The Price of Starting Pitching

“Such a Deal I Have For You!” Mandatory credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Yes – there is an intended pun in that title.

If the Braves are going to add pitching – as in a frontline starterit is becoming quite clear that they’ll have to pony up this off-season Here’s why:

There’s an awful lot of “$10-to-12 million per year” rates on the chart.  And it doesn’t (yet) include Hiroki Kuroda, who has an offer in hand from the Yankees in excess of $15 million.  Note that this includes several pitchers with serious risks – whether injury or just sheer performance risks.  Frankly, no matter how you see a pitcher like the Brewers’ Kyle Lohse (discussed by Jordan last week), you got to think of him as a relative bargain at $11 million for each of the next two seasons.

 

So…. who’s left (free agent market)?

In terms of free agents… not much.  You might even just want to skip this section and cut to the more interesting bits that follow.  It’s okay.  My feelings won’t be hurt.

  • Alfredo Aceves – Well, at least his nickname is ‘Ace’.  Terrible last 2 years; not a full-time starter.
  • Bronson Arroyo – Not better than internal options, though provides a ton of innings.  See above for cost info ($10-12m/yr)
  • Scott Baker – Might actually be better than most, but only 15 innings since abbreviated 2011 season.  Risk.
  • Erik Bedard – I don’t want a guy who limits his own innings… mid-game, even.
  • A.J. Burnett – Supposedly Pirates or retirement.  Likely have better internal options.
  • Chris Capuano – If the Dodgers skipped him in the playoffs, I don’t want him.  Career ERA+ below average.
  • Chris Carpenter (announced retirement)
  • Bruce Chen – 121 innings in 2013.  Usually very good or very mediocre – not much in between.  2013 was a very good year… when he pitched.  Hasn’t approached 200 innings since 2005, though (career high 197).
  • Bartolo Colon – apparently wants more money than either Tim Hudson or Scott Kazmir, since Oakland offered $11m-ish to each man, yet Colon remains unsigned.  Either that, or they don’t want him.  At age 41 I won’t either, plus how can you justify giving him that much money when you didn’t offer it to Huddy?
  • Scott Feldman – Lifetime ERA+ below average.
  • Gavin Floyd – Nope.  Will not be ready to pitch again until maybe about the trade deadline.  Two different elbow repairs (TJ included) were necessary.
  • Jeff Francis – You really want a guy with a lifetime WHIP of 1.444 and ERA+ of 94?
  • Freddy Garcia – I know, he was great when he was needed last Fall.  But before that, the Orioles thought he was only a AAA pitcher.
  • Jon Garland – Under 70 innings in 3 of last 4 seasons.  Was really good 7-9 years ago.
  • Matt Garza – Not a horrible option, but not a #1 guy, for sure. Hasn’t been north of 155 innings in 2 years.
  • Chad Gaudin – No.
  • Roy Halladay – Risky due to shoulder injury.  Could be done.  Would have to demonstrate that he’s ‘back’ first.
  • Jason Hammel – Never exceeded 178 innings; high WHIP, low ERA+.  Pass.
  • Aaron Harang – See Hammel, Jason (okay, Aaron hasn’t exceeded 178 innings since 2008… 23 in 2013).
  • Roberto Hernandez – Started well in 2013, finished poorly. Only 1 good season ever (2007).
  • Ubaldo Jimenez. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

    Ubaldo Jimenez – Risky…. and he wants to be paid.  Still probably one of the best on this list.

  • Jair Jurrjens.  Minor league deal at best.  Unfortunate.
  • Jeff Karstens – Nope.
  • Hiroki Kuroda – Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, Padres, or Japan.  Not Atlanta.
  • John Lannan – Only pitches well vs. Atlanta.  And not lately.
  • Paul Maholm – I like him, but doesn’t fit the need this time.
  • Shaun Marcum – yet another guy hampered by injury who was a good pitcher.  Might be a very good option if healthy.
  • Jason Marquis – Just about done.
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka – Just about done.
  • Jeff NiemannI’d take a look at him… but this is scary – stop me if you’ve heard this before – because he had a torn labrum and rotator cuff repair job done last April.  He’s still got a chance, though, being 31.
  • Sean O’Sullivan – No.  Just no.
  • Roy Oswalt – Is he still looking for an actual job on the field?
  • Mike Pelfrey – Can’t believe he’s still only 29 years old.  And no.
  • Greg Reynolds – No.
  • Clayton Richard – Another below 90 career ERA+
  • Ervin Santana – See Jimenez, Ubaldo.
  • Johan Santana – Yet Another Shoulder Casualty.
  • Joe Saunders – I think we have better internal options.
  • Masahiro Tanaka – Bring money.  Use wheelbarrows.  Several wheelbarrows.
  • Edinson Volquez.  The Padres cut him.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Tsuyoshi Wada – Orioles paid him $8 million and he never was able to throw a pitch for them.  Was really good in Japan, but TJ surgery derailed him.  High risk.
  • Chien-Ming Wang – Has not been able to recapture the early magic.
  • Jake Westbrook – 1 good year:  2004.
  • Suk-min Yoon – Wasn’t even that good in Korea.
  • Barry Zito – Hasn’t been good since 2006… in Oakland.

So is there a definitive free agent target still available?  I’d honestly have to say ‘no’.

 

So who’s left (via trade)?

First off, the surprising news from last night was the trade of Doug Fister to the Nationals.  Yes, this makes the Nationals a better team, with an improved rotation.  But they aren’t the only such club:  the Dodgers, Cardinals, Giants, and maybe even Phillies also have better rotations in the NL than Atlanta.  You could also argue that the Marlins are getting very close very quickly.  But that’s not what I’m thinking about right now, other than the evident need we have for an upgrade.

I’m interested in what it would take to obtain a frontline pitcher via trade… and the Fister deal is helpful in learning that price.

Fister is about to be 30 years old and will be getting his 2nd arbitration contract this year ($4 million in 2013; projected to $6.9m for 2014).  His ERA+ is 116 (career) and he’s fairly reliable… 819 innings over 6+ full seasons.  He should be even better in the National League.  So here’s a guy with 2 more years of team control… and affordable control at that.  Yes, I would have been happy if the Braves had traded for him.

David Price has a career ERA+ of 122.  He also has 2 years of team control remaining.  He is now 28 years old, though less affordable – projected to a sizable $13+ million this year, and likely $15m+ for 2015.  On top of that was an interesting $4 million deferment arrangement in his current contract that is payable in 2014So the expected $13 million salary for 2014 is really more like $17+ million.

>>> Let me be clear on this point:  with the Tampa Bay Rays franchise, it’s about the money.  It’s not about performance.  They DO NOT want to pay him $17 million for 2014.  He WILL be traded.

I am saying this because there have been reports and musings from various sources about how Tampa will just keep Price for another year if they don’t get what they want back via trade.  And certainly, they want as much back for him as they got in the James Shields deal with Kansas City a year ago, right?

 

Breaking Down the Fister Deal

Washington gave up their #5 overall prospect… maybe.  That’s the ranking of Baseball America, though John Sickels didn’t even list Robbie Ray among his Top 20 at the beginning of the year.  Baseball America did had the advantage of releasing their ranking just 1 month ago.  Either way, he’s a AA prospect…. a fair ways away from the majors (after having been a 12th round draft pick).  Ian Krol is a major league reliever… while still very young, he was nonetheless average in 2013.  Steve Lombardozzi is a utility infielder.  He’s the rough equivalent of giving up Tyler Pastornicky.

That’s it.  That was the deal.  Honestly sounds like this could end up being a steal for Washington.  And before you say “well, Detroit got salary relief out of the deal”, then ask yourself exactly what Tampa wants from a David Price trade:  yeah – salary relief… and prospects.  But mostly there’s that $17 million speed bump out there.

You may recall that Phildaelphia went to the trade deadline last July wanting full salary relief plus prospects in exchange for Cliff Lee.  You may also recall that Cliff Lee is still a Phillie today.  Now that situation is a bit different because of the $80+/- million commitment that would be required for Lee (plus 2-3 years).  Nonetheless, the point is that asking teams to give up money (likely $32-34 million for Price) and top prospects has been a very tough sell.

“But Tampa got Wil Myers from Kansas City last year!”  True… in a deal that also included another possible major league pitcher Wade DavisAnd Shields was cheaper in 2013 than Price will be in 2014 – by roughly half.  Overall, Shields is not as good as David Price, though Shields definitely pitched like he was that good in 2013.

In my opinion, while somebody could still blow them away with a top prospect offer, I don’t believe Tampa will see anything resembling a ‘Will Myers’ return for David Price this year.  But they will trade him.  They have to.
_____________

UPDATE:  Seems my thought that Washington got a steal is being echoed in other venues.  So much a steal, apparently, that you might have to wonder if Nats GM Mike Rizzo has compromising pictures of his counterpart in Detroit.  Either way, you do have to wonder how the Braves (or everybody else) were asleep at the switch on this one.

So I do have to adjust my thinking a bit on a Price trade… still probably not nearly what our friends at Rays Colored Glasses think, but perhaps something midway between that and this Fister deal.

 

Now:  Who Still Actually Wants David Price?

  • Yankees?  They want Tanaka.  And Kuroda.
  • Washington?  They just got Fister to go with Strasburg, Gio, Willingham and a choice of 3 for #5 … they are done.
  • Dodgers?  Kershaw, Grienke, Ryu, Beckett, Billingsley, Haren…. they are full.  Over full.
  • Giants?  Cain, Lincecum, Hudson, Bumgarner, Vogelsong.  Done.
  • Cardinals?  Wainwright, Miller, Wacha, Garcia, Kelly… and since they threw money at Jhonny Peralta, they’re done.
  • Texas?  Darvish, Holland, Perez, Ogando, Harrison, Tepesech.  Maybe.  But they just bought Prince Fielder.
  • Toronto?  Dickey, Morrow, Buehrle, Happ, … yes, they need him, but can they do it?  Within the division?
  • Detroit?  They are trying to reduce payroll to afford the guys still on the roster, it seems.
  • Boston?  Not certain the Rays would do that to themselves.
  • Angels?  Yes, they need him.  But do they have the farm system to get him?
  • Not too many others have the cash to spend.  Maybe the Mets or the Mariners (who seem to be focused on offense).

In other words, the field of suitors has been significantly reduced.  That should also bring the price of Price downHonestly, you’d have to think that Atlanta has a shot – if they want to spend the money to do so.

Yes, I’m beating a dead horse.   But only because the case is there to be made.

 

Okay, so who else is available?

We’ve been looking at this in considerable detail for the past month.  I’ll refer you to Ben’s omnibus series on trade options to shorten this a bit.  There is a new name that has surfaced:  Brett Anderson of the Athletics.  He’s been pretty good… but hasn’t pitched a lot in the past 3 seasons.  In 2013, the A’s used him as a reliever more than as a starter… and he seemed less effective in that role.  It would take a scout to tell me if he’s the real deal or not, but I’d have to view him with uncertainty at this point, and probably pass on the opportunity to another team.

To address a comment from last night:  the other options seemingly available via trade are going to be essentially unavailable to Atlanta at virtually any price since they represent bargains to their current clubs.  Chris Sale?  No way.  Kyle Lohse?  He’s arguably better than almost anyone already signed as a free agent… which makes that $11 million price for 2 more years look really cheap for Milwaukee.  John Lackey?  Not really cheap at $15+ million for 2014, but there is a cheap option available for 2015 that reduces the AAV to $8 million… so why would the Red Sox part with that?

___________

The real point today is that the price of pitching is going nuts.  That’s going to impact Atlanta adversely… both now and in the future (if they want to try and lock up players to extensions in particular).  Unfortunately, that means that the commitment will have to be made in dollars to stay competitive.  That’s largely what the new stadium deal is all about – increased revenue to at least maintain competitive relevance.  But there’s also the ‘here and now’ to deal with as well.

I’m actually looking forward to the next couple of weeks – Winter Meetings will be very interesting.

Topics: Atlanta Braves, Pitching

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  • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

    You make great points, that almost EVERYONE is either expensive (thus as you say, Braves must pony up), or a potential risk. I’ve heard some look at Capuano, but besides the fact that the Dodgers didn’t want him, I believe Chris has had 3 TJ’s, despite doing well against all odds afterwards…but he has to be a HUGE risk. Orroyo looks to be one of the best options you mentioned, but I’ve never been personally impressed, and wouldn’t refer to him as an ace. It’s looking rather bleak for the Braves to get an “ace”, and I’ve said for months now … not gonna happen. Atlanta, please surprise me.

  • Brandon_Woodworth

    So is no one in agreement with me yet that we should just go with the kids, make an in season trade if need be?

    • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

      We might have to, but this all started when the front office let it be known that they wanted to trade for a frontline starter – ‘a difference maker.’ Since then, we’ve only gone backwards: losing Huddy.

      It’s really all about the matchups – particularly if you are talking playoff time. During the regular season, you need to be 1-5 deep because you use everybody. We CAN get through the season in that way, but most likely not the playoffs. But Minor/Medlen/Teheran/Beachy/Wood isn’t an experienced staff – there is no de facto Veteran in that group… and if/when any of these guys go down w/injury, then we’re in a world of hurt.

      One reason I posted the rotations of several NL clubs above is to point out the task we face. Others have gotten better already – notably Wash and SF. That could mean ATL is fighting with Pitt/Cin/SF or LA for 2 wild card spots if we’re not improving.

      But to your point: a mid-season trade? Sure – that’s possible, though if we have the need, getting a full season out of a trade is clearly better.

      See also: Mark Bowman just posted a new blog. After having done this work, it’s frankly nauseating. I’m not sure I want to get a veteran who isn’t demonstrably at least as good as the kids are.

      • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

        Now that I think of it, the only truly experienced veteran among all pitchers AND catchers is now Gerald Laird. That’s it.

    • rick staley

      No. Where did that get us the last 2 trips to the playoffs? First to go home is all. Gotta have a front line SP to advance in October.

      • Brandon_Woodworth

        Well first of all, regurgitating what Fredi Gonzalez has said won’t get you any points because Fredi Gonzalez would have no idea to do with an “ace” if he had one. Second of all, you must have missed the part where I implied making an in season trade for a starter if need be.

        • rick staley

          brandon: i have no idea where you came up with Fredi G. and whatever you were referring too, but fact of the matter is the Braves haven’t advanced in playoffs since our starting pitching was led by an “ace”(7 IP- 2 ER or less as an average start).

          I would trade Jason Heyward , Sean Gilmartin, Dan Uggla & Anthony Varvaro right now for Chris Sale, De Aza, & Gordan Beckham.
          Heyward will not re-sign with Braves. He has wanted to wear the Yankee pinstripes since his childhood. Sale is an ace, and is cost-efficient for the Liberty Brave$ budgetary constraints.

          Simmons & Freeman are top priorities for long-term extensions followed by Minor & Medlen. Heyward & Kimbrel would be the last I would extend especially since FG doesn’t know how strong Kimbrel was against the Dodgers in game #4.Wren typically likes cheaper pens and Kimbrel isn’t inexpensive anymore.

          If we wait till mid-season as you said, it will cost more because everyone else will be looking for SP as well due to the extra 2 wildcard spots. I didn’t miss the part…still don’t know what the Fredi G. inclusion meant? Peace.

          • Brandon_Woodworth

            That trade idea is ludicrous on many different levels that I can’t go into while being respectful to this website. It literally just makes absolutely no sense on many different fronts. But your insistence on an ace makes that much more sense now.

    • Sealift67

      I am not in disagreement as we can expect development of the
      young guns as they gain experience. Requires patience yet
      going young is what got ATL back in the game in the 1990′s
      with exception of Maddux. I am pretty certain there will a low
      cost low risk pick up of a starter after the big dollars are paid
      out by the money machine teams.

  • natcol

    Chien-Ming Wang was triple-A league pitching leader in 2013. His 6 MLB outings in 2013 were not impressive, but the 4.07 xFIP suggested that had he been in a team with better defense and bigger stadium like the Braves, things might had been quite different.

    In 2009, his worst year, he briefly served as a reliever for the Yankees. His ERA as an long reliever (in consecutive 3 outings, 8 IPs) was 2.57 as apposed to the yearly 9.64.

    He should be very reasonably priced.