Continuing with the free agent profiles, and hopefully quickening their pace over the next few weeks.
The third best starting pitcher in the American League in 2004 is a free agent, and his name isn’t Pedro Martinez. Brad Radke rebounded from what looked like a decline into mediocrity to post a year right in line with his peak seasons. He posted a career low 3.48 ERA in 219 innings and posting a VORP of 60.1, tied with Jason Schmidt and just a tick behind Roger Clemens. That’s pretty good company, especially considering Radke’s mediocrity the previous two seasons. Going into 2004, PECOTA had him pegged for a VORP of 27.7 with a 90th percentile projection of 61.7, which he hit almost on the nose. Essentially, Radke’s performance last year, in the context of his 2002 and 2003 campaigns, should only be expected 1 out of 10 times. Radke certainly bucked the odds and reestablished himself as a force heading into his free agency.
However, Radke is a completely different pitcher than nearly every other starter on the market. Pedro and the previously discussed Matt Clement are power pitchers with big time strikeout rates. Radke only struck out 5.9 batters per 9 innings last year, a total that would fit into the career lines of Shigetoshi Hasegawa or Jamie Moyer. However, Radke walked twenty-six men the entire season, for a rate of 1.1 walks per 9 innings. His impeccable command led to a lot of balls in play that his defense converted to outs. As Jamie Moyer put on display for most of the past decade, pitchers who both command the strike zone and keep the ball in the park can succeed despite a low strikeout rate, and this is the pattern to success that Radke followed.
There is little doubt that, barring injury, Radke is a quality starter and will likely continue to be for the next several years. However, the price figures to be a bit of a problem. Radke’s expriing contract was a 4 year, $32 million deal that paid him $10.75 million in 2004. Coming off one of the best seasons of his career, it is not likely that he’s going to be amenable to taking any significant pay cut. Radke’s success, name recognition, and previous high salary are going to make him an expensive option for whichever team decides to sign him this offseason. You will essentially be paying full price for a pitcher who has almost no chance to improve. The likelyhood of getting more value out of Radke than you pay for is next to nil. In the words of the immortal Hubie Brown, Radke lacks “upside”. The risk that is involved with multiyear contracts for pitchers in general still applies, but Radke fails to offer the reciprocal positive potential of being a value for his salary.
Radke would be a good signing for a team who is on the verge of contending for a World Series crown and can afford to take a risk in order to put the team over the top. The Mariners are in a position of needing to obtain value or long term security by locking up young players. Radke cannot offer either, and as such, shouldn’t be a strong option for Bill Bavasi this offseason. If the market implodes and you can sign him to an Aaron Sele type 2 year, $15 million contract, go for it. But beyond that, there are better bargains to be had. Let another team pay retail for Brad Radke. When it comes to pitchers on the wrong side of 30 with Radke’s skillset, I’d rather shop at Big Lots .