Scouting the Market: Starting Pitching

Let’s start with the reality check you’re already no doubt aware of: the Dodgers aren’t going to get an “ace pitcher”. There’s just too many hurdles; between the immense amount of competition for the few decent arms available, the lack of upper-level minor league talent in the Dodger system, and the never-ending impact of McDivorce Court on the payroll, it’s just not going to happen.

They obviously didn’t get Cliff Lee, and they’re also not going to get Roy Oswalt, who’s still got north of $30m (probably, assuming he requires his 2012 option to be picked up upon being traded) coming to him. Even if the Dodgers could afford that kind of outlay – guess what, they can’t – the Astros’ talent demands are apparently, well, astronomical. (Sorry.) The same goes for Dan Haren, who also has upwards of $30m coming his way, without even considering what kind of price the D-Backs would extract for dealing within the division.

Those are the top pitchers on the market, and the Dodgers aren’t going to get any of them. This isn’t a revelation; you knew that already, so no use dreaming on what a Kershaw/Oswalt/Kuroda/Billingsley playoff rotation could be like. But what you can count on is that the Dodgers are going to get someone. Though the rotation has stabilized somewhat, depth is non-existent. All it takes is one absence from older, more injury-prone pitchers like Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla for the Dodgers to be sent back into the James McDonald/Carlos Monasterios/Charlie Haeger wormhole – and that’s without considering John Ely‘s growing inconsistency and devastating rookieness (I’m channeling Joe Torre here.)

Now you can argue whether or not you think it’s worthwhile to trade prospects for another starter, but you can’t really disagree with the fact that it’s going to happen. So we’re not talking about getting anyone who’s going to be teaming up with Clayton Kershaw to form a killer 1-2 October punch, unfortunately. I’m talking about exactly the kind of deals we saw in 2009, for relatively reliable veterans like Padilla and Jon Garland.

But remember, there’s a bigger need here as well; only Billingsley, Kershaw, and Ely are under contract for next season, and while Ely’s got an inside track to claiming a job, I wouldn’t call it a certainty just yet. The Dodgers are going to need to get at least two - and possibly three - starters before next year, and with Bill Shaikin already forecasting an offseason of “payroll limbo”, cost is going to be a huge issue. So some consideration must be paid to pitchers who under control for 2011 and beyond as well.

So let’s spitball some names, and yes: some of them are kind of depressing. It’s just the situation we find ourselves in. Before I begin, some other names that were suggested to me and why I didn’t include them: Brett Myers (no indication he’s on the market), Ricky Nolasco (talent cost would be too high), Rick Porcello (lousy year or not, the Tigers would be crazy to give up on him at 21), Pedro Martinez (would need several weeks to be ready to help, which the Dodgers probably wouldn’t be willing to wait for) & Fausto Carmona (incredibly team-friendly deal means he wouldn’t come cheap, and as a groundballer he needs a better defense than the Dodgers can provide).

Brian Bannister (7-7, 5.56)
Contract status: ~$1m remaining in 2010. Team control for ’11 and ’12.

Bannister, the hero of stat dorks everywhere and owner of bizarre day/night splits, has hardly been a world-beater in Kansas City. Don’t let the ERA fool you, though, because his xFIP is a more realistic 4.70. He’s been a little unlucky on home run balls, but otherwise his peripherals are more or less the same as they ever were.

Rany Jazayerli imagines the KC pitch:

Let’s face it: with his upper-80s fastball, there’s simply a limit to how good Bannister can be in the superior league. He’s the quintessential National League pitcher; against inferior hitters, without having to face the DH, and in a big ballpark – hello, NL West! – he could be a revelation. Plus, he’s an excellent hitter for a pitcher. At least, this is the pitch the Royals should be making.

Bannister’s reasonable contract is both a blessing and a curse; it would fit into the Dodgers’ payroll, but it also means that KC doesn’t need to dump him for peanuts. From the Royals’ point of view, their stacked farm system is so close that Bannister may be out of a job by this time next year anyway, so it may behoove them to move him now while they can. Additional terrifying bonus: Kyle Farnsworth is rumored to be available too, for possible packaging! I’m not sure how I’d feel about acquiring one of my favorite baseball players alongside one of my least favorite.

Shaun Marcum (7-4, 3.44)
Contract status: ~400k remaining in 2010. Team control for ’11 and ’12.

Marcum’s a pretty interesting case. When he’s healthy, he’s quite good, with a career 113 ERA+ pitching in the brutal AL East. Of course, he’s rarely healthy; he missed 2009 with Tommy John surgery and is currently on the DL with elbow inflammation, though an MRI showed no structural damage and he’s expected back soon. His cost is sort of hard to pin down; talented and affordable pitchers don’t come cheap, but his injury history may hold the cost down, and he is rumored to be popping up in trade discussions. Additional bonus: could be paired with relievers Jason Frasor, Kevin Gregg, or Scott Downs, all of whom are rumored to be on the market.

Ben Sheets (4-8, 4.63)
Contract status: ~$5m remaining in 2010.

I consider Sheets pretty unlikely, since he’s expensive, a free agent at the end of the year, and not really having a fantastic season. That said, he’s certainly going to be a name that pops up a lot, so I’ll briefly mention him. Unlike Bannister, his FIP and xFIP are basically the same as his ERA, so there’s not a whole lot of luck going on here, and his K rate is lower than it’s been since 2003. Now, part of his stat line is fueled by back-t0-back disaster starts (8 and 9 ER) in the early part of the season; in 13 starts since then, he’s been much better, allowing a 3.72 ERA.

The one thing Sheets does have going for him is that he’s seemingly healthy again, as his 112.2 IP would top Clayton Kershaw by one out to lead the Dodger staff. Oakland’s 8.5 games out of first, and Texas only looks to pull further away now that they have Lee, so Sheets is probably available. I still don’t expect to see him in LA, but he’s older and was once an ace, so that’s the kind of thing that would play with the local media.

Ted Lilly (3-8, 4.08)
Contract status: ~$6m remaining in 2010.

Like Sheets, the former Dodger farmhand is on a losing team and in the last year of his contract. Also like Sheets, he isn’t pitching his best and he’s probably going to be too expensive for the Dodgers.

Still, he’s in his mid-30s and he once pitched for Joe Torre, so you’d have to think he’s exactly the type of pitcher the club is looking for. Lilly’s striking out fewer than he ever has, but he’s also displaying his excellent control (2.23 BB/9), though his declining fastball velocity (85.9 MPH, down from his peak of 89 and last year’s mark of 87.1) is worrisome. He’s become somewhat of a hot name on the market as probably the top lefty remaining now that Lee is gone, but his price tag and performance scare me off a bit.

Jake Westbrook (5-5, 4.75)
Contract status: ~$5m remaining in 2010.

Westbrook’s much the same as Sheets and Lilly, as a veteran free agent to be who’s having a mediocre year. He’s actually been an Indian since 2001, though much of that time has been injury-riddled. This might be one of those cases where his value is likely highest to his current team than it would be to anyone else, due to his status as a long-time veteran leader on what is a very young team. For the Dodgers, he’s a 5th starter at best, and that’s not really worth the outlay in money or prospects.

Besides, I’m absolutely terrified of trading with Cleveland.

Jeremy Guthrie (3-10, 4.77)
Contract status: ~$1m remaining in 2010. Team control for ’11 and ’12.

Here’s what scares me about Jeremy Guthrie, and ignore the W/L record, because the Orioles are horrible. This is his fourth full season in the bigs, and his K/9 rate has decreased every year, from 6.3 in 2007 to 4.6 this year. It’s not a good sign. That said, he has excellent control (2.8 career BB/9), and his 4.85 career FIP is more or less in line with what he’s doing this year.

That also doesn’t take into account that he’s been in the AL East, and remember, that means something more for an Oriole. When you say that about a Yankee pitcher, for example, they never have to face the Yankee lineup. Guthrie gets to face them all, and doesn’t even get the luxury of ever facing the impotent Baltimore crew – so you’d expect somewhat of a boost simply by moving to the big parks of the NL West. Plus, he’s under team control for the next two seasons at what would likely be a reasonable cost (he makes $3m this season).

Carlos Zambrano (3-6, 5.66)
Contract status: ~$45m through 2012, plus 2013 option based on contingencies Zambrano will never achieve.

I know. I know. You could come up with a thousand reasons why this would be a terrible idea, and you wouldn’t be wrong about any of them. But you’ve seen the other less-than-appealing names which are available, you know how thin the rotation looks for next year, and sometimes you have to look for different alternatives.

Obviously, this could only work under a very specific set of circumstances, namely that the Cubs pick up an enormous amount of his remaining salary -  say, $30m-$35m, meaning he costs the Dodgers under $5m per year. That’s probably not all that likely, but it’s also possible that his relationship with the Cubs has become so irreparably damaged that they’ll do anything to get rid of him – and his reputation is so bad that they couldn’t really expect a ton back.

The funny thing is, for all of the bad publicity around him, Zambrano’s really not having that bad of a year, or at least as bad as everyone thinks. His BB and HR rates are in line with his career numbers, and his K rate is actually the 2nd highest of his career. That ugly 5.66 ERA is largely inflated by a .374 BABIP, so his FIP is a more palatable 4.12 – or just about exactly what it was in 2006, when he went 16-7. This, despite being kicked to the bullpen and back.

I’m not saying it’s the best idea I’ve ever had, and I’m not saying I’m dying for it to happen. But the situation the Dodgers are in, they might need to take a leap of faith or two – if the conditions are right. It’s not like they haven’t found success with another supposed malcontent, Vicente Padilla.

Livan Hernandez (6-5, 3.37)
Contract status: ~400k remaining for 2010

Oh, if you hated Zambrano, you’re going to looooove this. Again, I’m not really advocating for him, but if the idea of acquiring a pitcher is not so much to get an ace, but to get someone more-or-less reliable for the back end to soak up innings without imploding or making you rely on Haeger or Monasterios, hear me out on this.

Hernandez may be kind of a joke, and the FIP doesn’t quite match the ERA. But he’s also put up at least 180 innings in every season since 1997, and his FIP has been below 5 in each of those years except for his 2007 stint in Arizona. People will look at his ugly ERA in 2008 and 2009, but just as he’s not as good as his ERA this year, he wasn’t as bad as that stat implied he was the last two years. (They just so happened to coincide with two unusually high BABIP numbers.)

He makes barely more than the minimum, and the Nationals couldn’t possibly ask for all that much in return. Besides, we’ve seen previous deals with Washington work out pretty well, right?

*******

No, I’m not enthused about all of these names. Do you really think I want to see Jeremy Guthrie, or that I’m happy I even have to consider Livan Hernandez? Of course not. We all just need to remember that the Dodgers are trapped within a lot of limits here. I don’t need to remind you of the payroll issues, but all of their top minor league chips are at least two years away, and there isn’t really anything they can move from the big club without creating a new hole to fill.

The top three starters for the playoffs, should they get there, are almost certainly going to be Kershaw, Kuroda, and Billingsley (unless Padilla continues his recent run, I suppose), and the way Kershaw’s been going, that’s not half bad. What they really need is someone to help them get there; someone who can provide depth in the back end and protection from injury. It’s not sexy, but it’s necessary.

Now tear me apart, you jackals.

Baby Don’t You Sign That Paper Tonight, She Said…

…because Ben Sheets’ elbow is falllling offff.

Finally, an answer to one of this winter’s most puzzling questions: Why is the National League’s All-Star Game starting pitcher still unemployed?

The answer is that free agent right-hander Ben Sheets intends to undergo surgery to repair the torn flexor tendon in his elbow, and his former employers may be asked to pick up the tab.

Well, I suppose that answers the question of why the Dodgers (a team in badly need of a quality starter) were never once linked with Sheets (a quality starter badly in need of a team). It also serves as a good reminder that for all the times we bloggers think we know better than the front office, we’re definitely lacking in one area: access. You have to think that the LA medical staff at least took a look at the records weeks ago and decided to stay clear, yet didn’t want to flat out ruin Sheets’ market by publicly saying so.

On the other hand, everytime I think that to myself, I wonder about how Jason Schmidt got here. This has to push Randy Wolf even closer to coming back home, though, right? The only even semi-legitimate starters left are Wolf and Braden Looper; we might as well fire up the “how long until Roy Halladay’s available” ticker right now.

auto_2009_ud_laroche.JPGIn other news, I’m greatly enjoying the succinctly named GarveyCeyRussellLopes blog, which appears to exist entirely for trying to grab Dodger cards out of baseball packs. Just their banner brings me back; I clearly remember owning the 1987 Topps Fernando Valenzuela on the left, the Bill Russell Fleer in the middle, and the Orel Hershiser Upper Deck on the top. I stopped collecting cards in about 1997 or so, but I still have dozens of Mike Piazza’s tucked away in a book somewhere.

That said, take a look at the LaRoche card at right. You’d think something like this would be so obviously a danger of occurring that they’d put extra care into making sure it didn’t, though, right? Take a close look. I’ll wait. See it yet? There you go. Excellent fact-checking, there.

* Finally… time for self-promotion. This offseason I was lucky enough to be able to write the Dodgers section for the 2009 Graphical Player book. After that, I was asked back to write weekly Dodger updates for Heater Magazine, which is a weekly online magazine put out by some of the best baseball writers online, including writers from The Hardball Times, Baseball Prospectus, Beyond the Box Score, and many others. They actually competed in a 2008 fantasy baseball experts league and beat teams from ESPN, Sporting News, and Rotoworld. From their own website, this is what Heater is:

heaterdodgers.jpgHEATER features three sections: 30 team pages (one for each MLB team), 17 hitter pages (one for each position and league), and 8 pitcher pages (two for each position — starter or reliever — and league). This approach lets us show players in different contexts. The wealth of data is buttressed by two pages of fantasy baseball coverage, a page of Hot Hands, a page of year-to-date minor-league stats and commentary for top prospects, and more! It’s like a Draft Package every week of the season!

It’s actually very cool, and each week I’ll be doing the Dodgers page (see example). Anyway, if this sort of thing interests anyone, you can get a $5 discount by clicking on this link here.

Thus ends my shameless promotion; thanks for reading. An example of the Dodgers page below; remember, there’s one for every team done by a local expert, plus much more.

(I know, I know: Dunn. Manny had just turned down the one year deal, so I had zero confidence in him and I had a deadline.)
 

Time To Play Pin the Pitcher On the Dodgers

We all know that the Dodgers are going to sign a starting pitcher to help replace Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, and Greg Maddux. (No, monkeys – Claudio Vargas and Shawn Estes do not count.) Now, I’ve advocated here several times why Ben Sheets should be that man, especially with his price dropping so far. He’s the only pitcher available who has the chance to be great rather than average, and a team as close as the Dodgers are really ought to be taking a small-money chance on him, even with his injury history. But from everything we’ve heard, Sheets to the Dodgers just isn’t going to be happening. So let’s forget him for the moment and try to make a choice about the guys that have been linked to Los Angeles: Randy Wolf, Braden Looper, and Jon Garland.

garland.jpg
jongarland.jpgWe discussed Wolf and Garland in our look at the available free agent pitchers back in December, and I’m still not happy that Randy Johnson went to San Francisco rather than put on the Blue. But really, we always knew that judging whichever one was signed was going to be strongly influenced by the type of deal they’re given. It’s one thing to prefer Garland to Looper with no questions asked; it’s quite another if Garland was expecting four years while Looper only two. However, if you believe Peter Gammons, they’re all coming in on a level playing field:

Essentially Randy Wolf, Jon Garland and Braden Looper are getting similar offers in the range of $5 million per year (plus options and incentives). As of Friday, Wolf was not close to reaching a deal with any team.

So, it seems that the money will be the same, and there’s a 98% chance that one of these men will be wearing Blue next season. That being the case, let’s pick one, so that we can say “I told you so!” when the Dodgers inevitably end up with one of the others. Remember, none of these guys are ace-quality types.

2009 Age!
Looper: 34
Wolf: 32
Garland: 29
Advantage: Garland, by a surprising amount. I had no idea Looper was that old, but then again, he has been around since 1998.

Durability!
Looper: After eight years as a reliever, was converted to starting in 2007; has made 30+ starts in each of his two seasons in the rotation.
Wolf: Missed most of 2005 and 06 after undergoing major arm surgery; after a successful first half in LA in 2007 missed most of the second half with more arm pain. Did bounce back to throw 190 innings last season.
Garland: Seven consecutive years of 30+ starts and 191+ innings. Has never been on the DL.
Advantage: Garland, again. Wolf is less reliable than Sheets (it’s true, look it up) and while Looper hasn’t been hurt, he is the oldest and has a short track record starting.

Production!
Looper: ERA+ of 89 and 102, WHIP of about 1.32 as a starter.
Wolf: ERA+ of 100, 84, 97, 93 the last four seasons. However, he was awful in a great park in San Diego in 2008 (81 ERA+) and fantastic in a tough park in Houston (119 ERA+) after being moved. So, who the hell knows.
Garland: Steady, but boring. After three good years to finish off his White Sox career (128, 105, 112 ERA+) he was lousy in Anaheim last year (91 OPS+, 1.505 WHIP).
Advantage: None. All three of these guys are basically mediocre. Wolf gets it done with more strikeouts than Garland and Looper, but sometimes with less success. Choosing one on this point would be like choosing who’s hottest of Helen Hunt, Brooke Shields, and Katey Sagal: they all get a solid “meh.”

Upside!
Looper: is going to be 34, so there’s not much upside left here.
Wolf: It’s hard to say that a 32-year-old with an injury history has upside, but he was near the top of the NL in strikeouts before he got hurt in 2007. Again, last year’s bizarre performance really skews this – he was fantastic with the Astros, but how could he have been so bad in San Diego?
Garland: none, with the caveat that moving into the NL West from the AL would certainly help him. What you see is what you get: 200 innings of reliable, low-strikeout, roughly average performance.
Advantage: Wolf. I guess.

Bill James 2009 predictions from FanGraphs!
Looper: 11-10, 4.03 in 187 IP
Wolf: 10-12, 4.29 in 195 IP
Garland: 10-11, 4.38 in 186 IP
Advantage: Push. If this doesn’t show you how mediocrely average all of these guys are, nothing will. No wonder they’re all in the same financial ballpark.

Fun “hometown boy returns” angles for local papers!
Looper: Zero. Grew up in Oklahoma, went to Wichita State.
Wolf: Huge upside for Wolf here; we already lived through all the “he went to Pepperdine!” and “he grew up watching the Dodgers!” stories in 2007.
Garland: But a late contender in Garland, who’s from Southern Cal and apparently grew up a Dodger fan as well!
Advantage: Push, Wolf and Garland.

Verdict!
Well, Braden Looper didn’t win any of these categories, plus he’s the oldest and has the smallest track record. He’s out. Really, it comes down to the differences that Wolf and Garland can offer you. Wolf is probably the more talented pitcher, and if he’s healthy and on his game he’s a better option than Garland. But on the other hand, if these are the three guys you’re choosing from, you don’t need an ace. With the other questions in the rotation, you want a guy who you know can pick up innings. Between Billingsley’s leg and big innings increase, Kuroda’s shoulder, and Kershaw’s youth, there’s no one we can say will almost definitely give us 200 innings. Garland, by all accounts, can. They won’t be great innings, but league-average innings do carry value. So when one of those three hits the DL – and trust me, one will – I’d rather know we have a steady horse like Garland than a question mark like Wolf.

So, I guess I’m going to have to swallow hard and say, that assuming the money and length are about equal… I choose Jon Garland over Randy Wolf. Which of course means we’ll be welcoming Braden Looper to LA in a few days.

(Who are we kidding, though? Ben Sheets is still the only right answer. I know it sounds like that goes against what I just said in choosing the reliability of Garland over Wolf, but it’s not quite the same. Sheets is without question a more talented pitcher than Wolf and he’s more durable, as well. With how low his price has dropped, and how close this team is, it’s worth it to take a gamble on an ace-quality pitcher. Draft pick be damned.)

Yet, Not a Belly-Itcher

Now that the infield situation has been sorted out (three free-agent signings! How’s that for inactivity?) and Mannygate is probably going to stretch out for a few more weeks, it’s time to turn our attention to the biggest remaining question for the Dodgers:

Is Steve Garvey as evil as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin?

Oh, wait – that’s the biggest question over at The Hardball Times, and well worth a read. No, the real question facing the Dodgers in 2009 is what to do to fill out the starting rotation following the departures of Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, and Greg Maddux. Before getting into what we need, let’s figure out what we have. Believe it or not, the Dodger starters over the last three seasons have been remarkably consistent in terms of innings thrown – 922.2, 917, and finally 927.2 in 2008. Let’s make it easy and say that we’ll need to fill 920 starting innings in 2009.

t1-billingsley.jpgReturning from 2008′s rotation, we have the big three of Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, and Clayton Kershaw, who combined for 491.2 innings. It’s clear that all three have question marks, between Billingsley’s broken leg, Kuroda’s shoulder questions, and Kershaw’s extreme youth. However, all indications are that Billingsley will be fine for spring training (the cast is already off), Kuroda’s shoulder issues are nothing new (didn’t stop him from pitching great down the stretch last year) and Kershaw’s innings were decently monitored. I won’t ignore the fact that any of the three of them could have issues in 2009, but since it’s not like any of them are coming off major Tommy John surgery, we’ll take the optimistic view for the time and pencil them in. I’ll give Billingsley and Kuroda the same 200 and 180 or so IP they put up in 2008. Kershaw pitched only 107.2 MLB innings, but if you include his minor league innings, that gets him to 169. Considering that at another year older, he’ll likely get stretched out a little more, but that MLB innings are undoubtedly more strenuous than the minor league variety, I’ll give him 170 MLB innings. 

920 innings needed
Chad Billingsley 200
Hiroki Kuroda 180
Clayton Kershaw 170

550 taken up, 370 to go. Now, we’ve got no shortage of guys to soak up the 5th starter spot (James McDonald, Eric Stults, the Corpse of Jason Schmidt, etc.) but it’s clear that at least one more legitimate starter is going to have to be imported to help replace the guaranteed 200 IP that Derek Lowe was good for every year. You simply cannot trade for any decent pitching right now, so let’s take a quick spin around free agency. I don’t know which one of these guys end up in Dodger blue, but I’d say it’s almost certain one of them does – preferably on a one-year deal, but for most of these guys that’s unlikely.

(No, there’s no Jake Peavy involved. This is for free agents, and I don’t see a Peavy deal as very likely, not when Kevin Towers has already said he’ll jack up the price for a division rival. No Andy Pettitte either, because the him-to-LA rumors are basically dead, and I already discussed that travesty here.)


randyjohnson.jpgRandy Johnson (45)
(184 IP, 117 ERA+)
Pro: Despite being older than dirt and uglier than Dikembe Mutumbo, the moderately-sized Unit is still an effective pitcher. He’s made 30+ starts in 4 of the last 5 seasons, and has exactly one sub-100 ERA+ since 1990, which is just unbelievable. Besides, that one season came when he was with the Yankees, and not only is the NL West hardly the AL East, it serves as a great example for how faulty ERA can be, as the 1.239 WHIP he put up that year was identical to his 2008 season, yet in ’08 that WHIP got him an ERA over a run lower.
ConNever thought you’d say goodbye to Greg Maddux and come up with someone older, did you? Despite his relatively durable track record, it’s hard to depend on someone who’s going to be 45. Plus, if small children stare at him, they might turn to stone. 
Wants
Johnson’s had interest from a half-dozen teams, but seems to prefer staying on the West Coast and playing for a contender. He’s unlikely to return to Arizona after offering to take a pay cut to $8m, while the D-Backs offered only about $3m. The Giants seem to be the team hottest after him, though at his age he’s unlikely to command more than one guaranteed year. 
So… In a rotation full of question marks, adding an old guy might not seem like the best answer when you’re looking for dependability. That said, some of the other guys on this list who are 15 years younger have much more disconcerting injury or wildness issues. If he really wants to play for a contender, going to San Francisco isn’t the place to go, so if he’s willing to take one year at $8m, perhaps with a team or vesting option for the second, I think that’d be a great deal for the Dodgers. Besides, he’s 7-0 with a 2.04 ERA in 79.1 career innings in Dodger Stadium. Yes, please. 

Randy Wolf (32)
(190.1 IP, 93 ERA+)
Pro: Well, he’s a local boy, and didn’t you just love the never ending suckfest of newspaper articles in 2007 about “local boy coming home to make good”? Yeah, me neither.
Con: Wolf is what he is, and that’s an average pitcher who’s pretty injury prone. Putting up an 81 ERA+ in San Diego, of all places, last year doesn’t exactly inspire confidence – though it should be mentioned he was somehow very good after going to Houston. He’s basically the definition of “average” – after 10 years in the bigs he’s got a 101 ERA+, and while there’s some value in league-average innings, a history of arm injuries doesn’t help.
Wants: Well, he’s basically mediocre, he gets hurt a lot, and he was lousy in San Diego last year. He can’t expect that much, right?

Left-hander Randy Wolf’s asking price is believed to be $30 million for three years. The Astros are believed to have offered him between $22 million and $24 million before pulling their proposal due to economic reasons.

So… What’s crazier about that quote, that he wants 3/30 or that the Astros may have actually offered 3/24? There’s no way I’d give Wolf and his mediocre, injury-fueled track record more than one guaranteed year. Someone else will. Pass. Besides, Randy Johnson is a better pitcher and wants less money. Which one would you prefer?

Jon Garland (29)
(196.2 IP, 91 ERA+)
Pro: The man is the model of durability, averaging 207 innings/season over his career and making 30+ starts for 7 seasons in a row. He’s what you call “an innings eater”, as he’s usually been about league average, rarely awful, and occasionally excellent.
Con: Don’t let the 14-8 record in 2008 fool you, because he just wasn’t all that good. A 91 ERA+ and 1.50 WHIP are hardly the numbers you want to take into the free agent market. Even more worrisome are his strikeout numbers. Clearly, a guy whose career high is 115 was never a big fireballer to begin with, but he’s been on a steady 4-year decline in that department, all the way down to just 90 in nearly 200 innings.  
Wants:
There hasn’t been a whole lot of news about Garland, as he’s mainly been mentioned as a guy that teams will look at once they miss out on Derek Lowe and the other top starters. That said, the fact that his agent is going around telling people that Garland has more wins over the last 4 years than Lowe, Sheets, and Burnett aren’t a great sign for a reasonable value.
So… I don’t mind the idea of having a guy who you know will throw 200 roughly average innings, especially one who’s never been on the DL. There’s value in that at the right price. But you just know that some team like the Mets is going to get desperate about their rotation and offer Garland a three or four year deal. I’d rather it not be the Dodgers. Next.

Oliver Perez (27)
(194 IP, 100 ERA+)
Pro: May have the most pure talent of any remaining starter, and at just 27 in 2009 is only now entering his prime. He made his MLB debut at age 20 and was arguably more successful than Clayton Kershaw at the same age, plus his 2004 season of a 145 ERA+ with 239 strikeouts at age 22 was pure domination.
Con: Geez, where do you start? After that 2004 season, his career fell off a cliff, with ERA of 5.85 and 6.55 the next two seasons. He’s turned it around somewhat with the Mets the last two years, posting ERA+ of 120 and 100 with good strikeout numbers, but his wildness is still a problem (105 walks last year), and more than anyone I’ve ever seen, is prone to the “absolute Chernobyl disaster” start. He gave up 5 runs or more 8 times in 2008, including such gems as “6 runs in 0.1 innings vs. the Giants” and “7 runs in 1.2 innings vs. the Pirates.” Oh, and Scott Boras is his agent, so there’s that. 
Wants:
It’s hard to ever take Boras seriously, so I can’t get too worked up over the reports that he’s still looking for 5 years and $70 million. That said, the infamous binder comparing Perez to Sandy Koufax was pretty hilarious. Either way, there’s not likely to be much movement on this until Teixeria and Lowe are off the board.
So… I actually like Perez more than most. I think that in the right situation – big ballpark, low-pressure media, doesn’t have to be “the man” he could really turn things around, and his youth is a huge plus. But the combination of Scott Boras and Perez’ propensity for imploding makes this an enormous risk, and I’ll happily laugh when some other team gives him 4 years and $48 million, AKA “the Carlos Silva special”.


bensheets.jpgBen Sheets (30)
(198.1 IP, 139 ERA+)
Pro: Pure performance and talent. You might think a career 116 ERA+ is pretty good, but even that’s underselling him because it includes his first three years in the league when he was relatively mediocre. Since 2004, his ERA+ scores have been 162, 128, 119, 117, and 139 – with WHIP to match, and a fantastic K/BB ratio. Clearly, when healthy, he’s one of the best in baseball.
Con: Ah, yes. “When healthy”. Sheets is one of the most injury prone pitchers in baseball, which makes him a perfect fit for the Dodgers. Not only that, the injuries have been all over the map – an ear infection, a herniated disc, shoulder tendonitis, a torn finger tendon. While that’s better than a guy who keeps blowing out his arm, it doesn’t exactly give a guy the “tough” label either. (For more detail on his injuries and a phenomenal explanation of his windup and pitching tendenacies, please check out this article at The Hardball Times from May 2008).  
Wants: It’s hard to say. If not for his injury history, he’d have been up there in the rarified air between AJ Burnett and CC Sabathia, because he’s just that good. In fact, there’s been very little discussion on Sheets whatsoever, other than a report that the Yankees won’t get involved because they already have Burnett to keep their trainers busy. There’s been whispers about the Rangers or a return to Milwaukee, but it’s hard to see any team giving him a long-term deal.
So… For a team still paying Jason Schmidt to watch “The Golden Girls”, adding a pitcher with injury worries might not be a good idea. That said, it’s not as bad as it may seem. There’s no “missed two seasons due to Tommy John” on his resume; in fact, he’s pitched at least 106 innings in every season of his career, and just keeps getting sidetracked by these various ailments. Despite ending the year injured, he did still make 31 starts in 2008, yet the missed time at the end of the year is what’s fresh on people’s minds. Could this work in our favor, to perhaps get such a talented guy on the cheap? I hesitate to even throw out a number, since I have no idea what his market will be and there’s not even been any rumors of contracts. Would he take a two-year deal with a vesting option for a third? Or perhaps a one-year deal to prove his health and then go back out next year in what might be a better economy? If the money were reasonable, I’d do it, simply because I think his health issues might be a tad overblown, and they’re not all arm injuries anyway. Personally, I think the Dodgers will stay far away because of the Schmidt debacle, but I don’t neccessarily agree.

So, let’s say we sign Sheets, and also Randy Johnson on a one-year deal. I’m completely snowballing here, but that could add about $20m to the 2009 payroll. This may or may not preclude signing Manny, but his market is so uncertain now that it’s insane to try to predict it, so we’ll stick to pitching here. I’ll put Johnson down for 180 IP, which is his average of the last five years, even including being dragged down by his shortened 2007. I hate to make any predictions about Sheets, but his average comes out to 170, which might be low considering he almost put up 200 last year.

920 innings needed
Chad Billingsley 200
Hiroki Kuroda 180
Clayton Kershaw 170
Randy Johnson 180
Ben Sheets 170

Right there, that gets us to 900 innings pitched, which is almost on the nose. Even more importantly, look at that fivesome and tell me you think it wouldn’t be 900 exellent innings. Now, you certainly expect that someone’s going to miss some time. Maybe Kuroda’s shoulder acts up; maybe Johnson’s back flares up; maybe Sheets gets a hangnail and we start pining for the durability of Nomar. But even that’s okay. You’ve still got top prospect James McDonald, who could start in the pen the way Billingsley did in 2006. You’ve got Eric Stults, who might only be an AAAA arm, but is someone we’ve always been high on. You know there’s always going to be the 2009 recipient of the Aaron Sele/Scott Erickson/Chan Ho Park Memorial “Bargain Bin Veteran We All Thought Was Dead Who Comes Back to Be Useful” Award – I’m looking at you, Kris Benson! And who knows, maybe this is the year we finally get something out of Jason Schmidt. Yeah, right.

Anyway, this proposal is not without risk. Few things in life are. And I don’t really see it happening the way I’ve laid out. But I’d certainly take Randy Johnson and Ben Sheets for $5+ million less than one CC Sabathia. Tell me you wouldn’t love that rotation and depth to start the year?

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And with this, we’re closing up for the holiday for a few days (unless we see a real Christmas miracle – a post by Vin!) Happy holidays, folks. If you wish hard enough, maybe Santa will bring you what you really want – Juan Pierre wearing a Reds jersey or Andruw Jones wearing pinstripes. Or in prison. Either way.