There is a crop of anxious, good but not great, free agent pitchers seemingly pacing throughout the holiday season awaiting the results of the Masahiro Tanaka lottery. The teams in the market for free agent pitching like the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks, and others are holding the future of this year’s crop of free agent pitching in the palm of their hands while they await the posting of Masahiro Tanaka by the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Masahiro Tanaka is clearly at the top of many teams holiday wish lists but having to fall back on pitchers like Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, or Ubaldo Jimenez is not the end of the world. Teams are not going to jump on the “second tier” of pitching talent until they are sure they cannot land Tanaka. Players like Matt Garza or Ervin Santana will likely be looking for a four year deal while Jimenez might be had in the two year range.
I would fully expect, as I have mentioned before, that Masahiro Tanaka will end up either with the New York Yankees or Chicago Cubs. With that in mind what will become of the next tier of talent comprised of Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez? Let’s take a quick look at all three and where they just might end up
Looking at Garza – he is solid when healthy but pitched only 155 innings in 2013 and 103 innings in 2012 due to injury. While his velocity has stayed consistent despite injury, his ERA has been steadily climbing in recent memory so giving up a four year deal with that risk would scare some teams especially teams like New York have really scored some bad pitching contracts (see Carl Pavano) on players with injury concerns. He has the talent to be a one or two in many rotations but there is a heavy risk vs. reward for any team taking a chance on Garza.
A team that has not been shy spending over the last couple of years and would not need Garza to lead them would be the Angels where he can fit nicely behind Jared Weaver and CJ Wilson. Another fit might be Baltimore who needs a quality arm and is not in on Tanaka. The question is whether the Orioles will sign a pitcher to four years, something they normally do not like.
Jimenez will give a team innings pitching at least 175 innings four years in a row and did rebound nicely the latter half of 2013 (ironically time to show off his free agent talents) but still is 32-39 over the last three years and twice had an ERA over 4.60. Another possible red flag for a team interested in Jimenez is his decline in velocity. From 2011 to 2013 his fastball has lost almost two miles per hour (93.9 in 2011 to 92.1 in 2013).
Is he a top of the rotation guy? No but he could fill as a number three in many rotations but teams understand the implied risk in the signing or for a team in desperate need of a talented arm. The Orioles fit that need and if they cannot pull the trigger on Garza they will most likely settle for two years of Jimenez and hope the latter part of 2013 is not a fluke. If the Orioles pass I would not be shocked to see the Rangers pluck Jimenez if they cannot package a deal for David Price or sign Tanaka. A long shot to land Jimenez might also be the Royals who might be able to afford the cheaper pitcher after other free agent signings.
Ervin Santana managed a career low ERA of 3.24 last season while playing for the Kansas City Royals (a nice free agent year move) while pitching at least 178 innings in each of the past four seasons with three topping 200. He is not a number one but is a quality number two or three pitcher in many rotations. He comes with a veteran presence and could really help out a young rotation.
Garza will most likely be too risky for the Diamondbacks and they clearly do not want Jimenez. With the expectation that teams are awaiting the Tanaka fallout it could end with Ervin Santana in Arizona acting as a pseudo number one while mentoring a young rotation with the likes of Trevor Cahill and Patrick Corbin. He will eat innings and should be a nice fill for three years while the rest of a talent young crop develop.
What do you think? Is there a dark horse I did not mention? Weigh in with any other possible landing spots for Garza, Jimenez or Santana. Leave a comment and lay out your logic.