MLB Free Agency: Grading Every Team's Top Pitching Acquisition This Winter
The signing of C.J. Wilson might not give the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim the best starting rotation in the American League in 2012, but his arrival certainly made the Angels relevant again in the AL West. Along with Albert Pujols, Wilson will seek to reinvigorate a franchise that looked like it was three years behind the Texas Rangers but a few months ago.
Pitchers are unpredictable, and run prevention can be a strength for a given team in one season but a major weakness the next. Thence comes the baseball truism that one can never have enough pitching, and from that philosophy came at least six fascinating pitching acquisitions this winter:
– Wilson signed for $77.5 million over five years with the Angels.
– Yu Darvish merited a $112 million outlay from the Texas Rangers.
– The Washington Nationals dealt four of their top nine prospects to the Oakland Athletics for Gio Gonzalez.
– Mat Latos went to the Cincinnati Reds, who gave the San Diego Padres four very good players in return.
– Michael Pineda cost the New York Yankees their best offensive prospect since Robinson Cano.
– The Chicago Cubs signed Cuban defector Gerardo Concepcion, 19, for $7 million.
Each of those moves, plus many others, made waves during the Hot Stove season, and each made clear that a trend that is getting more pronounced in baseball seemingly by the day: Pitching costs. Big time.
Here are grades for each team's biggest pitching addition of the winter, keeping in mind that innings, in this day and age, are not cheap.
Deal: Diamondbacks got Trevor Cahill, Craig Breslow and cash from Oakland Athletics for Jarrod Parker, Collin Cowgill and Ryan Cook.
Scouting Report: Cahill is the big fish, obviously, a man who fits comfortably into the middle of the Arizona rotation and whom the team expects to become a top-tier No. 2. He throws one of the best sinkers in baseball, which helps him keep the ball on the ground over half the time.
Cahill doesn't miss many bats with that sinker or with his secondary stuff—principally, a changeup and a curve. Even those offerings are about inducing weak contact on the ground, and that's not always a recipe for success. The Diamondbacks can hardly be faulted, though, for seeing a little bit of Brandon Webb in Cahill.
Deal: Adam Russell signed a minor league deal with Atlanta.
Scouting Report: Russell walked 20 batters against 13 strikeouts in 2011 for the Rays. That's not a mistaken transposition. He walked 20, and he fanned 13. That's bad news.
There's good news too. Russell throws hard (95 miles per hour on an average heater). He's huge. He generates great downhill plane and, therefore, gets a lot of ground balls.
If he ever learned to throw strikes or get the ball down, he could be a useful piece in the Atlanta bullpen. It's certainly not as though they need him in a setup role.
Deal: Wei-Yin Chen, a Taiwanese pitcher from the Japanese NPB, signed a three-year, $11.4 million deal with the Orioles
Scouting Report: The Orioles liked what they saw with Chen, and he offers some things to like. He throws mostly in the low 90s, but had been considerably better in previous years. His slider is a useful pitch, if not an impact one, and he will get by with a fairly American arsenal that Baltimore's staff should find more familiar and coachable than those of many Japanese imports. The major problem is that Chen did lose velocity and effectiveness in 2011, so he may be already on his way down slightly at age 27.
Boston Red Sox
Deal: Boston landed closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney from Oakland for Josh Reddick, Raul Alcantara and Miles Head.
Scouting Report: Bailey has not hit a single batter in three big league seasons, and this link tells the story well. He works the outer half of the plate harder than perhaps any other pitcher in baseball, and with terrific command of a mid-90s fastball, he well ought to do so.
Bailey will be hell on right-handed AL East batters who think they can simply lean out and yank opposing pitchers' offerings off the Green Monster for an easy hit.
Deal: Chicago signed Cuban defector and free agent Gerardo Concepcion for $7 million.
Scouting Report: Per Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus:
[Concepcion] is just a really, crazy polished arm. He's a guy who can spin a breaking ball, puts pitchers exactly where he wants them, uses both sides of the plate and hits the corners. But he's like 87-90? And there's not a lot of projection; it's kind of a crossfire delivery.
Clearly, Goldstein sees Concepcion as a back-end starting pitcher. The scouting report on the lefty is just that. On the other hand, his extraordinary polish means he's a high-floor, low-ceiling pitcher. If he can put some meat on his lean frame and throw more like 91-93 miles per hour as he grows, he could be a steal for $7 million. That figure entitles the Cubs to team control just as though he were a draft pick, though Concepcion is guaranteed a 40-man roster spot right away. For a rebuilding team with money to spend, the deal made sense despite the cost.
Chicago White Sox
Deal: Chicago acquired Nestor Molina from the Blue Jays for Sergio Santos.
Scouting Report: Molina is not a high-upside prospect. He doesn't throw hard, but does have very good control. He doesn't have secondary pitches worth drooling over, but can get batters out regardless of the side of the plate on which they stand in the batter's box. He's not likely to land in the bullpen, but he's even less likely to be among a good team's top three starting pitchers.
The Sox made a fine acquisition in Molina, but should have gotten more for Santos.
Deal: The Reds got Mat Latos for Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Brad Boxberger and Edinson Volquez, all of whom went to the San Diego Padres.
Scouting Report: Latos throws in the low 90s most of the time, but can command his heat into the 95 MPH range. Meanwhile, his slider is of the sort usually seen only from relief arms, and his changeup and curveball are developing nicely. He's a co-ace, front-line pitcher, and he's barely even the best pitching acquisition Cincinnati made this winter.
Deal: Cleveland got Derek Lowe and cash from the Braves for minor leaguer Chris Jones.
Scouting Report: Lowe's repertoire and package should be familiar. His sinker is solid, but he slings pitches at batters from a lazily low arm angle and at terribly tepid velocities. He should be able to keep the ball down and over the plate, but that's the only thing left in his toolbox. He's eminently hittable.
That said, Cleveland did well to help round out its rotation with a trade that sent away a non-prospect.
Deal: Jeremy Guthrie came to the Rockies by way of a trade with the Orioles. Baltimore got Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom in the deal.
Scouting Report: With the development of a cutter in 2011, Guthrie now has essentially three different fastballs. His slider, change and curve are all usable big league pitches as well, so he keeps batters guessing.
He throws an average percentage of his pitches for strikes, but primarily invites contact, so neither his walks nor his strikeout numbers jump off the page. He's solid physically and ranks among the game's best fielders around the mound. The Rockies gave up two pretty unimpressive pieces for Guthrie—a sound deal.
Deal: Octavio Dotel signed with the Tigers for $3 million on a one-year deal.
Scouting Report: Dotel was once a dominant closer, but he now profiles solely as a right-handed specialist. He still strikes out a ton of batters, especially of the right-handed persuasion, because of a wipeout slider that has scarcely decayed with time. He's good in the right role.
With Jose Valverde, Al Alburquerque and Joaquin Benoit already on the roster, though, that role is not one the Tigers had much need to fill.
Deal: The Astros dealt Mark Melancon to the Red Sox for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.
Scouting Report: Weiland works in the 92-93 range with his heat, which he delivers from exactly the long-armed, wacky and roundabout delivery you expect given the accompanying photo. That arm angle also helps him generate some movement on what other Red Sox pitchers call the "slutter"—a sort of slider-cutter hybrid with almost solely lateral movement and good velocity.
He's not a future ace, but the Astros should expect Weiland to make a home in their rotation for the next few seasons.
Kansas City Royals
Deal: In the first substantive move of the offseason, the Royals traded Melky Cabrera to the Giants for Jonathan Sanchez.
Scouting Report: Sanchez throws almost everything in the band between 81 and 91 miles per hour. His fastball is essentially a setup pitch; he uses it, but he gets outs with his changeup and slider. He's devastating against left-handed batters, which will come in very handy against the lefty-heavy Indians and Twins. This move should treat Sanchez very, very well.
Since they had Lorenzo Cain in waiting for Cabrera's job, the Royals also gave up very, very little to get Sanchez.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Deal: C.J. Wilson got a $77.5 million guarantee from the Angels over five years.
Scouting Report: Wilson throws a four- and a two-seam fastball, plus a cutter, a slider, a curveball and (although very rarely in 2011) a changeup. Oddly, he uses the slider primarily against right-handed batters, trying to sweep one under their bats or in onto their fists. He got away with it in Texas and should continue to thrive in pitcher-friendly Angel Stadium. Then again, the Rangers are heavily right-handed, so facing them five times will be a rude awakening for the left-hander.
The long-term prognosis for this deal is as poor as the short-term may be rosy.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Deal: Aaron Harang signed with the Dodgers for two years and $12 million.
Scouting Report: Harang throws a four- and a two-seam fastball, as well as the usual assortment of slider, changeup and curve. The slider is a pitch he can lean on a bit, so he does, but he gets by mostly when he locates the fastballs well along the edges of the zone.
He once threw much harder than he does now, and the slider has lost some zip. As a fly-ball guy, he thrived in San Diego and should be okay in LA, but the Dodgers overpaid for a pitcher who will not make them better in 2012.
Deal: The Marlins signed Mark Buehrle for four years and paid $58 million.
Scouting Report: Buehrle locates. That's about all he does. He doesn't throw hard, and neither his curve nor his slider is impressive for its movement or deception. He just knows how to mix pitches and pitch to both sides of the plate.
Everything he throws goes to one side of the plate or the other and hardly ever strays to an undesired location. He's also an excellent fielder and controller of the opponent's running game. The only problem with this deal is that if Buehrle loses another mile per hour or so on his fastball, he might completely lose his effectiveness.
Deal: The Brewers landed reliever Jose Veras in a trade with the Pirates for Casey McGehee.
Scouting Report: His screwy delivery works in Veras' favor. So does his 6'6", 235-pound frame. He's also got some nasty stuff. He throws in the mid-90s, uses his curve liberally and is one of the few remaining practitioners of the dying art of throwing the split-fingered fastball. He's struck out over 10 batters per nine innings each of the past two years, mostly because he has those weapons.
He doesn't have much command of them, though. The Brewers will hope he can simply be a reliable seventh-inning option, and calling on him with the bases empty is the best course.
Deal: The Twins signed Joel Zumaya for $800,000.
Scouting Report: Likely gone are the days when Zumaya coolly averaged over 99 miles per hour with his fastball. He still has heat, though, and a curve that freezes batters who try to cheat for the fastball. He has only to stay healthy in order to be a game-changing relief stud, and that makes Minnesota's small commitment to him a very good risk.
New York Mets
Deal: Frank Francisco signed with the Mets for two years and $12 million.
Scouting Report: Francisco actually pounds the strike zone, but walks an average number of batters because he lacks a secondary pitch that generates swings and misses. His curveball is tepid and his splitter nothing special, but he routinely hits 96 on the radar gun, so the Mets paid him big money to close for them as they rebuild.
New York Yankees
Deal: Michael Pineda and Jose Campos went to the Yankees in a trade with the Seattle Mariners, who got Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi in return.
Scouting Report: No pure fastball-slider combo in the game is as lethal when Pineda has his at full strength. He throws an easy 95 and can reach 100 miles per hour. His slider is vicious.
On the other hand, the heater sometimes straightens out a lot, and Pineda might see that a lot more of the many fly balls he allows will leave Yankee Stadium than ever left Safeco. Still, for upside, it's hard to beat this acquisition.
Deal: In the aforementioned Cahill trade, the A's got Jarrod Parker.
Scouting Report: Parker has a fastball that comes in 92-94 miles per hour and a potentially plus slider. He also has a changeup that rounds out his repertoire as a starter, but that pitch might not work out. If it doesn't, Parker might be better suited to close than to battle to figure things out in the rotation without a reliable third pitch to use against left-handed hitters.
That's the risk aspect of the trade. The reward will be if Parker can make his change work, because the other two pitches are ready, and he has the command to be a front-line starter.
Deal: Jonathan Papelbon wrung four years, $50 million and an eight-figure vesting option for a fifth season from the Phillies.
Scouting Report: Papelbon throws a scorching straight fastball, a harder and heavier two-seamer, an occasional slider and a trademark splitter. He's a really, really good closer. You know that.
It's also important to know this: Papelbon will cost the Phillies 10 picks of draft position in 2012, solely because GM Ruben Amaro hadn't the patience to wait out the negotiations of the new CBA. Papelbon cost the Phils their first-round pick, and the Reds did not have to give one up in order to sign Ryan Madson two months later.
The money turned out to be a massive overpay (even Francisco, blatantly overpaid, got only $12 million), and the team took a stupid shortcut rather than approach signing a closer systematically and through a process.
Deal: Erik Bedard signed for one year and got $4.5 million for it from the Pirates.
Scouting Report: Polished, controlled and yet explosive, Bedard dazzles opponents with a mix of fastball, curve and changeup. He's really never been bad, merely alternatively good and injured. He might not eclipse 100 innings, but if he does, he is a great buy. The Pirates are in perfect position to make a move like this one and were wise to take the risk with Bedard. If he doesn't pan out, no harm done. If he does, he will be either an attractive trade chip in July or an asset to a quasi-competitive team down the stretch.
San Diego Padres
Deal: The Cubs dealt Andrew Cashner to the Padres for Anthony Rizzo and minor league arm Zach Cates. San Diego also got Kyung-Min Na.
Scouting Report: Cashner flashes a plus slider, but his fastball is basically the beginning and end of his asset list. He made one start last spring with Chicago before getting hurt and came back in the bullpen. He's likely to stay a while.
San Diego must think they can turn him into a starter again, or trading Anthony Rizzo for Cashner would make no sense. It's unlikely to play out in accordance with San Diego's wishes, though.
San Francisco Giants
Deal: The Giants signed Guillermo Mota for one year at $1 million.
Scouting Report: Mota throws two kinds of fastball, a slider and a changeup. The interesting and enticing thing about him is that he throws them so similarly. His arm action and the velocity of the four- and two-seam fastballs he throws are virtually identical; so are those of his slider and change. He's not a dominant force as he nears 40, but he's certainly a useful bullpen piece for a small investment.
Deal: As part of the Pineda-Montero trade, the Mariners got Yankees right-hander Hector Noesi.
Scouting Report: Noesi has great command, but not spectacular stuff. His fastball sits around 93 miles per hour, but he's not good at changing speeds slightly with it. His changeup and curve do not work yet, though his slider does. He also works up in the zone a lot, though that's not as likely to spell trouble now that he calls Safeco Field home.
In order to get help offensively in the person of baseball's most polished pure hitting prospect, the Mariners also traded some long-term ceiling (in the person of Jose Campos) for Noesi's short-term solidity.
St. Louis Cardinals
Deal: J.C. Romero came to the Cardinals on a one-year, $750,000 deal.
Scouting Report: Romero's velocity is down, and his slider and curve no longer break as sharply. He's well past his prime. He's not the solution to anything. He can still get some lefties out, but those breaking balls are not remotely what they once were.
The Cardinals, though, feeling very good after winning the World Series in 2011, didn't feel it urgent to address their pitching staff. Romero and Scott Linebrink were all the reinforcements that John Mozeliak felt he needed.
Tampa Bay Rays
Deal: Tampa Bay got Josh Lueke from the Mariners in exchange for catcher John Jaso.
Scouting Report: Lueke throws hard, often in the 93-95 range. He also has a potentially useful bender and throws a splitter that keeps left-handed batters at bay. He's not a bad pitcher, though he isn't necessarily a good one either. He's also a major makeup question mark for a clubhouse that values its atmosphere.
Deal: After paying a posting fee of over $52 million, the Rangers signed Yu Darvish for another $60 million.
Scouting Report: Big, strong and armed with a very American delivery, Darvish is not at all to be compared with predecessors as Japanese phenoms. He throws in the mid-90s, pitches inside more often than previous imported hurlers and has good control. He next needs to demonstrate a willingness to tinker with his arsenal and find the best breaking ball for Stateside success. He's risky, but could be an ace.
Toronto Blue Jays
Deal: As mentioned earlier, the Blue Jays dealt Nestor Molina to the White Sox for Sergio Santos.
Scouting Report: Joe Sheehan summed the deal up neatly just after the trade, noting that he suspected Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos traded not so much for Santos as for "a slider and a contract." That's what Santos offers. He will make under $9 million for the next three years of service, then the Jays get three consecutive team options on him.
His slider, by the way, really is nasty. He struck out over 35 percent of batters faced last season using it. He also happens to throw 97 miles per hour.
Deal: Gio Gonzalez landed with the Nationals, and the A's got Derek Norris, A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock and Tom Milone in return.
Scouting Report: Walks will always be a problem for Gonzalez; he lacks command. He also has but three pitches, really, which is a problem. His curve needs to be good for him to be good, and when it's loopy or outside his control, he's going to get hit and walk a lot of opponents. At the same time, he has swing-and-miss stuff when he is on target.
As a lefty, he has added value against the Phillies (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley) and Braves (Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman). The Nats gave up a lot, though.