Edwin Jackson Signs with Washington Nationals: Re-Ranking All 30 MLB Rotations
An unpredictable winter in MLB free agency continued Thursday, as the Washington Nationals signed Edwin Jackson to a one-year deal. The team beat John Lannan in an arbitration hearing in the morning, and within hours, they added Jackson to a starting rotation that already included Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and new acquisition Gio Gonzalez.
Jackson, 28, is one of the hardest-throwing starters in baseball right now. In fact, no qualifying National League starter averaged hotter heat in 2011. Of course, Jackson now joins a rotation headed by Stephen Strasburg, whose fastball easily outpaces Jackson's.
Still and all, it's a good signing by the Nationals, and it gives them as formidable a front four for their starting rotation as has any team in the NL East. In fact, it elevates their starting pitching corps to the top echelon of those groups throughout the league. Here are updated power rankings for all 30 MLB teams' starting rotations in the wake of this deal.
30. Minnesota Twins
Pitchers Considered: Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, Jason Marquis, Liam Hendriks
Breakdown: When Francisco Liriano knows where the ball is going on the mound, he's a stud. Unfortunately, such occasions are rare, and after Tommy John surgery stole his magic slider, Liriano has never really been the same.
As for the rest of the group, Blackburn and Baker (like Liriano) are prone to injuries. Pavano is ancient and still aging, with one of the league's worst fastballs, and Marquis is a non-asset even as a backend starter. The Twins lost 99 games in 2011, and on the mound, they don't even have much upside.
29. Pittsburgh Pirates
Pitchers Considered: James McDonald, Erik Bedard, Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens, Kevin Correia, Brad Lincoln
Breakdown: A little upside exists here. James McDonald has dynamic stuff, though he has yet to actualize his talent. Erik Bedard should be a bargain for as long as he's healthy, and Morton has a filthy cutter.
On the other hand, the group lacks the ability to miss bats, and their command is not good enough to offset that shortcoming. If the Pirates had an elite defense, this could be a fair rotation. Since they don't, they all fall short.
28. Houston Astros
Pitchers Considered: Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, Bud Norris, Jordan Lyles, J.A. Happ, Livan Hernandez, Aneury Rodriguez, Kyle Weiland
Breakdown: Wandy Rodriguez remains a solid southpaw at the top, but has struggled to miss bats the past year and a half. Brett Myers was good once; no more. He and Livan Hernandez are there purely to shoulder heavy innings burdens. Bud Norris is the guy with the high ceiling, and he's great and all, but if he's the potential impact pitcher of your staff, you're in trouble.
27. Baltimore Orioles
Pitchers Considered: Zach Britton, Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Wei-Yin Chen, Tsuyoshi Wada, Brad Bergesen
Breakdown: Youth lends the team a chance to redeem itself. Years after Tillman, Arrieta and Matusz were supposed to be established semi-stars, they're, well, not. Happily, each remains young, and Britton and Chen have room to improve, too.
The skill profiles are there, but the talent in each man's arm has never materialized. It may be that in a year or two Dylan Bundy will save the franchise, but the current crop of young arms will probably go to waste.
26. Kansas City Royals
Pitchers Considered: Bruce Chen, Danny Duffy, Jonathan Sanchez, Felipe Paulino, Aaron Crow, Luke Hochevar, Mike Montgomery
Breakdown: I don't get it. The Royals had every opportunity this winter to add the impact pitching talent that stood between them and serious contention, but Edwin Jackson got a one-year deal elsewhere.
Chen will be back, but don't count on his sub-4.00 ERA to return with him. Sanchez was a good addition. Paulino is wildly underrated. Crow has major upside if he can transition quickly from All-Star reliever to toolsy starter. Still, there are a whole lot of third and fourth starters on this team, and Jackson was a No. 2 who would have fit nicely.
25. New York Mets
Pitchers Considered: Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Dillon Gee, Jon Niese, R.A. Dickey, Jenrry Mejia
Breakdown: If one could rely on the health of Santana or Niese, this might be a decent rotation. If one could see the future and whether the league is soon to figure out R.A. Dickey or not, it might be a low-risk one. As it is, the most certain asset is also the least exciting. Mike Pelfrey doesn't do much of anything about which to get excited. Santana may or may not ever be himself again.
24. Colorado Rockies
Pitchers Considered: Jhoulys Chacin, Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Juan Nicasio, Jason Hammel, Guillermo Moscoso, Josh Outman, Jamie Moyer, Tyler Chatwood, Jorge De La Rosa
Breakdown: Quantity does not necessarily translate into quality. If there was any doubt of that, this rotation should erase it. Chacin is the ace, but there are ghosts of problems waiting to happen there. Of this group, the one with the most electric raw stuff is De La Rosa, who is eight months clear of Tommy John surgery right now.
White, Chatwood and Pomeranz all could be good pitchers. Unfortunately, none is ready to do it this season, at least in the big leagues.
23. San Diego Padres
Pitchers Considered: Tim Stauffer, Cory Luebke, Clayton Richard, Edinson Volquez, Dustin Moseley, Anthony Bass, Casey Kelly
Breakdown: It's hard to track the value of pitchers at PETCO Park, but it's easy to see this cast of characters as the product of their environment. They're not bad, not by any means, but they all have either unexciting stuff or miserable command. Trading Mat Latos made the Padres better, especially in the long run, but it certainly made the 2012 rotation worse.
22. Chicago Cubs
Pitchers Considered: Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Travis Wood, Paul Maholm, Chris Volstad, Randy Wells, Rodrigo Lopez
Breakdown: The hallmark of the late Jim Hendry era in Chicago was a plate-spinning, teetering pattern of talent without depth. If the team stayed healthy, they succeeded. When pitchers got injured, the whole team failed, because pitchers six and seven were ghastly holes. Hell, most of the time, pitchers four and five were automatic losses.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have striven to rectify that. Travis Wood, Paul Maholm and Chris Volstad all add strength to the back end of the corps, but even if someone goes down or gets traded, Randy Wells and Rodrigo Lopez are serviceable pitchers ready to step into the void. This group still has a too-flat feel for the modern top-heavy rotation model, but it has certainly improved from what was arguably the worst in baseball in 2011.
21. Toronto Blue Jays
Pitchers Considered: Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Henderson Alvarez, Brett Cecil, Dustin McGowan, Kyle Drabek
Breakdown: Personally, I love Brandon Morrow and Henderson Alvarez. Morrow has sensational swing-and-miss stuff, while Alvarez has plus-plus command and control. They're a blast to watch, in utterly different ways. Ricky Romero is due to step back a bit from his breakout in 2011, but he's great.
The risk, though, cannot be ignored. Alvarez pounds the strike zone, but does so with non-elite stuff, and his fastball is so straight as to make him homer-prone at times. That's not a great profile for the AL East. Morrow still has occasional control lapses that cost him big-time. The back half of this rotation is interesting, but thoroughly mysterious. Kyle Drabek bouncing back from his awful 2011 would go a long way.
20. Seattle Mariners
Pitchers Considered: Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, Kevin Millwood, Hector Noesi, Hisashi Iwakuma, Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush, Danny Hultzen
Breakdown: Hernandez is still one of the five best pitchers in baseball, though for some reason, everyone suddenly has him outside the top 10. Hultzen might be on the fastest track to MLB of any 2011 draftee, though it's doubtful he'll be ready for Opening Day. If there's anywhere left in baseball where Kevin Millwood can succeed, it's Seattle, but that statement begs the real question: Is there anywhere left in baseball where Kevin Millwood can succeed?
Noesi was a sneaky-good throw-in for the Mariners in the Michael Pineda trade, and though Hisashi Iwakuma's arm has little left in it, what's left should be very good. All that said, this rotation evokes nothing so much as the Padres if they had not dealt Latos. How should we evaluate pitchers who call the cavernous SafeCo Field home?
19. Los Angeles Dodgers
Pitchers Considered: Clayton Kershaw, Ted Lilly, Chad Billingsley, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Nate Eovaldi
Breakdown: Kershaw is Hernandez, but with a better supporting cast. People look through the (admittedly ghostly) Ted Lilly like he is not there, but he is, and he's good at what he does. Chad Billingsley still has the potential to bloom as one of the game's best third starters, though he should have done it by now. Capuano and Harang are the major reasons for concern, having had marginal success in very pitcher-friendly environs in 2011. They're not likely to repeat strong seasons this time around.
18. Chicago White Sox
Pitchers Considered: John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Jake Peavy, Chris Sale, Phil Humber, Dylan Axelrod
Breakdown: Danks' extension this winter came as a surprise; virtually everyone expected GM Kenny Williams to trade Danks after he announced a plan to rebuild. Perhaps, though, Williams sensed that the team needed Danks just to fill the roster tolerably.
Losing Mark Buehrle put the Sox in the lurch. They'll replace him with Chris Sale this season, but even in the best case, Sale represents a 60-inning drop from the sheer workload Buehrle shouldered. In the meantime, having dealt closer Sergio Santos this winter and starter Edwin Jackson last summer, the team had gotten shallower from the right side, too. They have some talented pitchers, but they are very thin.
17. Oakland Athletics
Pitchers Considered: Brandon McCarthy, Bartolo Colon, Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, Jarrod Parker, Tyson Ross, Graham Godfrey, Brett Anderson
Breakdown: How impressive that, having dealt Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill has not even set back the A's that much for 2012. Instead, they acquired MLB-ready arms in those trades, and have replenished the staff almost completely with younger men.
At the same time, there's no question the group is raw. McCarthy is only 27, and has fewer than 550 big-league innings under his belt, but he is far and away the veteran of the group. Of Peacock, Milone and Parker, two will make the Opening Day roster, but all three could probably use another month or three in the minor leagues.
16. Cleveland Indians
Pitchers Considered: Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Derek Lowe, Josh Tomlin, Kevin Slowey, Roberto Hernandez Heredia (nee Fausto Carmona)
Breakdown: The loss of Heredia-Carmona hurts, but the addition of Kevin Slowey was a savvy one for GM Chris Antonetti and the Indians. Masterson is an underrated front-line pitcher, able to survive more or less on his fastball and slider alone, and great at keeping the ball down. Derek Lowe shares that skill.
The season for Cleveland, though, comes down to Jimenez. He's as gifted as any pitcher in the AL Central (I'm looking at you, Justin Verlander), but must prove he's as durable. Jimenez's command also deserts him on the rare occasion. If he's anything like Ubaldo circa 2010, the Indians will do well preventing runs. If he's more like Jimenez 2011, they will look more like the 26th-best rotation.
15. Arizona Diamondbacks
Pitchers Considered: Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Trevor Cahill, Joe Saunders, Josh Collmenter, Wade Miley, Trevor Bauer
Breakdown: Cahill is overrated a bit, and the Diamondbacks should not have given up so much for him. Still, he is a solid third starter, and Daniel Hudson is a solid (if under-the-radar) ace. This staff should combine to pitch 1,000 innings, too, which counts for something.
Joe Saunders is volume over value, and Josh Collmenter will have to prove he can sustain success once the league figures out his funky delivery. In Bauer and Tyler Skaggs, though, the team has two prospects in the upper minors with impact potential.
14. Miami Marlins
Pitchers Considered: Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Anibal Sanchez, Carlos Zambrano, Ricky Nolasco, Alex Sanabia, Wade LeBlanc
Breakdown: Buehrle is the supposedly sexy addition. Johnson is the ace, if he can stay on the mound. The unseen strength of this staff, though, is their depth. In Alex Sanabia and Wade LeBlanc, they have above-average insurance if (when) Johnson or (and) Carlos Zambrano miss time. Not having to trot out sub-replacement level hurlers to fill voids at certain points of the season has more value than anyone seems to realize.
13. Cincinnati Reds
Pitchers Considered: Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, Aroldis Chapman, Kyle Lotzkar
Breakdown: The depth of the Reds' rotation paid off hugely this winter. They traded two decent backend guys (Travis Wood and Edinson Volquez) in order to add ace-caliber Mat Latos to the front end. They still have a strong front side with Latos and Cueto, and if Arroyo can keep the ball in the park more in 2012, Cincinnati's staff should be more than good enough to support their excellent lineup and strong defense.
12. Milwaukee Brewers
Pitchers Considered: Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, Chris Narveson, Wily Peralta, Marco Estrada
Breakdown: After staying delightfully healthy in 2011, the Brewers should have added some depth to a rotation not underpinned by much reinforcement. They needed more, and if any of their big three gets hurt this season, they're in trouble.
If by some magic the team can stay that healthy again, though, it's quite a group. Gallardo is very good; Greinke is great. Despite a rough finish to 2011, Marcum's command makes him a solid talent. Wolf and Narveson are homer-prone and therefore risky.
11. Detroit Tigers
Pitchers Considered: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, Jacob Turner, Casey Crosby, Andy Oliver
Breakdown: The fifth slot in this rotation is a black hole. Jacob Turner is not ready. Andy Oliver is not ready. Casey Crosby is REALLY not ready.
Yet, the Tigers have talent. Doug Fister's emergence last season was at least partially real, fueled by the addition of a few miles per hour on all his pitches. Justin Verlander is, you know, pretty good, and, Porcello and Scherzer still have development potential. There is a lot of the wrong kind of uncertainty here, but the four guys at the front of the rotation are each quite talented.
10. Boston Red Sox
Pitchers Considered: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, Andrew Miller
Breakdown: It stings that Boston didn't land Jackson; they were the right fit, and he was the right target. Still, the Sox have three top-echelon starters, a lottery ticket that could be a big winner in Daniel Bard, and two nice swing-man pieces who complement each other well.
Last year, the team could not stay healthy and collapsed at the finish. In 2012, assuming no devastating injuries that steal entire seasons, they should be better. Miller and Aceves are above-average replacement starters.
9. Washington Nationals
Pitchers Considered: Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, John Lannan, Chien-Ming Wang, Ross Detwiler
Breakdown: Depth is critical for this team. Zimmermann might not be allowed to go past 200 innings; Strasburg is on a hard 160-frame limit. Jackson and Gonzalez offer volume and value, though, and this makes four guys with dynamic stuff and big strikeout potential.
The depth at the tail end of this unit is hard to project. They may feel pressure to trade John Lannan, but would be wiser to trade Wang if they must. It's still the third-best rotation in the division, but the Nationals are suddenly on the heels of the Braves and Phillies in that regard. It will be interesting to see whether this deal signals the team pursuing a playoff berth in 2012.
8. St. Louis Cardinals
Pitchers Considered: Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook, Shelby Miller
Breakdown: Wainwright's return makes the Cards formidable from the mound, even in the frightening new world of the post-Dave Duncan era. Carpenter, though, poses a major injury risk, after the team asked him to face more batters last season than anyone had in a decade.
Garcia may take one more developmental step and become a top-flight No. 2-type, but even if he doesn't, he's a solid third arm for this corps. The key to the whole package is keeping these players healthy, despite each of them having ugly injury histories.
7. Texas Rangers
Pitchers Considered: Yu Darvish, Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis
Breakdown: Alexi Ogando probably could have survived as a starter, but it made the most sense to move him back to the bullpen because he is a true weapon there.
Texas can afford that luxury because they have such depth, not only in the minor leagues (Neil Ramirez is nearly ready) but up and down the rotation itself. Even in the worst case, Darvish and Feliz should be solid backend pitchers, and Derek Holland will always have the potential to be great each time he toes the rubber.
6. New York Yankees
Pitchers Considered: CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes
Breakdown: Pineda is the sexy new acquisition, and it's neat and all, but he presents substantial risk, too. New York might find both he and Kuroda struggle to adjust to Yankee Stadium and life in the AL East this season.
Nova is overrated for his rookie success, which his stats overstated anyway. Still, they have CC Sabathia, and it's no small thing to have seven starters on the roster.
5. Atlanta Braves
Pitchers Considered: Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran
Breakdown: Atlanta's depth is ridiculous. In addition to those listed, they could stretch out projected relievers Arodys Vizcaino and/or Kris Medlen in a pinch to fill holes. These pitchers are young, gifted and (in many cases) thoroughly enigmatic, but given the Braves' track record for developing young pitchers, they feel safe.
4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Pitchers Considered: Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, Ervin Santana, Jerome Williams, Garrett Richards, Rich Thompson
Breakdown: Knowing they would be able to spend, the Angels kept a terrific poker face as they negotiated a deal at the beginning of the offseason that sent Tyler Chatwood to Colorado for catcher Chris Iannetta.
By the end of the winter meetings, new GM Jerry Dipoto landed his man. With C.J. Wilson added to the impressive duo of Haren and Weaver, the team now boasts one of the strongest top quartets of any team in baseball. They may have THE best top four, though they're certainly neither the top trio nor the best full quintet.
3. San Francisco Giants
Pitchers Considered: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong, Eric Surkamp
Breakdown: Until Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain leaves (not imminent on either count), the Giants will always be all about pitching. They're so insanely good at it, though, that they won one World Series and could contend for another next year.
Madison Bumgarner is the secret weapon here. His arsenal and delivery are as close to unique as anything in baseball right now, and his success at such a young age in 2010 and 2011 make predicting a huge 2012 a no-brainer.
2. Philadelphia Phillies
Pitchers Considered: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Vance Worley, Joe Blanton, Kyle Kendrick, Joel Pineiro
Breakdown: The loss of Roy Oswalt stings less than the bite of age, which sweeps now into the Phillies rotation and threatens their claim to have three of the elite pitchers anywhere in the game. Sure, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee could sustain success forever; they're true greats. They are 35 and 33 this year, though, and may begin to lose their edge. Meanwhile, Vance Worley is due to regress. He's not as good as his numbers looked in 2011.
1. Tampa Bay Rays
Pitchers Considered: David Price, James Shields, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb
Breakdown: Price and Shields are a very good top pair, but the excellence (or not) of this rotation hinges on rookie Matt Moore. As a rule, starting pitchers need a few years to establish themselves as great, but Moore may be that rare exception. He has nasty, filthy stuff, confidence and an easy, loose arm action.
Moore creates more margin for error, which is nice to have, but the Rays hardly need it. They have the reigning AL Rookie of the Year in Hellickson, and solid reinforcements on the way in Alex Cobb and Chris Archer. From top to bottom, this group has good stuff, good command and a simple approach.