Editor’s note: this is the second of Ryan C’s three posts on improving the Braves via free agency and trades. The first is here.
I don’t think that we’ll rely exclusively on organizational talent to fill the holes in our 25-man roster, which means that the Braves will need to improve via free agency or trade. So here are some potential targets for the starting rotation.
As I wrote in my previous piece, the Braves have about $82 million committed to 20 players, after factoring in guesstimates for arb-eligible players. The problem with looking at the free agent market for an “ace” is that a pitcher of that quality will obviously want a multi-year contract. Unless there’s a serious trade that goes down — or Liberty Media decides to spend some of that delicious money they’ve been collecting — the Braves have little financial flexibility this season, and even less next season. If the Braves are going to go after an “ace,” they’ll have to consider fallen-from-grace aces.
These type of players would probably be willing to take 1-year incentive laden contracts to rebuild value. This type of contract would be ideal for a team like Atlanta as it provides an appropriate stopgap for our other potential aces. In this post, I’ll focus on the short list of the aforementioned type of players. (DOB says that the Braves will not be looking for a player like this, but DOB BE DAMNED!)
- Roy Halladay: Halladay has not been healthy for a while. He stopped throwing a 4-seamer at the end of 2011, a pitch in which he’d thrown almost ¼ of the time, and his velocity has dropped 3 straight years. In 2013, it was obvious he was not the pitcher he’d once been. In mid-May, Roy underwent surgery to repair just about everything in his shoulder. It didn’t help. He left a start in September after 1 inning topping out at 83 MPH. His exit reminded me of this clip from the Royal Tenenbaums and left many to question whether he’d pitched his last pitch. There’s obvious issues here and there’d have to be many doctors to sign off on his health, but it is Roy Halladay and I’m sure someone will take a flier on one of the greatest pitchers this last decade. Why not?
- Johan Santana: He missed all of 2013 due to his 2nd shoulder surgery. He’ll still only be 35, but 35 and 2 shoulder surgeries and 35 and a clean bill of health are much different. His fastball can barely reach 90 and he hasn’t been ACE! material in 5 years.
- Phil Hughes: “Ace” may be a bit strong here, but that’s what the Yankees thought they’d be getting from him when he was a prospect. Hughes was everything that one would want as a starter coming out of the minors. He had 2-3 plus-pitches, showed brilliant command (a 2.2/9 BB ratio and a 0.9 WHIP), and looked to have the frame to be a workhorse. Now, some scouts say that his fastball is straight and that he has lost 2-3 MPH over the course of his career. On the other hand, some attribute his homer prone ways to the short porches and heavy offenses in the AL East, which suggests that a change of scenery could rejuvenate his career. The amazing thing: he won’t turn 28 until June.
- Joba Chamberlain: Like Hughes, Joba was supposed to be the next ace for the Yankees organization. (Remember, both were declared untouchable when the Yankees were pursuing a trade for Johan Santana in 2007.) When he was 21, he had an upper-90’s fastball and two other plus-pitches and was briefly the best reliever in the majors. Over the following years, partly due to the needs of the team and partly due to injury concerns, they converted him back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation. He developed rotator cuff tendonitis in split time between starter and reliever (which made many to question the decision to change him in mid-season). He has not been the same since. He’s a 3-pitch pitcher that rarely uses a 4th, but he can still bring the heat. He started some controversy at the beginning of this year by stating that he still envisioned himself as a starter. His HR/9 numbers suggest, like Hughes, that he needs a break from the short porches of the AL East.
Prognosticators have been suggesting a change of scenery for him for a long time, too. As John Sickels wrote in 2011: “If I were the Yankees, I’d leave him in relief. I might consider a switch to the rotation again in a couple of years, but it would not be in the forefront of my mind and it isn’t something I’d even really talk about at this point. Joba doesn’t need the distraction. A change of scenery might do him some good, too.”
When looking at trading for a pitcher, we may get good value on a one-year rental. Here are some targets we might want to look at, with information on their current contracts (and their ages at the end of their contracts):
- Brett Anderson (27): $12MM club option with a $1.5MM buyout- Will make 8.5m in ‘14 and had a horrendous ’13. Could be a bad contract swap for Uggla with the Braves kicking in 15 million or so.
- Homer Bailey (29): Coming off of his best year, he’ll likely be expensive, even as a rental.
- Josh Beckett (35): Injured year and a 15 million contract in tow for 2014 makes Beckett another bad contract swap candidate.
- Chad Billingsley (30): $14MM club option with a $3MM buyout- Coming off of a TJ year, Billingsley will likely be ready in May and could also be a buy-low/bad contract swap type of trade.
- Wei-Yin Chen (29): $4.75MM club option with a $372K buyout- Signed cheaply for next year and a cheap option for the year following. Cheap deal likely means an expensive get.
- Kevin Correia (34): Signed cheaply for next year but is a fringe starter for much of his career. He’s been very dependable over the last 3 years.
- Ryan Dempster (38): After his 2nd mediocre year, Dempster could be a buy-low candidate. However, his 13 million dollar contract would be hard to swallow.
- Yovani Gallardo (29): $13MM club option with a $600K buyout- A victim of the ‘13 Brew-Crew Slumber, Gallardo could be a buy-low candidate, but it’ll still cost quite a bit to get his services.
- Jon Lester (31): Any Starting Pitcher from the World Series Champs will come with an inflated price tag.
- Justin Masterson (30): Been an innings eater the last three years, and pretty darned good in two of the three. He won’t be cheap.
- Brandon McCarthy (31) A down year after a trade and a $10M contract makes McCarthy a buy-low candidate.
- Jeff Niemann (32): Didn’t pitch at all in ‘13 could be had for next to nothing, although next to nothing is likely what he’ll be worth.
- Jake Peavy (34) A big name but a mediocre season. Peavy costs quite a bit and, as stated earlier, will have the World Series Ring inflation applied to his cost.
- Max Scherzer (30) There’s nothing like selling high on a Cy Young winner. He’ll be too rich for our blood, but we might as well dream.
In my next piece, I will examine the potential trades and free agents to fill our hole at second base.