Possible free agent options that can help the Indians rotation
By Andy Nichols
November 3, 2013
The Cleveland Indians rotation in 2013 surprised many as it proved to be the driving force for an Indians playoff berth. With the possible departure of Ubaldo Jimenez and/or Scott Kazmir, the Indians may be looking to reload on the starting pitching front.
In part one of this two part piece, I will examine the possible free agent options to shore up the Cleveland pitching staff this winter. (Note: I did not include Jimenez or Kazmir in this piece because as Indians fans, you all know what each of them bring to the table; however, I do expect Cleveland to attempt to resign one or possibly both of them.)
2013: 18-6, 2.65 ERA, 190.1 IP, 29 BB, 117 SO
Colon has enjoyed a career revival in Oakland and in 2013, at age 40, he put together his best season since winning the Cy Young award with the Angels in 2005. He has variations of a four-seamer and two-seamer that he throws about 90% of the time. Even without an effective offspeed pitch, Colon has found a way to be dominant at times with the movement on his fastballs. He was the ace of the Oakland staff this past season, but was skipped in the deciding game of the ALDS against Detroit in favor of youngster Sonny Gray. With Oakland's young pitching and strict budget, they may let Colon walk this offseason. If that's the case, Cleveland may look to reunite with their former ace. At his age, he won't command a multi-year deal, and he will come cheaper than any other potential front of the rotation arm. There are several risks that would accompany a Colon signing, and Cleveland would have to decide if the potential reward outweighs those risks.
2013: 10-6, 3.82 ERA, 155.1 IP, 42 BB, 136 SO
Multiple reports had stated that the Indians looked into acquiring Garza this summer from the Cubs before Chicago shipped him to Texas. In Texas, Garza did not produce the way the Rangers expected him to, and now he hits the open market. He is still considered a top of the rotation guy, and his price tag may be down a tick after his average showing in Texas. He comes with some injury concerns as he has not started 30+ games since 2011. After Tim Lincecum received 2 years/$35 million from the Giants, it's hard to determine the price tag of these top tier starting pitching options. And with a relatively weak free agent starting pitching class, Garza may be priced out of the Indians range.
2013: 4-5, 6.82 ERA, 62.0 IP, 36 BB, 51 SO
Halladay is in this group on name alone because clearly his 2013 numbers aren't that of a top of the rotation starter. Throughout spring training and his 13 starts in the majors, it was obvious that Halladay was battling some arm discomfort. He struggled with location and velocity and it resulted in a very un-Halladay like showing. He had shoulder surgery on May 15 and was shut down for the season on September 23 due to arm fatigue. Halladay has said that he is confident he will be ready for next season and that he can be competitive again. If his health checks out, I expect Antonetti and Francona to try very hard to convince Halladay to join the Indians. Best case scenario, he's back to his old self and Cleveland gets the award for the best signing of the offseason. Worst case, he can't regain his control and velocity and fails to be even a serviceable major league starter. If he falls somewhere in between, then he's a valuable veteran presence that can help the young pitchers and provide the team quality innings. He may not sign until late in the winter in order to see where he stands health-wise, but I expect the Indians to monitor his progress all offseason.
2013: 8-7, 3.97 ERA, 131.1 IP, 36 BB, 95 SO
Hudson was well on his way to another quality season before suffering a freak season-ending leg injury when covering first base on a ground ball. He has expressed a desire to return to Atlanta, but with the Braves' having a plethora of young, major league ready starting pitching options, it's hard to determine their interest level in bringing Hudson back. He has been the model of consistency throughout his career, but if Atlanta is ready to move on, then I expect Hudson to look for an opportunity with a team that is expected to compete for the postseason in 2014. After a 2013 that saw Cleveland host the Wildcard game, a spot at the top of the Indians rotation may be appealing to the veteran Hudson.
2013: 9-10, 3.24 ERA, 211.0 IP, 51 BB, 161 SO
Santana will be looking for a multi-year deal this winter after an impressive 2013 campaign. He's durable as in five of his nine seasons he has been able to surpass the 200 inning mark. He won't be looking to get paid like an innings eater though. Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez will probably be looking for relatively similar contracts this offseason, as both have had similar career paths; although Jimenez probably projects as more of a front of the rotation starter than Santana. If the Indians can't afford to resign Jimenez, then chances are they can't afford to sign Santana either. You may hear the Indians mentioned in Santana rumors this winter, but I don't see them giving him what he will surely be demanding due to his roller coaster career.
2013: 14-12, 3.79 ERA, 202.0 IP, 34 BB, 124 SO
Arroyo has enjoyed a nice career off of changing speeds and living on the corners. He won't blow anyone away, as his fastball routinely sits in the mid to upper 80s. He's a veteran that has been a part of numerous playoff teams, including the 2004 World Series champion Boston Red Sox. At this stage of his career, it is likely that Arroyo will be looking to serve as an innings eater at the back of a contending team's rotation. The Reds could offer Arroyo that scenario and he may be looking to stay in Cincinnati after spending the last eight years there. But hey, Cleveland is not too far from Cincinnati.
2013: 12-12, 3.86 ERA, 181.2 IP, 56 BB, 132 SO
Feldman made exactly half of his starts with the Cubs in the National League before being sent to Baltimore, where he made the second half of his starts. He fared better in Chicago, but was still a respectable back-end arm for the Orioles. Throughout his career, Feldman has bounced back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen, but he did well enough in a starter's role in 2013 that he will look to stay a starter and get paid like a starter. This was the first season in which Feldman spent the majority of the year in the rotation that he was able to produce a sub-4.00 ERA, so he may be more of a 4.00-4.50 ERA guy. But he could still help out a team looking for a back of the rotation arm.
2013: 7-8, 4.97 ERA, 139.1 IP, 48 BB, 96 SO
In 2012, Hammel helped lead the Orioles to the postseason with his 8-6 record and 3.43 ERA in 20 starts. In 2013, his numbers returned to what they were before that 2012 season. During his time with the Rockies from 2009-2011, Hammel was able to put together respectable seasons for a pitcher that threw about half of his games in Coors Field. Many thought that leaving Denver would show Hammel's true potential, and it did, for one season at least. It's possible that Hammel is more like his 2012 self and last year was just a year of struggles for him. It's also possible that last year and the years leading up to 2012 are more in line with the kind of pitcher he is. Either way, Hammel will find a job this winter as a back of the rotation starter.
2013: 10-14, 4.67 ERA, 169.2 IP, 31 BB, 151 SO
Haren was a guy that I thought the Indians would try to sign last offseason before he got a $13 million dollar contract from the Nationals. That was much more than I expected him to get coming off of a year that saw him struggle with injury issues. He is now free to test the market again, and after proving healthy for the most part, he will probably look for a multi-year deal. He does an excellent job of pounding the strike zone and allowing his defense to do the work. He has also managed to throw 200+ innings in 7 of his 11 Major League seasons. Haren would certainly fit nicely into the middle of the Indians rotation, but his price tag is what will determine Cleveland's level of interest.
2013: 10-11, 4.41 ERA, 153.0 IP, 47 BB, 105 SO
Maholm is a pitch-to-contact lefty who fits best in the back of a rotation. He has had an up and down career, but managed to produce a sub-4.00 ERA in 2011 and 2012 with the Cubs and the Braves. Based on his previous seasons' statistics, 2013's numbers are probably the more realistic expectations for a pitcher of Maholm's caliber. He's not flashy by any means, and his signing would not cause national pundits to declare the Indians the early 2014 World Series favorites, but he's a serviceable back-end arm who will come relatively cheap.
2013: 9-8, 4.02 ERA, 150.0 IP, 46 BB, 109 SO
Vargas is a lot like Maholm as he is a lefty who prefers to let his defense do the work. Vargas was shipped to the Angels from Seattle prior to the 2013 season. In 2011 and 2012 with Seattle, Vargas was able to surpass the 200 inning mark, while posting 4.25 and 3.85 ERAs, respectively. He's a guy who fits best in a pitcher friendly park as he is prone to the long ball. While he is similar to Maholm, he is a year younger and has a bit more upside, so he will likely look for a couple million dollars more than Maholm on the open market.
2013: 0-0, 3.60 ERA, 15.0 IP, 4 BB, 6 SO
Baker missed all of 2012 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. During spring training with the Cubs this past season, Baker suffered a muscle strain in his surgically repaired elbow and missed nearly all of the 2013 season, pitching only 15 innings in September. In 2011, before his Tommy John surgery, Baker went 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 134.2 innings. Prior to 2013 with the Cubs, Baker spent his entire career in the AL Central with the Twins. He has always been known as a strike thrower and if he has been able to regain his control following the surgery, then he may be an excellent buy-low candidate.
2013: 2-8, 6.20 ERA, 81.1 IP, 30 BB, 83 SO
Johnson endured yet another injury plagued season in 2013 with Toronto. This time, he dealt with inflammation in his triceps that caused him to miss a large chunk of the season before being shut down for good in August with a strained forearm. However, Johnson is just one year removed from an impressive season with the Marlins. In 2012, Johnson sported a 3.81 ERA in 191.1 innings. That impressive 2012, plus the fact that Johnson is not recovering from any surgeries this offseason, means that he will likely cost more than these other lottery ticket options. Signing Johnson would present a lot of risks, but it could also bring with it a ton of upside.
2012 (missed 2013): 6-6, 3.43 ERA, 105.0 IP, 14 BB, 93 SO
Lewis had surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow in 2012. Towards the end of the 2013 season, Lewis' arm was feeling well enough to be making rehab appearances in order to return to the Rangers rotation in time for the playoff chase. It was during those rehab starts that Lewis noticed pain in his hip that was affecting his mechanics. In August, Lewis had surgery on his hip to remove bone spurs, ending his chance of returning during the 2013 season. If healthy this winter, Lewis will get looked at by several teams, including the Indians. He is a veteran pitcher that has shown an ability to pitch well in big games. Last offseason, the Rangers gave Lewis a one year/$2 million deal as he attempted to return from his elbow surgery. After missing all of 2013 and undergoing another separate surgery, he may be looking for a similar deal this winter to prove he is healthy again. That's something the Indians certainly could afford if they feel he is worth it.
2013: 2-5, 7.01 ERA, 52.2 IP, 21 BB, 24 SO
Richard struggled all season with a shoulder issue before opting for season-ending surgery in July. Prior to 2013, Richard had enjoyed three straight seasons of posting a sub-4.00 ERA for the Padres. San Diego recently attempted to outright Richard to the minors, but he refused the assignment and instead elected free agency. He's another guy that probably fits best in a pitcher's park, which Progressive Field can be at times. If he proves healthy this winter, he could be a very low-cost option for teams looking for a lefty for their rotation. He probably won't be guaranteed a spot in anyone's rotation this winter, so the Indians have as good a shot as any team to bring him in for an audition this spring.
Other names to keep in mind: Chris Capuano ($6 million mutual option with LAD for 2014), Bruce Chen, Mike Pelfrey, Tim Stauffer, and Gavin Floyd (will miss most of 2014 recovering from elbow surgery).
Be on the lookout in the coming days for part two where I will explore possible trade options the Indians may look into in hopes of improving their rotation.
I think Hughes is gonna be in high demand though. Still very young.
Another low tier FA is Dice K. Near end of September look like Dice K was able to find command of his pitches when the Indians released him. He did have victories against the Indians and Reds. 2014 could be his last hurrah to prove he is back from his injury.
I'd absolutely love to land Bruce Chen. Great guy to have on a pitching staff. Lefty who can start or pitch out of the pen. Showed this year he can do both in the same year. If we fail to resign either Ubaldo or Kazmir, Chen would be a nice 5th option in the rotation/potential security blanket to pair up with Carrasco or Bauer.
I'll let the Indians decide if signing Kazmir is worth what they will pay and if not, then let the sort out who they are interested in to replace Kazmir. It's good that they have multiple options and it's not Kazmir or bust
Maybe the Indians have no shot at signing any of them, but the same could equally apply to Ervin Santana.
He'll get more money than people think, but agree that the Indians should take a look at him.
The Indians should focus on the guys they have now, and potentially add Feldman, but weeding through the starters is going to be interesting.
If we can't resign Kazmir, then I'm still going after Chen and Lewis, but also aggressively pursuing one of Halladay, Johnson, Hammel, or even Santana. If we have Tomlin/Lewis/Chen/Carrasco as depth options, then I'm only looking at upside when trying to fill that 5th spot. The pitchers listed above have upside, and I think Kazmir has more upside than any of them.
I really don't want to spend money on someone like Haren, Vargas, Hudson, Maholm, or Feldman . We would have to basically guarantee these rotation spots, which would make it much more difficult to sign reclamation projects like Kazmir last year considering that these type guys will want to know they have to least a chance to fight for a spot in the rotation.
By just about any measure Feldman was as good as Kazmir and Garza last year, and in terms of FIP and xFIP, was actually about the same guy in 2012. He will cost a lot less than Garza and probably about the same as Kazmir. Actually if the Royals were smart, they'd get Feldman to replace Santana, he seems like the kind of guy who would do very well with a good defense behind him. Feldman is probably not as successful behind Cleveland's defense, as long as Asdrubal is still manning shortstop at least. I'd prefer Kazmir, for his strikeouts and potential, but I wouldn't mind them falling back to Feldman, or adding Feldman too and pushing Salazar to the bullpen.