About a month ago, I wrote about internal starting rotation options for 2013.
Then yesterday, Tom wrote that the Cubs could look for a Paul Maholm type pitcher or two after the season. I started wondering who might fit that description on the free agent market. By that I mean that the pitcher has to be around the 30 year old range and, for some reason or another, he has to be undervalued. With Maholm it was a shoulder injury and a loss in velocity that allowed the Cubs to nab him with a team-friendly deal. It turns out the shoulder was fine and that Maholm doesn't need a 90 mph fastball to get MLB hitters out. It also turned out that Maholm wasn't part of the Cubs long term plans, but they did flip him for a younger pitcher who figures to be in the mix in Arodys Vizcaino.
While this is anything but an exhaustive list, here are some pitchers in no particular order who may interest the Cubs if they're still available (ages are as of opening day next season)...
Carlos Villanueva, 28, RHP
Villanueva may have priced himself off the bargain bin with a strong finish as a starter in the AL East. As a starter, he has allowed just a .281 OBP and a .670 OPS in 12 starts. His K/BB ratio has been an outstanding 3.94. The strikeout rate has stayed at about a K per inning but it's the improved control that has made all the difference in the world for Villanueva. He has gone from a rate of 5.67/9 IP to 2.25/9 IP as a starter. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed, however, and there should be heavier than expected competition for Villanueva's services this winter.
Anibal Sanchez, 29, RHP
Sanchez, on the other hand, may have lost a few dollars over the past month. Originally a Red Sox farmhand who went to the Marlins in the Josh Beckett deal, we know that Theo and Jed are well-acquainted with his talents. Sanchez isn't a flame-thrower (90-93) but he has an excellent change-up that helps play up his fastball, resulting in good strikeout numbers in his career (7.5/9 IP). He also keeps the walks down to an acceptable level (3.00/9 IP). Sanchez is a guy whose peripheral numbers have always been better than his results. His FIP has been lower than his ERA for the past 3 years. Combine that with a 15-20 record the last two years and he may end up being a bit undervalued on the market. His performance in Detroit, which has seen his hits per 9 innings skyrocket to 12.4/9 IP and his strikeouts plummet to 5.0/9 IP may scare some teams off, especially those in the AL.
Scott Baker, 31, RHP
Scott Baker has a club option left on his contract so he may not even make it to free agency. As someone who has been injury prone and is owed 9.25M, however, I"m going to guess that that the Twins will decline that option, especially since they may be farther away from contending than the Cubs. Baker has been out all year with what is called a flexor strain in his elbow. His UCL, the ligament associated with Tommy John surgery, had no damage. The good news there is that the recovery is quicker and that Baker should be healthy enough to pitch this spring -- and probably this winter if he chooses. Baker may be the bargain version of Sanchez in that he also has had a lower FIP than ERA the last 3 years, including 3.45 in 2011. He also has a low 90s FB and has put up good strikeout numbers (7.23/9 IP) on the strength of good command (2.10 walks per 9 IP) and solid secondary pitches. In Baker's case, his best pitch has been his slider. Like Maholm health concerns may leave him undervalued. However, Baker (like Maholm was) is expected to recover well before the spring starts.
Francisco Liriano, 28, LHP
Once a rising star, Liriano value plummeted so low that the White Sox were able to pick him up for a song before the trade deadline. Liriano has pitched better since joining the Sox and under the tutelage of pitching guru Don Cooper, that is not unexpected. He has not had a dramatic improvement yet, however, and that may keep his value down as he heads into free agency. Liriano never had great control and he has struggled with it even more since his elbow surgery. The velocity is back, as Liriano can regularly hit hit the mid 90s (sits at 92-94), and his nasty slider has returned as well. His problem has been keeping the ball down as the groundball rate had gone down each of the past 3 years while the HR rate has gone up in that time. The Cubs have shown a willingness to take on pitchers with good arms in the hopes that keeping the ball down in the strike zone will help them improve their results. Liriano seems to fit that category.
Scott Feldman, 30, RHP
The Cubs were rumored to have shown some interest in acquiring Feldman last spring and could continue that over this winter. He's now 3 years removed from his surprising 17 win season. Interestingly, Feldman's peripherals continue to improve as his results have gotten worse. His FIP this year (3.78) is actually less than it was in his breakout year (4.31). Feldman is another low 90s pitcher, though he has turned much more frequently to the cut fastball, which is about a tick slower but has more movement and has been more effective. Stuff-wise, Feldman is more on par with current Cubs young starters Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley, but his control/command is much more advanced. This year he's walked just 2.1 batters per 9 innings and has allowed less than a HR per 9 innings, no small feat considering that bandbox he pitches half his games in. Feldman's ERA of 5.01 is higher than his FIP, due in part to a Chris Volstad like strand rate of 59.7% -- but that's the kind of thing that could make him a bargain this offseason.
While Carlos Villanueva and Anibal Sanchez may have the most appeal and Francisco Liriano offers the most name value, the gut feeling here is that the Cubs may be looking more at guys like Scott Baker and Scott Feldman.
Edit: A few have brought up Shawn Marcum's name and I think that if the Cubs could get good value for him, he'd be in the mix too. Marcum has some of the traits the Cubs look for (i.e., high strikeout rate, low walk rate) but my feeling on this is that he won't be undervalued this offseason. That doesn't mean the Cubs won't sign him, however. The Cubs could still buy relatively low and if he has a strong, healthy year, he could make a nice trade chip at the deadline.
Last year I did predict the Cubs would pursue Chris Volstad and Chris Capuano (whom they pursued heavily but were outbid by the Dodgers). Let's see how my early predictions turn out this year.
Filed under: Free Agency