The 2006 Free Agent Pitching Buffet
Remember the school cafeteria’s mystery meat, the mysterious mishmash of flesh that might have once been a cow, a pig, or some combination thereof? That’s your starting rotation next year. It ain’t quite a box of chocolates, but you sure don’t know what you’re gonna get.
Especially with the news about Jorge Campillo, the 2006 Mariners have a rotation filled with question marks dressed as baseball players.
Will Jamie Moyer, Ryan Franklin or Gil Meche be back? Does Joel Pineiro have to be? What about Bobby Madritsch’s shoulder? What about the minor league arms? It seems like the only sure thing (knock wood) is less than half Moyer’s age and has two more major league starts than Mordecai Brown had fingers on his pitching hand.
The key to next season how that rotation fills out. Though it’s unspeakably early, fans are understandably concerned about this, so let’s fire up the conversation with a preview of four available pitchers I’d like to see the Mariners pursue.
In keeping with the “mystery meat” theme, each player is likened to an item of ballpark food.
A.J. Burnett: Skilled and 28 years old, Burnett’s in the prime of his career. He misses bats, striking out batters at a rate higher than any Mariner save the boy king. Burnett did miss significant time with Tommy John surgery, which points to injury risks. But a cynic might say that the medical history just shows he’d feel at home as a Mariner.
In another year, Burnett would be a good, solid B-plus, a talented pitcher with some questions, a notch below the slam-dunk talent available above him. This year he’s the flagship of the free agent class. That may well drive his price beyond reasonable.
Rating: Fat Tire beer. Of undeniable quality, Fat Tire is nonetheless one of the most overpriced items at the ballyard. There might not be a more delicious item available, but at this cost, even the manageable risk that some clown might kick over your brew and not offer to buy another seems disconcerting. A premium that you’ll probably have to pay dearly for.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: I’ve long been a fervent advocate of pursuing the Japanese ace, but recently, my ardor has cooled. Not based on the man’s talent, you understand — it’s just that practically every Japanese manager has two subscriptions to Lou Piniella’s magazine “Throw Some More Pitches, Kid.” Recently, we’re hearing whispers that Matsuzaka’s velocity is down and he’s complaining of shoulder soreness. This visits Doyle-level sadness upon my psyche: it’s like watching a fine work of art deteriorate after being left out in the rain. [For some background, scope Derek‘s take and Will Carroll’s.]
If the rumors are baseless and he’s still the dominating pitcher he’s been, there’s little doubt in my mind that Matsuzaka is at least A.J. Burnett’s equal. But the chain of dominoes that starts with 200+ pitch outings rarely falls in a safe place.
Rating: Ichiroll. Like an Ichiroll, Matsuzaka might be a delicious and underexplored sensation. But fish spoils. Do you really want to bet an afternoon that you won’t be lolling and drooling after getting a hunk of fish that has gone bad from inattention or abuse? In other words, high risk, high reward — emphasis on risk.
Kevin Millwood: Millwood is older than Burnett and a step down. But though Millwood commanded $7 million this year, what he’ll get in the offseason is likely to be a bargain (in terms of dollars and years) than what the mighty Marlin will draw.
A career flyball pitcher (check out those ratios), Millwood also appears to be well-suited for Safeco. Think of Ryan Franklin, with talent and without the drug suspension.
Rating: Garlic fries. A totally solid, always defensible choice. Consistent quality at a price that won’t break the bank (well, for Safeco food). Won’t satisfy you all by itself, but won’t bankrupt you or risk Puchy Delgado’s Revenge either. Upshot: the safe choice.
Esteban Loaiza: Dominating 2003 Esteban isn’t coming back, but effective 2006 Esteban is a real possibility. Acquired on the cheap by the Nationals, Loaiza is hauling in less than $3 million this year — just a touch more than Gil “Five Innings, Four Runs” Meche. And he’s another flyball-heavy hurler, meaning Safeco might well maximize his skills.
Rating: Peanuts from outside the ballpark. Maybe those cheesy exhortations from the vendors are off-putting, but they’re true. You’ll spend less on those than you will on comparable products, and likely be just as satisfied.
Other names out there include Matt Morris, Jeff Weaver, Jarrod Washburn, Paul Byrd and Kenny Rogers. None of these interest me as much as the above four.
Recommendations as of today: Pursue Burnett, wary of overpaying. Pursue Millwood and Loaiza. Investigate Matsuzaka, but be extremely wary — think Sexson wary — about committing to too many years.
Be very happy with two of the above. Ignore the rest. After all, Beer and sushi go well together. Garlic fries and peanuts are solid additions to most any meal. But you most likely wouldn’t want to throw all four into the stomach at the same time.
And at Safeco, you couldn’t afford to do that anyway.