With names like Hiroki Kuroda, Javier Vasquez, and Roy Oswalt heading the thin free agent crop of starting pitchers, the Jays will likely look more to the trade route to address their starting rotation this offseason.
While I’ll have some upcoming posts on a few starting pitchers that the Jays could target via trade, there is one southpaw not named C.J. Wilson who will also draw a lot of interest on the free agent market.
That would be Chicago White Sox ace Mark Buehrle, who hasn’t been talked about a lot since the regular season ended but is worth discussing.
Shortly after the regular season ended, GM Alex Anthopoulos hinted that he’d be interested in adding a mid-to-front of the rotation starter over the offseason. Jays manager John Farrell, however, was more blunt.
"“I really feel like when you look at any team that is contending or going into the postseason, their cornerstone is their rotation,” said Farrell in an article from the Toronto Sun’s Ken Fidlin. “Improvements in that area, whether internal or external, would be item No. 1. It allows that middle reliever or setup guy to come to the mound having proper rest. It keeps the game under control, provided he’s not only giving you 200 innings but 200 quality innings.”"
One hurler that’s certainly capable of giving his manager 200 quality innings in a season is Buehrle, who has done so for 11 straight years. In fact, he has never missed a single start in his career and has started at least 30 games in each one of his 11 full seasons.
He has, however also given up at least 200 hits in each of the last ten seasons, with a career average of just over one hit allowed per inning pitched. Any pitcher that allows that many hits, not to mention possesses a super-low strikeout rate like Buehrle’s (5.1 career K/9), would not seem destined to have a long major league career, but the Missouri native is obviously an exception, even tossing a perfect game in his impressive career.
His hefty five-pitch repertoire has helped him keep hitters in check over the years and limit any damage he may run himself into, as both his ERA and FIP have hovered around 4.00 during his entire career.
Given the thin free-agent market, though, teams will be lining up to acquire Buehrle, who is coming off a four-year, $56 million contract that he signed with the White Sox in 2007. It’s hard to imagine him signing for considerably less money than his previous deal, especially since he has a more proven track record than Wilson, widely considered to be this winter’s top free-agent lefty and starter in general. Unlike WIlson, though, Buehrle is nearly guaranteed to rank as a Type-B free agent this winter, so it wouldn’t cost a team anything to sign him.
The number of years on Buehrle’s next contract, though, is a very interesting part.
“Obviously, I’d like to play two or three more years,” Buehrle told Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune near the end of the regular season. “I think getting a five-year deal is probably not going to happen. But (if a) one-year deal was the only offer, then you got to take it. But I’m looking for a couple more years.”
There have been rumblings that the White Sox would be interested in bringing him back on a two-year deal or that the Red Sox would explore a similar term. Frankly, any team in baseball would explore that length of a contract, and surely Anthopoulos will explore that opportunity this offseason if it creates itself.
The question is, though, whether or not Buehrle would be the piece that Anthopoulos feels would put the Jays over the top and transform their current group into playoff contenders.
The Jays don’t seem to be one piece away yet, but they sure are close. As we all know, anything can happen with the Silent Assassin, so we’ll ultimately just wait and see.