With the Boston Red Sox wanting to move away from longer-term contracts on the whole, it seems unlikely that the team will pursue any of the big name free agent pitchers this offseason. It’s been suggested by many that the Red Sox may dive back into the recycling bin, looking to nab a pitcher who may be interested in a short-term, high-risk/high-reward 1-2 year deal instead.
This is probably the right strategy considering the current state of their pitching rotation. With two spots guaranteed (Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz) and one spot more or less having to be doled out to rebuild value in an underperforming player (John Lackey), you’re basically looking at two slots left to fill.
One would certainly have to think that Felix Doubront would be a prime candidate to fill one of those spots. Highlighted by a gaudy strikeout ratio, Doubront had a better 2012 season than his end results indicated, as he largely fell off towards the end of the season once he hit his career high in IP. Up to July, his peripherals were exactly in line with his career performance, suggesting that he’s every bit the pitcher he was in the minor leagues and that conditioning will likely be his last hurdle to overcome towards being a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. Given that kind of upside and his cost, there’s little reason to think he wouldn’t be the leading candidate to fill one of those two remaining rotation spots.
The last rotation slot is where things could get interesting. The Red Sox have four starters who could potentially win the slot in Spring Training. Rubby De La Rosa is one candidate. He’s coming off of Tommy John surgery but has a fastball in the high 90’s and was very effective with the Dodgers during his call up later last year, posting a 3.71 FIP and 3.85 SIERA over 50-60 IP. Allen Webster and Matt Barnes may not be quite ready by the time Spring Training rolls around, but could be candidates to fill out the rotation later in the year. Zach Stewart was – at one point – the Blue Jays top pitching prospect and may still have some upside left in him, but with mediocre results at both the Triple-A and Major League levels, his potential has yet to be fulfilled. Considering the new glut of talented, young pitching in the organization, the Red Sox may be hesitant to make a long term commitment, instead opting to keep a slot open for their younger starters to fill. It certainly would be the most cost-effective method of approaching the rotation for next year.
However, cost-effective isn’t always the answer and for a fan base that’s become utterly restless and impatient with the team’s failure to identify and develop top of the line starters, they may want to see more. Management is also likely to start feeling the pinch in the proverbial pocketbook and might not feel that it’s appropriate to wait for young starting pitching to come into it’s own. The last scenario could be that none of the young pitchers are ready yet, and you could be left with a glut of young pitchers getting shelled literally and figuratively at too early of an age. Taking a more prudent, patient path towards their development may be the best option in the long run, leading many to think that purchasing a patch-type pitcher on a sweetheart 1-year deal may be the best path to success for the Red Sox in 2013.
The idea of a one-year candidate makes sense, largely because the lack of long-term commitment could allow the Red Sox to travel down a variety of roads. They could extend the player’s contract and deal someone else. They could deal said signee at the deadline and get a nice return on prospects. They could keep the signee. There’s any number of options to explore. If the Red Sox will be prioritizing anything over the next few months, it will be maintaining roster flexibility heading forward so as to have lots of room for some of the emerging young Red Sox players of tomorrow. Shelling out a 1-year deal would be the best option towards maintaining that direction.
While a one-year deal is likely the best option, finding a pitcher willing to take one might be more challenging. The point of a ‘pillow contract’ is to sign a one-year deal to play in a favorable place. You produce, pad your stats and hopefully next year earn the big money deal you’ve been looking for. While the Red Sox have had a lot of success with 1-year deals with hitters, with pitchers, it’s a different story. Pitching at Fenway is not the same as hitting there. The prospect of trying to rebuild value in a hitter-friendly park in the most offensive-minded division in baseball isn’t exactly appealing. In light of this, the Red Sox will likely have to add a little extra oomph to their offers in order to entice pitchers to come here. The Red Sox have a need and the resources, so paying a premium price on a one-year deal isn’t a terrible idea, but it might present a slight difficulty should they ever have to move the player over the course of the season.
Today, we’ll examine a few of the possibilities for a one-year deal and hopefully get a little bit closer to finding someone who might be a potential fit here in Boston.
Jake Peavy – Peavy’s an intriguing option for the Red Sox to consider should the Chicago White Sox decline his $22 million option for next year. Peavy obviously comes with a high injury risk, but the track record of success when he’s healthy is there.
By the numbers, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic that he could succeed:
• His Strike out ratio has crept back to it’s career norm
• The 4.4 fWAR he posted this season was his highest single season total since 2007
• His SIERA of 3.63 is back to his career norm
• His walk rate is as good as it’s ever been
• His LD% has declined each of the last 2 years
• Even with his FB velocity dipping, it became an increasingly effective pitch for him once again.
Tack on his success in the hitter-friendly US Cellular Field, his reaching 200+ IP for the first time in years and his ability to pitch in both leagues, and there’s a lot to be excited about.
While Peavy has fought a plethora of injuries in his career, his performance the past two years could possibly net him a multi-year deal. If teams favor ability and upside over durability in the marketplace this offseason, don’t be surprised to see Peavy get a three year deal to the tune of $40-$45 million. If the trend heads in the opposite direction (where durability would be the premium), he could find himself stuck with a one-year deal to prove his health. The Red Sox would likely be hoping for the later.
In that scenario, a pillow contract would be ideal. If Peavy could prove his health, he could end up making a significant amount of money next year in Free Agency. The issue with Peavy and every other pitcher the Red Sox will pursue– is convincing him to 1.) Come to Fenway Park, which isn’t exactly a place you want to come if you’re looking to pad pitching stats and 2.) Be OK with being on a team that might not be all that great next year. Both will be significant hurdles to overcome. If the Red Sox can grab him, he might be the best non-Zack Greinke/Edwin Jackson pitcher on the market.
Brandon McCarthy – In 2011, McCarthy was as good as anyone, using a refined, more analytical approach to his pitching – posting a 2.86 FIP, which was worth 4.8 fWAR. In 2012, the results weren’t quite the same, as McCarthy began fighting the same old battle against his health, only managing to log 111 IP. Still, when he was healthy, he was quite good – posting a 3.76 FIP on the year.
The issue with McCarthy is going to be tied up not in his frequently occurring shoulder issues, but rather the massive head injury he suffered in September that almost took his life. Head injuries like that are significant and could have an immense impact on his performance next year. It’s a gigantic question mark, one that’s going to have to be taken into account.
However, what could be a major risk could turn into a major reward. The head injury will be on every GM’s mind and may bring his price down significantly. Unlike Peavy, I can’t envision a scenario this offseason where McCarthy lands himself a multi-year deal. Long story, short – he shouldn’t cost much. If he can get back to his old form, he could be one of the best signings of the offseason. Keep an eye on him for sure, but beware the immense risk.
Dan Haren – The 2012 season for Dan Haren is as good an example of a good player having a bad season as you’ll find. For the first time since 2005, he failed to pitch 200 innings and saw his ERA, and FIP spike to career highs. His 3.82 SIERA was perfectly acceptable though, despite it being his highest single season mark since 2006. He was more HR prone than in past years as well, with a 12.8 HR/FB%.
However, with his K/9 and B/9 being about the same, you’d have to figure the skills are still there for him to bounce back next year. Take the sunny side of the back injury debate and you’d figure he goes back to being the same old Haren once he has a chance to get healthy and regain his control.
The pessimistic view of the back injury is that it’s his heavy workload that’s coming back to bite him. Back issues are never good with pitchers and as we found out with Josh Beckett, they have an incredible tendency to keep popping back up. Perhaps more concerning is Haren’s dip in fastball velocity over the course of the past six years, which can’t be tied to his back issues. Sure, much of it could be Pitch f/X noise with his increased reliance on other pitches, but then again – it might not be.
Some of his splits also raise an eyebrow. He’s always had a slight L/R split in his career, but this past season, he simply struggled to get right-handed batters out. In fact, righties hit .311/.343/.482 against him this year, a big spike over his previous three seasons. His performance against lefties remained mostly the same.
The bright news in his splits is that as the season moved along, the better Haren got. It would imply that he’s still Dan Haren, just a Dan Haren who didn’t get off to a very good start. His wOBAA from June to September/Oct was .429, .357, .327, and .300. Not great, but the trend bodes well.
I’d suspect a one-year deal is going to be the path he chooses. The question will be whether he sees that path leading to Fenway for 2013.
Shaun Marcum – Marcum is an interesting candidate if for no other reason than his track record of success in the American League East. In spite of his propensity to throw with considerably less velocity than the other candidates on this list, he still maintained a perfectly acceptable 7.91 K/9 this season. He’s logged over 1,000 innings over the course of his career and has posted a solid 3.70-ish ERA over that time both in the previously mentioned AL East and in hitter-friendly Miller Park.
The issues with Marcum are largely related to his elbow and shoulder injuries, both of which have nagged him over the course of his career. In fact, Marcum’s only reached 200 IP in one season, leaving many to question his long-term durability. Truth be told, there may be some validity to that. Marcum’s career marks in the last three months of the season aren’t pretty, posting a .330+ wOBA in the months of July, August and September. As good as Marcum has been, he’s certainly struggled to put consistent, full seasons together.
In a weird way though, Marcum’s inability to pitch deep into seasons might make him a more ideal buy-low candidate than people might think. If the Red Sox aren’t in contention for a playoff spot come July, Marcum could be an excellent sell-high trade chip at the deadline and could fetch the Red Sox some interesting prospects.
The market for Marcum will be intriguing, as the Brewers don’t seem to be terribly interested in retaining his services. With the Brewers out of play, he could be one of – if not the¬ most appealing one-year deal starters on the market and as such, could generate a lot of interest from any number of teams. Recently the Angles, Yankees and even the struggling Chicago Cubs have been listed as potential landing spots for the talented righty. $10 million seems about where he’d end up, maybe a little higher, but given his persistent injury history, it’s hard to imagine anyone committing those kinds of dollars unless he can demonstrate he can stay healthy. For a pitcher like Marcum, you’d have to think a contender or borderline contender (like the Red Sox) might be more appealing than a team in full-blown rebuilding mode. Being able to settle in one spot with a contender over an extended period of time might be more interesting to Marcum than lining himself up to be full-blown trade bait. Considering that, the Red Sox would have a solid shot at nabbing him.
Regardless of who the Red Sox decide to add to the rotation, there’s no doubt pitching will be the priority this offseason. Who would you go with and what do you think is the best plan of action?