Undervalued Pitcher #2
The Mark Mulder for Dan Haren trade probably stands as Billy Beane’s most recent heist of talent, where he turned an expensive, aging, and injured star into a cheap, healthy, and more effective hurler, and got the Cardinals to chip in their best prospect and a quality reliever to boot. Dan Haren has been a big part of the A’s success the past two years, and stands as an example of how to build a pitching staff.
There’s another potential Dan Haren who will almost certainly be available in trade this winter. He turns 25 this winter, has experienced significant success in the minor leagues with good command of three above average pitches, but has been inconsistent during his major league trials to date. Thanks to a 7.67 ERA in 54 innings this year, he has pitched himself out of contention for a job in his current organization’s rotation, and after seven years with the same club, he’s running out of chances.
Ladies and gentleman, Angel Guzman. A former top prospect who has battled health problems and missed almost the entire 2005 season rehabbing from the dreaded labrum surgery, he came back this year and was quite successful in the International League, but failed to retire hitters with the same ease when given a shot with the Cubs. His velocity is still in the same 90-94 range it was before the arm problems, but his curve hasn’t had the same bite and his change is coming in a bit flatter.
Even with those problems, Guzman actually hasn’t pitched all that badly for the Cubs, or at least not as poorly as his ERA would suggest. He’s missed plenty of bats (58 K in 54 IP), which is a good indicator that his stuff is good enough, but he struggled with his command. He walked too many guys and threw a lot of hittable pitches even when he was in the zone. He just couldn’t make the ball go where he wanted.
In the minors, however, he had no such problems. His command in the PCL was just fine, indicating that his problems were more mental than physical. Overall, Guzman had a pretty successful season, throwing 100 innings for the first time as a professional and experiencing some success in Triple-A and making major leaguers swing and miss during his debut season in the majors.
So why would the Cubs be willing to trade him? Because, like every other organization in baseball, they have a finite amount of patience. After four years of high expectations, numerous trips to the disabled list, and a lot of rehab, they have a 24-year-old who gave up nearly a run per inning this season. Teams get tired of waiting for guys to turn the corner, and after a while, frustration grows. If you need a local example, Gil Meche. He’s gotten on our nerves for years with his inability to take a leap forward, and coming off his best season in years, we’re all looking forward to seeing him leave.
The Cubs are certain to spend money on a starting pitcher this offseason to go with returning starters Zambrano, Prior, Hill, and Marshall. They’re running quite low on patience waiting for Angel Guzman to put it all together, much like the Cardinals ran low on patience waiting for Dan Haren, and cashed him in for a “sure thing” in Mark Mulder.
This isn’t to say the Cubs will give him away. The title of the post is “undervalued pitcher”, not “non valued pitcher”, so the Mariners will have to give up something in return to get Guzman from the Cubs. He won’t come free, but the cost in talent will certainly be less than the cost in salary of signing a comparable free agent starter. Angel Guzman isn’t much different than Ted Lilly, Gil Meche, or Adam Eaton. Instead of giving up a mutliyear, multimillion dollar contract, the Mariners can get their high upside, high risk end of rotation starter in trade, then pay him nothing the next two years.
He might not turn into the new Dan Haren. He hasn’t taken that step forward yet. But taking risks on guys who haven’t yet made the leap is the best way to build the end of your starting rotation, and taking a shot on Angel Guzman would be a significantly better idea than throwing money at a free agent with similar question marks.
It might be heresy to the local media, but I’d be totally fine entering next year with Rodrigo Lopez and Angel Guzman as my fourth and fifth starters.