40: He looked like he was finished in April 2010, but that’s when he underwent a surgery in the Dominican Republic in which doctors injected fat and bone marrow stem cells in Colon’s elbow and shoulder. One of the doctors was known to have used human growth hormone in such procedures, though, he said, not in this one. Colon has since tested positive for synthetic testosterone in 2012.
There is no disputing that Colon has revived his career since the surgery and in the timeframe of his PED use. In the three seasons before that operation he was 13-16 with a 5.20 ERA in only 38 games. He is 36-25 with a 3.32 ERA in 80 games in three seasons since. Colon has become one of the game’s premier two-seam fastball specialists, with uncanny movement and command.
Best fit: The Athletics have interest in keeping Colon in that big ballpark, but his stuff would play well in Pittsburgh, with the Pirates’ emphasis on throwing and fielding groundballs.
3. Roy Halladay, 36: It was painful to watch Halladay tossing in the low 80s and pitching to a 4.55 ERA after he came back in August from shoulder surgery. But he was hurt by uncharacteristic wildness. In the six games after his return, he walked 19 and struck out 16 — but batters hit .222 against him.
Shoulder surgeries remain the most ominous of procedures for a pitcher. Halladay’s prospective value depends largely on a review of his medical records, perhaps an avenue best explored late in the winter after he has had a chance to continue his rehab. In any case, Halladay’s pitching smarts and work ethic make him an attractive bet.
Best fit: The New York Mets. Assistant GM J.P. Ricciardi and Halladay share a history in Toronto and mutual admiration. Halladay may be worth the investment just to have him around New York’s young pitchers in spring training.
4. Dan Haren, 33: All the innings and all the cutters have caught up with Haren. One of the most durable strike-throwers in baseball is no longer a 200-inning machine. But Haren, once the Nationals gave him a midseason 15-day break last year, proved he still can be a useful option in the back end of an NL rotation if handled with care. Haren had a 6.15 ERA on June 22, but after the re-boot, he went 6-5 with a 3.29 ERA in his last 16 games.
Best fit: The California native would be more comfortable nearer his SoCal home. San Diego or San Francisco make sense.
5. Ryan Vogelsong, 36: The Giants, after doling out industry-rattling bucks to keep Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum, oddly declined the $6.5 million option on Vogelsong after an injury-shortened season. But like Hudson, Vogelsong suffered a non-throwing injury: he broke bones in his hand while swinging a bat May 20. Upon his return, with his velocity down a tick or two after missing two months, he went 2-2 with a 4.55 ERA in 10 starts.
Best fit: Vogelsong has strong ties to San Francisco, where he revived his career, and mutual interest remains. But it is curious why the Giants would not pay Vogelsong less than what the Indians paid Myers last year, a decision that might open the door for the Phillies, his hometown team, to make a call.
These are the types of options that would fit into the Mets structure as I understand it.