Starting Pitching "Flyers" the Jays Should Consider

In 2011, we saw the Yankees take flyers on two back end of the rotation, veteran starting pitchers, and those moves were instrumental in New York’s American League East title.

For a total of 2.4 million dollars, the Yankees received 51 starts, 311 innings and 20 wins from Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. Both Colon and Garcia were signed to minor league contracts, as each were coming off of years of injuries and poor performance.

Colon and Garcia’s success in 2011 was surprising to most. The only reason why the pair found themselves in pinstripes was the clubs desperation for starting pitching. The signings looked like nothing more than stop-gap moves until a trade could be made mid-season.

The moves turned out to be great successes for Brian Cashman and the Yankees. While neither were all-stars or Cy Young candidates, they accomplished everything the Yankees could have hoped for. They may not have led the Bronx Bomber’s to a World Series title, but they were certainly vital to the team’s division title.

Starting pitching is the most valuable commodity in baseball. It is also the most volatile, as the physical strain imposed by the volume of work causes a ton of injuries. Having starting pitching depth is crucial for teams to get through the inevitable injury problems a 162 game season brings. Keep in mind, the Blue Jays used 12 different starters last season.

Another aspect to the volatility of starting pitching is youth. Jays fans saw this last year, as both Kyle Drabek and Brett Cecil struggled at the Major League level. These are pitchers with a great deal of talent, who showed just how difficult it is for inexperienced pitchers to make the adjustments necessary to be consistent. The 2012 Jays rotation will feature  a lot of youth again, some of which-like Drabek and Cecil in 2011- may need to be sent down to the minors along the way. The unpredictability of young starters is another reason why the Jays should consider signing a veteran, back-end starter.

Teams sign cheap 4-5 level starters every off season; these are players who generally have experienced age-related performance decline or injury. Often, these signings make little to no impact. However, I believe there are a number of options on the free agent market this year who could make an impact for the Jays. They won’t pick up any all-star or Cy Young votes, but they could be that extra component the Jays need to stave off injury and inconsistency on their way to the post-season. The key is to look for guys who have a lot of potential up-side (either they were excellent at one time, or there “talent/stuff” suggests they should be), but who are coming off injury or rough seasons. Buying players when there value is at its lowest has been a very effective strategy for Alex Anthopoulos so far; this another way to employ that strategy.

For inexpensive, one year contracts, AA should consider signing:

Rich Harden

2011 Contract: 1 year/ $1.75 mil

Career Stats:

W-L 59-38// ERA 3.76 // WHIP 1.30// FIP 3.95// K-9: 9.20// BB-9: 2.25

2011 Stats:

W-L 4-4// ERA 5.12// WHIP 1.43// FIP 4.69// K-9: 9.91// BB-9: 3.38

As a Canadian, a strike-out pitcher and someone who has had great success in MLB in the past, I have always had a soft spot for Harden. Harden’s value plummeted after the 2010 season, when he took a pay cut from  7.5 million, down to just 1.5 mil with Oakland. In 2011, Harden did little to turn that trend around, pitching to a 5+ ERA in 82.2 innings. He did however, continue to show his exceptional ability to miss bats, striking out nearly 10 batters per 9 innings.

Harden is a classic example of an extremely talented pitcher who’s career has been decimated by injuries. In 9 seasons, Harden has only pitched over 100 innings 4 times and he has never hit the 200 inning mark. It won’t happen in 2012 again, but that doesn’t mean that a healthy Rich Harden can’t approach the type of numbers he put up with the Cubs in 2008 again (ERA 2.07/ K-9: 11.01/ 148 IP). The talent is there, the cost is low; let’s bring Harden back home to Canada.

Brandon Webb:

2011 Contract: 1 year/$3 mil

Career Stats:

W-L 87-62// ERA 3.27// WHIP 1.24// FIP 3.50// K-9: 7.26// BB-9: 2.97

2011 Stats:

No MLB stats (12 IP in AA)

Many moons ago, Brandon Webb was a phenomenal sinker-ball pitcher for the Diamondbacks. He won the NL Cy Young award in 2006, and put together 6 great seasons in a row from ’03-’08. Unfortunately, Webb has been sidelined since 2008 having undergone numerous surgeries. Last year it cost the Rangers $3 million to sign Webb on a one-year deal — they got just 12 AA innings for there money. Chances are that price tag will be cut significantly this winter, so it might be worth the Blue Jays while to take a shot on someone who was once one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Jeff Francis:

2011 Contract: 1 year/ $2 mil

Career Stats:

W-L 61-66// ERA 4.78// WHIP 1.43// FIP 4.40// K-9: 5.86// BB-9: 2.75

2011 Stats:

W-L 6-16// ERA 4.82// WHIP 1.44// FIP 4.10// K-9: 4.48// BB-9: 1.92

Another B.C. native, Francis was picked up on the cheap last year by the Royals. He won’t wow you, but he could serve as a solid 5th starter on a good team. If he can be had around his 2011 price tag (1 year/$2 mil), I would consider giving him a shot at the back on the rotation.

Others they could consider: Justin Duchscherer, Bartolo Colon, Freddy GarciaLivan HernandezJoel PineiroJon Garland.

It is clear that Alex Anthopoulos’ plan for the Jays has been to bring in a lot of young, high-upside players. I absolutely love the way he has gone about this, making bold deals like Marcum for Lawrie, and dealing for talented guys like Brandon Morrow and Yunel Escobar when their values were low. What I’m suggesting is not a departure from his model, but simply a small way to supplement the young core. I don’t want to see the Jays sign old, middle of the road types that will take away at bats and innings from the young players. I just want to see the Jays play an active role on the free agent market, looking for value where ever it can be found. I believe that these are players who have the talent to make a major difference for the Jays. They could also continue to struggle and/or sit on the DL. That is a risk I think the Jays should be able to take, as there cost should be extremely low.

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Tags: Brandon Webb Brett Cecil Jeff Francis Kyle Drabek Rich Harden Toronto Blue Jays

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