Free Agent Market: Starting Pitching

Regardless of whether Tom Glavine chooses to return, the Mets almost certainly will be in the market for a free-agent starting pitcher. Chances are, they’ll operate on the assumption Glavine is not returning, and possibly look to fill two of their rotation spots with free agent arms. Should they do, and Glavine returns, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to have an extra starter around.

Looking at the potential free agents, there are many familiar names — but not much in the way of guaranteed quality. Further, the vast majority are either coming off surgery and/or a major injury — and those that are healthy, are serious question marks. So there will be a number of GMs rolling the dice in hopes that their free-agent catch can a) remain healthy and b) return to previous form.

I’ve taken the liberty of separating the free-agent starting pitchers into four divisions — questionable health, questionable ability, questionable availability, and no questions — and then ranking them in terms of perceived potential (my judgment).

Questionable Health

1. Jason Jennings
2. Bartolo Colon
3. Freddy Garcia
4. Jon Lieber
5. Matt Clement
6. Kris Benson
7. Randy Wolf (also, questionable availability due to option)
8. Jaret Wright
9. Wade Miller
10. Eric Milton
11. Russ Ortiz
12. Joe Mays
13. Paul Wilson
14. Casey Fossum

Some interesting names there, particularly the top three. My guess is that Omar Minaya goes after Colon, and if he hasn’t become too rotund to leave his house, he might be a good gamble. I’d really like to see Jennings come to Flushing — I have a feeling he’ll be close to 100 percent healthy in 2008, and if so will be a nice #2 starter. And if he can’t pitch, Jennings would immediately improve the team as a hitter.

Questionable Ability

1. Kyle Lohse
2. Jeff Weaver
3. Odalis Perez
4. Josh Fogg
5. Kip Wells
6. Byung-Hyun Kim
7. Brett Tomko
8. Ramon Ortiz
9. Jamey Wright
10. Sidney Ponson

Personally, I don’t like any of the guys on this list — and the top three will command unrealistic, overvalued salaries. The Mets won’t sign Lohse to a $40M+ deal to be an inconsistent fifth starter.

Questionable Availability

1. Curt Schilling
2. Greg Maddux
3. Tim Wakefield
4. Joel Pineiro
5. Paul Byrd

For whatever reason, I don’t see Schilling in New York as a Met (a Yankee? Maybe). If Maddux comes back I imagine he’ll return to San Diego — or possibly create a big reunion with Glavine and Smoltz in Atlanta. Wakefield most likely goes back to Boston, and both Pineiro and Byrd have options.

No Questions

1. Livan Hernandez
2. Carlos Silva

Neither of the above would be considered top-of-the-rotation starters, so you may wonder why they’re not on the “Questionable Ability” list. However, both Hernandez and Silva are what they are — innings eaters, which is something that the Mets have been needing desperately for at least two years. While it’s doubtful either would win more than 14-15 games in a good year in a Mets uniform, it’s equally likely either would make 30+ starts, pitch 180-200 innings, and win at least 12 games.

These are a lot of names to digest, so we may want to chew on this and argue for a few days.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. sincekindergarten October 8, 2007 at 4:38 pm
    Here goes . . .

    I think that Livan’s presence would actually help his older half-brother. Why? I think that the “sibling (or half-sibling) rivalry” would kick in here. Hasn’t anyone of the members of this blog–male or female–felt a twinge of jealousy when a sibling did better than they did? And didn’t that drive you, just a tad, to do better than your sibling?

    I’m sure that there will be more to go.

  2. isuzudude October 8, 2007 at 6:34 pm
    I’ll chime in as well…

    The Livan/Orlando sibling rivalry idea is interesting, but my gut tells me that if the Mets sign Livan, it’ll be at his brother’s expense. El Duque will get pushed out of the rotation, and possibly entirely off the team. Any impact Livan’s arrival would have on his bro would be negated b/c Duque wouldn’t be pitching as significantly in a long relief role as he has in the past…and I still don’t believe the “37” year old older brother is physically cut out for relief duty anymore – especially not on a team run by Willie.

    Of the two Joe mentioned in the “No Questions” category, I like Silva more. Do you realize Livan has thrown at least 199.2 innings in each of the last 10 seasons? That’s amazing and shows an incredible workhorse mentality…but when does his body begin to breakdown? He would very likely demand at least a 3 year deal on the free agent market, seeing how thin starting pitching is going to be this offseason. And at 32, do you want to sign this guy to a $12-mil a year contract knowing how many innings have been logged on his arm? You can take the argument either way. Either he’s as durable as cast iron and will continue to pitch 200 innings until retirement, or he’s getting dangerously close to that unknown threshold of just how much abuse a person’s arm can withstand. And with Silva, essentially a mirror image but 4 years younger, also available this offseason, he’d be my pick. With better run support in NY and his ability to avoid the walks and induce groundballs, 11-14 wins isn’t a stretch when thinking of Silva with the Mets. As a 4th starter, I’ll take that.

    Back to Joe’s article, under “Questionable Health.” I disagree very strongly that the Mets should go after Colon and/or Jennings. Colon is a shell of his former self. He’s managed just 155.2 innings the last 2 years combined with Anaheim. LA thought he was such a waste they left him off their postseason roster. In each of the last 2 years his ERA has been over 5, his WHIP around 1.5, and opponents have hit over .300 against him. He’s also on the downside of a career at 34 years old and he’s gaining weight by the minute. Still, because of who he is and what he’s done long ago, he’ll probably be looking for at least $5-mil a year as a free agent. Although I don’t deny Omar my have a particular fascination with Colon, the only way he’s a “good gamble” is if he agrees to a one year, incentive-laiden contract with no more than $2-mil guarenteed.

    And on to Jennings…a nice #2 starter? That’s only the case if he signs with the Royals. You really think Jennings is a better pitcher than either Maine or Perez? I know Jennings hasn’t been privvy to pitching his home games in baseball’s most pitcher-firendly ballparks, but listen to these stats:

    1.55 career WHIP.
    4.84 career ERA.
    Only one season of 15+ wins.
    Top-10 in most walks allowed 3 times (top-5 twice).

    Not only are these not the numbers of a #2 starter, they’re certainly not the numbers of a pitcher I want to see the Mets obtain any time soon. Joe, you also say you “have a feeling” he’ll be healthy in ’08. Are you willing to wager $4-mil a year on it? If so, why clog the roation with a guy making that type of money when Pelfrey or Humber could put up similar or better statistics starting for a full season at a fraction of the cost?

    My plan, as I’ve stated before, is build off of Pedro, Maine, and Perez, by adding either Silva or Livan (but not both), choose one from the group of Wolf, Lieber, or Pineiro, let Glavine walk, and trade El Duque for relief help. Keep Pelfrey, Humber, and Mulvey around as insurance in case of injury or ineffectiveness. If you get ambitious, Wagner can be had for a useful starter, and Vazquez or Burnett would make great additions if you sour on Milledge, Pelfrey, Mulvey, et al.

  3. joe October 8, 2007 at 7:54 pm
    i-dude, I know you’re down on Duque, but the Mets aren’t. He’s coming back, and will be handed a rotation spot, regardless of whether Livan joins the team. Now if he blows that spot by June is another issue … but from the Mets’ perspective, he’s the #2 returning starter if Glavine doesn’t come back.

    I’m very high on Silva as well, for the same reasons. Good point on Livan — is he due to break? Or, is he simply a throwback, who knows how to pitch deep into games by pacing himself and being efficient with pitches when necessary? The multi-million dollar question.

    On Jennings, yes, I’d wager $4M on my hunch — particularly in this market. Consider that Joel Pineiro had significantly larger health questions, and worse recent stats, and was handed a two-year, $8M deal last winter. The market’s tight, Jennings will be 29 and coming off an elbow surgery that he’s needed for over a year. From what I’ve seen of him, he’s a pretty tough SOB. Maybe not the most talented, but he’s a good competitor. Is he a #2 over Ollie and Maine? I’d say maybe, and if not he’s at least at their level over the course of a 162-game season. But you’re probably right, he might be more middle of the rotation. In this day and age, who really IS a #2? It’s like you’re either a hands-down ace or you’re a back-end schlep or you’re somewhere in the middle. Jennings is neither an ace nor a schlep (i.e., Josh Fogg, Kip Wells, Adam Eaton, Trachsel). His career WHIP and ERA don’t concern me because they are in the past and we’re talking about the future. His career numbers were bloated by Colorado and by his 2007 season, in which he pitched injured. And I think Pelfrey and Humber are at least 2-3 years away from where Jennings is as a pitcher, and no I don’t think either of them would put up “similar or better” stats. Pelfrey has yet to come up with a consistent second pitch, and he needs at least three. Humber looks to have great stuff, but from his minor league outings it appears he needs to work on consistency with his command and/or learning to pitch when he doesn’t have his best stuff.

    I like the idea of Vazquez if he can be had for a cheap package. The only issue is that he’s pitched 200+ innings for the last eight years … so like Livan is he about to break?

    Burnett I like for no other reason than he has playoff-starter, no-hitter type stuff — something the Mets could use. And who knows maybe he’s like Kelvim Escobar and needs more time for him to “get it”.

    Also like the idea of getting Joe Blanton, if it doesn’t cost more than one prospect. I see him as a workhorse, better than Jennings, Maine, and Perez. Maybe there is your number two.

  4. sincekindergarten October 9, 2007 at 4:19 am
    Joe Blanton? Yeah, he pitched pretty well against the Mets in June, but with his size, you have to wonder how long his knees are going to hold up. Yeah, I remember that there was a certain lefthander who is now in the AL East who Rick Peterson had some questions about, and we now know how that one turned out. So, I could be chasing a windmill, but maybe that’s something that should be watched.
  5. joe October 9, 2007 at 9:18 am
    Hmm … hadn’t considered his size being an issue down the road in regard to his knees. Maybe because of Mickey Lolich, David Wells, Rick Reuschel, Bob Wickman, etc. … yeah, eventually the weight could be a problem, but likely it won’t affect him for at least the next 4-5 years (he’s only 26).
  6. Micalpalyn October 9, 2007 at 3:51 pm
    OK, OK…I’ll chime in too.

    1. I agree in essence with Isu.
    a. The only pitchers I’m really interested in are not FA: namely Burnett and Javy vazquez. As a blogger most have heard me write on both of these.In the case of Burnett the Jays manager and GM have all but thrown him under a bus, but all he did was comeback from ‘injury’ to pitch some nice late season gems. Vaz SHOULD have been added last Spring when the CWS were making other curious deals including the Fred Garcia trade.

    2. The Mets have 3+ nearly ready starters: Humber, Pelfrey Mulvey..then Deolis,
    Niese, Parnall. My point is that one of these possibly with Carlos Gomez makes a decent building block for a trade of one the two starters or maybe a different starter. Burnett/Vaz, followed by Pedro, then Maine and Ollie..Pelfrey, Humber, or a FA (Piniero?) would fill out the rotation.

    3. Look at the number that got done on the Yanks by Fausto and CC….strikeout pitchers.

  7. joe October 9, 2007 at 4:41 pm
    Have to agree that the Mets could really use a big strikeout guy like A.J. Burnett. I would really like to see Burnett come our way, but, how can the Mets get it done?

    My next article … hopefully ready tomorrow … addresses the Mets’ trading chips. The way it looks so far, the Mets don’t have much to work with. This is going to be a tough, tough offseason for the Mets to fill their holes — and there are no Florida Marlins-type fire sales on the horizon.