As the MLB offseason slowly continues to unfold, creeping ever closer to that blissful day in mid-February when pitchers and catchers first report to spring training, we are starting to get a clearer picture of just how each MLB team’s starting rotation is shaping up.
For some, rotations have clearly been enhanced by shrewd acquisitions over the past few months; for others, salary dumps and rebuilding modes have weakened the starting corps. And for at least one team, the shipping off of pitchers has led to accusations of bullying MLB into a decision.
Judging from what we’ve seen thus far, have the rich gotten richer? Is there still time for teams to upgrade their rotations?
There are still some intriguing options left on the free-agent market for teams to do just that, including Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda and Javier Vazquez.
For now, we’ll take a look at the current state of rotations across MLB and give our best guess as to where they currently stand.
In 2011, the Baltimore Orioles gave up a league-worst 786 earned runs and had a 4.89 ERA. With a collection of young arms, manager Buck Showalter could only watch as his inexperienced corps of starters tried to mature quickly at the major league level.
Thus far during the offseason, new Orioles GM Dan Duquette has added Dana Eveland in a trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers and signed Japanese pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada to a two-year contract. Wada has zero MLB experience, and Eveland spent virtually the entire season at the Triple-A level.
There is the possibility that youngsters Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Chris Tillman, Tommy Hunter and Brad Bergesen could mature into solid MLB pitchers, but with a rotation that again features Jeremy Guthrie (9-17, 4.33 ERA) at the top in the 2012 season, Showalter could be left pulling out what remains of his silver hair.
For the Houston Astros, things can’t get much worse than the 106-loss season posted in 2011. New owner Jim Crane and his appointed GM, Jeff Luhnow, are left with a roster that is a mix of unproven young talent and pricey veterans whose salaries just aren’t commensurate with current output (Carlos Lee, Brett Myers).
There is a strong possibility that current starters Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers won’t last through 2012, and that will leave a rotation featuring Jordan Lyles, J.A. Happ, Bud Norris and the emerging Kyle Weiland. It could very well be another long year in Houston.
The New York Mets have made strides to bolster their bullpen this offseason, signing free-agent relievers Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch and trading for San Francisco Giants reliever Ramon Ramirez. The starting rotation? Not so much.
The hope for the Mets is that two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana can return in 2012 to at least give them even 75 percent of the pitcher he was in the mid-2000s, but even that is asking an awful lot.
The loss of Chris Capuano certainly doesn’t help, and returning starters R.A. Dickey, Mike Pelfrey, Dillon Gee and Jonathon Niese aren't exactly a rotation that screams confidence.
With the loss of Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, the Oakland A’s starting rotation suddenly went from top-heavy to a major question mark.
Brandon McCarthy showed that he is capable of becoming a leader with a 3.32 ERA and 4.92 K/BB rate in 2011. Dallas Braden will be returning, and Brett Anderson showed signs of progress as well.
The future of the A’s will largely depend on the prospects returned in the Gonzalez and Cahill deals—Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock and Tom Milone. Their development will be a major factor in the success of Oakland's starting pitching in 2012.
Colorado Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd has been busy, trading for starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood, signing Kevin Slowey and acquiring Drew Pomeranz and Alex White at the 2011 trade deadline.
However, while O’Dowd brought in depth, it doesn’t necessarily equate to quality. Jhoulys Chacin has the potential to become an ace, but the rest of the staff—Pomeranz, White, Chatwood, Slowey, Jorge De La Rosa, Jason Hammel, Esmil Rogers and Juan Nicasio—certainly provides depth, but not much else.
If Pomeranz, White and Chatwood can mature quickly, the outlook for the rotation becomes much more appealing. However, that’s a big if.
Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore made a splash at the beginning of the offseason, trading center fielder Melky Cabrera to the San Francisco Giants for starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, filling an obvious need for both teams.
Moore re-signed Bruce Chen, who has resurrected his career in his two seasons with the Royals, and youngsters Felipe Paulino, Danny Duffy and Aaron Crow certainly provide hope for the future.
With Sanchez at the top, however, the Royals still lack an ace that can dominate. Sanchez shows some nice strikeout numbers but more than often will post a 110-pitch, five-inning effort that taxes the bullpen. If Moore decides to go after another available veteran like Edwin Jackson, Joe Saunders, Roy Oswalt or Hiroki Kuroda, the Royals’ spot in this ranking will be considerably higher.
There was an awful lot to like about the Pittsburgh Pirates' starting rotation early in 2011. Veterans Charlie Morton, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens and Kevin Correia had the Pirates in contention in the NL Central until early August, when the wheels finally came off and the Pirates imploded on the way to their record-setting 19th consecutive losing season.
This offseason, GM Neal Huntington added lefty Erik Bedard to replace the departed Paul Maholm, but the Pirates lack a dominant hurler at the top.
There is great potential in the future with Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole, but neither will be of help to the parent team in 2012, so the Bucs will be stuck with a whole lot of middle-of-the-road talent in the rotation that will struggle to contend in the competitive NL Central.
One would think that by trading the team ace, the San Diego Padres would be close to the bottom of this particular list. However, even the trade of Mat Latos to the Cincinnati Reds doesn’t fully diminish the potential of the Padres’ pitching staff.
The 2012 Padres rotation figures to feature an emerging Cory Luebke, Edinson Volquez, Dustin Moseley, Tim Stauffer and Clayton Richard. Petco Park clearly favors this staff, as none of them scream ace material.
However, the Padres also have emerging candidates Casey Kelly, Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin, all of whom could factor into the 2012 season.
The cavernous confines of Petco Park erase a lot of mistakes, and for this particular staff, that spells relief.
For the Minnesota Twins, a spate of injuries, horrible defense and lackluster pitching efforts ruled the 2011 season, as the Twins posted their worst regular-season finish since the strike-shortened 1995 season.
In 2012, the Twins will feature a pitching staff that includes Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, Francisco Liriano, Anthony Swarzak, Jason Marquis and Scott Baker. However, none of them can be considered a dominant ace by any means. Pitcher-friendly Target Field certainly helps this corps of pitch-to-contact starters for sure.
While the Chicago Cubs’ starting rotation is still a work in progress, especially with ongoing rumors concerning the departure of Matt Garza, it’s still a rotation that at least shows signs of potential.
Theo Epstein and co. did well to unload problem child Carlos Zambrano, even if they did have to eat $15 million. If Garza somehow manages to emerge unscathed from persistent rumors, a staff that includes Garza, Ryan Dempster, Travis Wood, Randy Wells, Chris Volstad and James Russell doesn’t look all that bad.
Much will depend on whether or not the ultra-talented Wood can emerge as a dominant left-hander and if Dempster can rebound from a poor 2011 (4.80 ERA, 1.45 WHIP). If Garza is still in uniform at the start of spring training, this is a staff that can at least show signs of competing in the NL Central in 2012.
Call me crazy, but I actually like the makeup of the current Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation, and if general manager Alex Anthopoulos can add one more piece (Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt, Joe Saunders, possible trade), the Blue Jays could even be higher in this ranking.
Left-hander Ricky Romero is a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter for any team, Brandon Morrow showed signs of dominance throughout 2011 (203 Ks in 179.1 innings), Brett Cecil and Dustin McGowan are decent fillers in the middle and Henderson Alvarez was outstanding in the final two months of his rookie campaign.
However, in the ever-competitive AL East, one more piece wouldn’t hurt.
Any starting rotation that features a young, dominant Cy Young Award winner at the top is worthy of at least being in the middle of this ranking. However, beyond stud Clayton Kershaw, there are plenty of question marks for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
General manager Ned Colletti signed veterans Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano to bolster the rotation. However, Harang’s solid 2011 campaign was bolstered by pitching half his games at Petco Park, and Capuano still had a 4.55 ERA despite pitching half his games at pitcher-friendly Citi Field.
Much will depend on bounce-back years by both Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley and whether or not Rubby De La Rosa can continue to mature at the major league level. With Kershaw at the top, though, it’s still not a half-bad rotation.
The Seattle Mariners have thus far watched as the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers made moves to strengthen their starting rotations, the Angels by the signing of C.J. Wilson and the Rangers by moving Neftali Feliz from the bullpen to the rotation and submitting the winning post for Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish, who is expected to be signed within the next week or so.
The Mariners did sign another Japanese product, Hisashi Iwakuma, and with ace Felix Hernandez, an emerging Michael Pineda and reliable veteran Jason Vargas, the front four of the Mariners staff isn’t all that bad. Twenty-two-year-old Blake Beavan shows promise, and prospect Danny Hultzen could be arriving sooner rather than later.
The Mariners staff will need to be good to make up for an anemic offense.
You would think that a pitching staff that features Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz at the top would receive a higher ranking. However, considering the woes of 2011, combined with questions beyond the top three, one really can’t consider the Boston Red Sox rotation higher than it currently is.
Beckett (13-7, 2.89 ERA) improved tremendously from a truly awful 2010 season, and Lester (15-9, 3.47 ERA) continues to be one of the dominant southpaws in the American League. Buchholz should return healthy after back issues curtailed his season, but beyond that, who knows?
The Red Sox did re-sign Andrew Miller, but Miller is prone to bouts of inconsistency. Daisuke Matsuzaka likely won’t return until the All-Star break, John Lackey is out for the season with Tommy John surgery and Alfredo Aceves represents the only other reliable rotation option.
One would think that GM Ben Cherington will at least add one more piece to this rotation, but for an offseason that has so far been quiet on the Red Sox front, that is certainly not a given.
Much like their AL East brethren, the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees have been strangely quiet this offseason as well, other than restructuring the contract of CC Sabathia and re-signing Freddy Garcia.
The rotation for the Yankees will have Sabathia and Ivan Nova at the top, and Phil Hughes will need to seriously improve upon a disastrous 2011 campaign.
There are those that think GM Brian Cashman is waiting on next year’s free-agent class, which could possibly feature Matt Cain, Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke. For now, the Yankees will rely on Sabathia, Nova, Garcia, Hughes, A.J. Burnett and Hector Noesi to carry the load.
The Cleveland Indians started the retooling of their starting rotation last season, trading for Colorado Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and giving up prospects Alex White and Drew Pomeranz.
The Tribe continued the retooling by bringing in veteran Derek Lowe in a trade with the Atlanta Braves at the start of this offseason.
With young emerging stars Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin, the Indians could be just one major Detroit Tigers injury away from seriously competing in the AL Central. Much will depend on bounce-back seasons for Jimenez, Lowe and Fausto Carmona, however.
The Chicago White Sox may have lost longtime ace Mark Buehrle, but the returning staff and emerging stars really aren’t too shabby.
John Danks and Gavin Floyd will likely lead the rotation, and Jake Peavy, Philip Humber and Zach Stewart will add depth, provided Peavy is completely recovered from the medical issues of the past three seasons.
In addition, hard-throwing reliever Chris Sale will make the jump to the rotation, and if Sale’s electric repertoire of pitches translates well to his new role, the White Sox will be well positioned.
Despite the loss of ace C.J. Wilson, the Texas Rangers return a corps of starters that is still dangerous.
With the return of Colby Lewis, Alexi Ogando and Derek Holland, with Neftali Feliz making the same switch to the rotation that Wilson himself made two years ago, and with Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish set to thrill a new legion of fans, the Rangers indeed could be scary.
With a new manager, a new stadium, a new logo, new uniforms and a bevy of new talent, the Miami Marlins will look completely different in 2012, including their starting rotation.
Much will depend on the health of Josh Johnson, who was shut down last season in mid-May after just nine starts with right shoulder inflammation. Few pitchers in the majors possess the cache of Johnson, who can at times be practically unhittable.
Bringing in veterans Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano, along with returning starters Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and emerging Brad Hand, gives the Marlins a staff that on paper at least could compete with the Braves and Phillies in the NL East.
When Cincinnati Reds GM Walt Jocketty pulled off the trade that netted San Diego Padres starting pitcher Mat Latos, the starting rotation for the Reds went from just okay to promising.
Latos, along with Johnny Cueto, gives the Reds two legitimate front-line starters. With veterans Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and Sean Marshall, the Reds are deep indeed.
The acquisition of Gio Gonzalez didn’t just give credibility to the Washington Nationals starting rotation—it instantly made them a force to be reckoned with.
With Stephen Strasburg fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, the emergence of Jordan Zimmermann and the steadiness of Ross Detwiler, the Nats will turn heads in 2012. Whether or not they can emerge at the top of the NL East with the great rotations of the Phillies, Braves and Marlins is another story, but GM Mike Rizzo certainly worked to bring up the pieces to do just that.
The thought is that Adam Wainwright will successfully return from Tommy John surgery and resume his role as a dominant ace for the St. Louis Cardinals. That may be a big assumption, but if Wainwright indeed does return to form, the Cardinals will be scary once again.
Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook and possibly Lance Lynn make up the staff that will attempt to defend the World Series championship, and if Lynn can emerge as a force, the Cards will indeed have the horses to compete.
The Milwaukee Brewers will certainly be looking to replace a stud in Prince Fielder. Nonetheless, they have a starting rotation that is impressive.
With Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo at the top, followed by veterans Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson, preventing runs won’t present a huge problem. At some point in 2012, prospect Wily Peralta will likely help out as well.
Losing prospects Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook may have taken away some of the great depth in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ system. However, adding Trevor Cahill to an already impressive pitching staff takes away some of the sting.
With Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Cahill and Josh Collmenter in the rotation, and with Tyler Skaggs and Trevor Bauer ready to contribute sooner rather than later, the future in Arizona is certainly rosy.
With a complete stable of homegrown talent in David Price, James Shields, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann and Jeremy Hellickson, the Tampa Bay Rays present the perfect model for exactly how to build from within.
With Hellickson winning the Rookie of the Year Award and emerging star Matt Moore fresh off his success in last season’s ALDS, the Rays literally have talent to burn. The question at this point is how to fit Moore into the rotation, and both Davis and Niemann have been mentioned as possible trade candidates. It’s not a bad problem to have.
The biggest problem the San Francisco Giants may face at this point may not necessarily be improving on an anemic offense, but figuring out how to keep both Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.
Lincecum hits free agency in 2014 and Cain next season, so GM Brian Sabean will be busy working on a long-term agreement for both.
However, with Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong both returning and Eric Surkamp looking like a viable option at No. 5, the Giants won’t have to worry much about preventing runs once again.
The Atlanta Braves are so deep in starting pitching that the loss of Derek Lowe barely put a chink in their armor.
The starting rotation currently looks like Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and possibly Randall Delgado, and Julio Teheran figures to make an impact as well. Jurrjens continues to be the subject of trade talk, but even his loss may not knock the Braves down very far on this list.
When Doug Fister joined the Detroit Tigers pitching staff in late July, all of a sudden the Tigers’ fortunes turned dramatically. Fister’s 8-1 finish and 1.79 ERA was a perfect complement to Justin Verlander’s Cy Young/MVP season.
Verlander and Fister at the top of the rotation, along with Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and 21-year-old prospect Jacob Turner, give the Tigers a great shot at defending their AL Central title.
The Los Angeles Angels sported a pretty good pitching staff last season with an AL-best 3.57 team ERA. With the addition of free agent C.J. Wilson, the Angels are even scarier.
Jered Weaver could have been considered a favorite for the Cy Young Award if it weren’t for the heroics of Justin Verlander, and Dan Haren was exceptional all season long as well. Add in Ervin Santana, who mixed in a no-hitter along with his career-low 3.38 ERA, and the Angels match up with any staff in the majors.
The Philadelphia Phillies will be looking for revenge in 2012, and they’ll do it with easily the best starting rotation in baseball.
Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels all finished in the top five in Cy Young Award balloting in 2011, and Vance Worley, Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick combine at the back end to provide solid innings as well. Worley’s third-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting gives rise to the idea of another stud as well.
Hamels is a free agent next season, and there is definitely concern regarding whether or not the Phillies can afford to keep him around. However, for 2012 anyway, the Phillies will indeed feature the best staff in baseball.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter @Sports_A_Holic.