Finding a Veteran Pitcher, On the Cheap

Last week, in Baseball Prospectus’ NL East preview (it’s here and free if you want to read it), they made a few interesting observations. Additionally, there was some oversight – not mentioning Jesus Flores as a “What Do They Have?” was a big one. All in all, it’s an interesting little take on the status of the organization and is a good read for anyone who wants to catch up. One thing that I really found interesting was what should be done with the pitching staff

the Nationals should also bestow an incentive-laden one-year deal upon a veteran starter looking to reclaim past glory after injury and ineffectiveness, possibly from a list that includes Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Jason Jennings, Pedro Martinez, Mark Mulder, Carl Pavano, Brad Penny, and Mark Prior. If one of them happened to pan out, the Nats would be able to cash in at the trading deadline. If not, they’d only be out a couple million bucks.

I think this is a stellar idea. The second part is the important caveat. In order for this to work, they must be able to cash in at the trading deadline. No point in getting Pedro to pitch well for the Nats in September. Remember, the goal of this would not be to get a 20 game winner, who you would then have to pay like any free agent in the offseason. The goal is to get one of these guys to win 10 games before the trade deadline, and deal him for a real prospect. So going down that list, let’s look at what these guys have to offer.

Bartolo Colon

Colon was a pretty studly pitcher from 1998-2005, and was rewarded with a Cy Young award in 2005. Since then, not so good. He pitched well early last year, although he hurt his back and was limited to 7 starts. He is definitely thought of as injury prone, and his weight doesn’t help that impression. When he was healthy last year, he had an ERA of 3.92 and had 32-10 K-BB, so the ability is still there. It’s the ability to throw more than 100 innings that is doubtful. He wouldn’t be the worst signing, because if you can run him out there until July, you would trade him before worrying about his August or September. And pitching in the NL, he could be really effective.

Freddy Garcia

He is an interesting case. He was injured most of the last 2 seasons, and while he has had 3 or 4 very good seasons, he’s had another 3 or 4 that were not much better than average – albeit with 200 innings pitched. He came back at the end of 2008 and pitched well, the interesting thing about Garcia is that teams will get a chance to see him pitch this winter in the Venezuelan Winter League. But even if he is good there, I don’t think this is the right target for the Nats. At his best he could really be good, but he’s rarely incredible even when he’s healthy.  There’s a decent chance even if he’s back to form he’d pitch just good not great, and there may just not be alot of trade value there.

Jason Jennings

Jason Jennings, at 23, won rookie of the year in 2002 by going 16-8 with an ERA just a touch under league average (ERA+ of 106).  After that, he had one terrific season in 2006 with the Rockies. Other than that, it’s been poor performance followed by injuries. He reminds me of Carl Pavano after his one good season with Florida, without all the money. I find it hard to believe he’ll ever be great, he doesn’t have the track record. He was an innings eater for a few seasons, but that is unlikely given his recent injury history. To me, he shouldn’t rank high on this list.

Pedro Martinez

In case you’ve forgotten, or are new to baseball, Pedro was once a superstar. This was back in pre-Nats days.  He’s second to Mariano Rivera in career ERA+ for all time. He also holds the single season ERA+ record, as long as you don’t count one pitcher’s performance in 1880. He’s got over 3100 career Ks, including 9 seasons with more than 200. His 2000 may be the best season by a starting pitcher ever – besides the record ERA+ (291), he struck out 284, to 32 BBs, went 18-6, had 7 CGs and 4 shutouts, and his era was 1.74! The league average that year was 5.07. If wins are more important to you, look to 1999. But that was then and this is now.  Now his fastball is in the mid 80s most of the time, and he still has a nice curveball. He isn’t the power pitcher he once was, but still has very good control. He needs to adjust the way Mussina did in 2008. If he can do that, he has the ability to be very good again. It might take some time, but he was so good that if he’s out there, it wouldn’t hurt to try.

Mark Mulder

Since 2005, Mulder has pitched in 23 games. In that time, it hasn’t been pretty. The interesting thing about him is that he was a really great pitcher before then. He was fantastic from ’01-’05, and the idea is to recapture some of that. Standing in the way are several shoulder surgeries. He’s likely looking at a minor league deal, so if they can get him going quickly, he could be worth a shot. The Cardinals may be looking at doing the same thing, so a few more incentives may help get it done.

Carl Pavano

Pavano signed a 4 year deal with the Yankees and then pitched less than 30 games for them over the entire deal. His ERA in that time – just above 5.00. He struck out about 4.6 per 9 innings. If you want to find something nice to say, well he only walked 1.8 per 9 IP. Other than that, Carl has been a waste of time and money. Even if he miraculously recovers and pitches well, I can’t see many contenders wanting to trade for him. I’d stay away.

Brad Penny

He was third place in Cy Young voting in 2007, then he got hurt, and his 2008 looks like he wasn’t feeling better. He still has the ability, his health is the big question mark. Will he be able to pitch in 2009? Or in the first half? This may be the kind of signing that is a great risk to take for a team that can waste 2009. I am not sure if the Nats are the team to do this, but again, he has big upside. A two year commitment just seems like alot, and the Nats don’t want to be stuck with him rehabbing for those 2 years, they’ve seen that before.

Mark Prior

For a generation of fans Prior, along with Kerry Wood, is the embodiment of the great, fragile pitcher. At first glance, Prior’s baseball reference page doesn’t look awful. Two seasons with 27 and then 30 starts, two seasons with 19 and then 21 starts. All of those 4 years had very good ERAs. So last year was bad, he didn’t start much and had an awful ERA. Then you realize that the last year on the list was 2006. He hasn’t pitched in the majors since then. Prior’s still only 28, he has had enough success to be offered more opportunities. Think Rich Harden. There’s a good chance that the Padres will take another shot at him – they’re in a similar boat to the Nats and he’s comfortable there. A little more money might lure him, and unlike some other guys, if he does get healthy, there’s a shot that he will pitch very well. But he is a real long shot to be healthy.

The Chances


If they actually do this, they have a chance of getting some value. The one thing they shouldn’t do is grab a guy and wait for him to go all Tim Redding on them. Last season Redding was 7-3 in the first half of the season with a 3.85 ERA. In the second half he was 3-8 with a 6.82 ERA. What exactly were they holding on to him for? If they could have gotten anything that appeared to even look like a prospect, that would have been a great deal. Instead, they got nothing. If they use this approach, they have to make a trade before the deadline.

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One Response to Finding a Veteran Pitcher, On the Cheap

  1. Gal Revels in Pee says:

    I know us armchair GMs love to kill our real life counterparts about not making deals but look at the market.

    The only real deal in 2008 where a team dumped a veteran starter on a one year make-good deal was the Pads sending Randy Wolf to the Astros. The Pads got a 26 year old “prospect” pitcher Chad Reineke.

    http://www.thebaseballcube.com/players/R/chad-reineke.shtml

    Let’s say it takes $6m to sign one of these guys. Pro rated over the four months you hold them, that’s $4m. And all you get for your investment is a mediocre pitcher.

    That $4m would have bought you Aaron Crow.

    Signing one (or two) of these guys is still a good idea, I just wouldn’t get so hung up on whether or not they could be converted into something useful at the trade deadline. The Larry Anderson for Jeff Bagwell days are over . . .

    However, having one of these guys absorb innings would have a benefit for the Nats. Keep their young pitchers from throwing too many innings at a young age, perhaps ease the wear on the young bullpen arms too. Both useful goals.

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