Boston Red Sox: Under-the-Radar Free-Agent Pitching Options

Jonathan CullenSenior Writer INovember 4, 2012

Boston Red Sox: Under-the-Radar Free-Agent Pitching Options

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    Looking ahead to this free-agency period, here are some free agents and non-tender candidates who might fit the Boston Red Sox' odd mix of rebuilding/contending mode in 2013.

    Not every free agent signed during this period by the Boston Red Sox is going to be of the big-name, household variety.

    Hopefully, some of the names on this list might have you dig a little deeper to find out more about them. Many of the players listed here would be depth signings for the Red Sox—players added to the mix, but not immediately depended upon to produce results.

    Most of these players are coming off of an injury or have an injury history.

    Oh, and you'll be seeing the phrase "Tommy John surgery" quite a bit during this slideshow.

    I am of the mindset that the Red Sox can compete for a playoff spot in 2013 without hurting the club over the long term. Long-term pitcher contracts will be avoided in lieu of shorter value contracts in order to rebuild Boston's major league roster.

    Here is a list of eight pitchers who would make sense for Boston for the upcoming season. Of the group listed, I would expect the Red Sox to sign maybe one or two of these pitchers, max.

    If I had my choice of the group listed, I'd would be most interested in Scott Baker and Brian Wilson.

    All the statistics used in this slideshow are from Baseball Reference.

Dallas Braden

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    The Oakland A's cut ties with Dallas Braden at the end of this past October. He would be someone who the Red Sox could use to support their starting rotation.

    The 29-year-old Braden has pitched effectively when he has been healthy, but unfortunately his health has been an ongoing issue for him. Coming off of a shoulder injury, Braden won't be fully healthy until the middle of next season.

    Braden is generally going to pitch to contact, as his career WHIP of 1.325 will attest to, but he doesn't walk a lot of batters; so, he is going to make the other team beat him with their bats.

    The biggest challenge facing the Red Sox with Braden is opportunity.

    A team like the Kansas City Royals needs to desperately add to their starting rotation and can potentially offer Braden a chance to start and to have a rotation spot guaranteed once he is healthy.

    The Red Sox can preach to Braden that more than five starting pitchers will be needed this season and Boston would be a high-profile spotlight situation for him to regain his market value. He can rehab in the minors and make sure that he is ready come August.

    Braden has the least amount of "stuff" on this list, he is not going to light up a radar gun or blow hitters away. What he will give you is a fighter on the mound, someone who isn't going to be intimidated facing the AL East teams and will neutralize the division's left-handed power.

Carlos Villanueva

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    Carlos Villanueva pitched for new Red Sox manager John Farrell the past two seasons in Toronto. Villanueva more than held his own in the AL East, pitching the past two seasons to a combined 4.11 ERA with the Blue Jays.

    With the injury history of the Red Sox' current starting rotation, having a spot starter like Villanueva available could be the key to contention in 2013.

    It is highly unlikely that the Red Sox will get 150 starts out of their starting five, meaning they will need to have someone like Villanueva in the bullpen to absorb those innings and spot starts while giving the next wave of Red Sox minor league starters time to develop.

    Villanueva's solid WHIP of 1.265 and high strikeout to walk ratio of 2.44 means he will be a weapon to have on a pitching staff in a multitude of roles—especially if the Red Sox plan on parting company with Alfredo Aceves.

    The 28-year-old Villanueva may only need a one-year commitment, but he may also be looking for an opportunity to start for second-tier team in the majors.

Scott Baker

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    This article from Jon Paul Morosi lists the Boston Red Sox as one of Baker's potential suitors.

    Scott Baker has been a quality major league pitcher since reaching the big leagues at the age of 23. The only reason that Baker would be an under-the-radar option is due to his recovery from Tommy John surgery, which kept him out for the entire 2012 season.

    The 31-year-old Baker has a career record of 63-48 with an ERA of 4.15. His peripheral numbers make him very appealing. His career WHIP of 1.264 and his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.44 would give him every opportunity to be successful pitching at Fenway park.

    If you don't walk hitters at Fenway, you have a chance to succeed. Solo home runs aren't going to beat you.

    If the Red Sox are unable to match up with the bigger names on the market like Dan Haren, Anibal Sanchez, Hiroki Kuroda, Edwin Jackson and Kyle Lohse, Baker could give Boston similar production for 50 percent of the cost.

    Baker will be an interesting guy to watch as his market develops. I know there would be some reluctance to having both Baker and John Lackey recovering from injury penciled into the Boston rotation, but Baker has been a very good major league pitcher and Tommy John surgery is a procedure that almost all pitchers recover from.

Jair Jurrjens

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    Jair Jurrjens has been a complete enigma since bursting onto the national scene with the Atlanta Braves in 2009 with a 14-10 record and 2.60 ERA. That was his second season in the Braves rotation, coming off of an impressive freshman campaign where he went 13-10 as a 22-year-old pitcher.

    Since then, Jurrjens has struggled to regain the form that had gained everyone's attention.

    He has alternated great season with poor seasons, pitching well in 2009 and 2011 and struggling in 2010 and 2012. MLBtraderumors.com has him listed as a potential non-tender candidate, meaning the Braves are unlikely to issue him a contract that would pay him above the $5.5 million he earned this past season.

    Jurrjens is a lottery ticket, plain and simple. Hit and he resembles the pitcher that he was with the Braves in 2009 or 2011—he'll slot right into the Red Sox rotation as a the third starter.

    Miss and he'll likely make the Fenway faithful long for the good old days of Brad Penny and John Smoltz, other National League pitchers who didn't fare well with the Sox in their transition to the American League.

    The soon-to-be 27-year-old Jurrjens will be coming off a terrible 2012 season. If the Braves cut him loose, he would certainly be of interest if the Red Sox feel his struggles have been a mechanical issue and it is something they can fix.  

    Classic change-of-scenery guy.

5. Brian Wilson

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    The San Francisco Giants managed to win the World Series with Sergio Romo as their closer in 2012 after Brian Wilson went down with an injury in April.

    The 30-year-old New Hampshire native might be willing to come back East and take over as the Red Sox closer.

    It isn't that current closer Andrew Bailey was hurt most of last season and has a history of being hurt. It was more of a concern that when Bailey was healthy, he wasn't particularly effective (7.04 ERA) and his pitches seemed deadly straight.

    The Red Sox can't feel confident going into next season with Bailey as the closer and Daniel Bard being a mess in the bullpen. They would also probably like to avoid throwing Junichi Tazawa into the role so soon.

    That's where Wilson would factor in.

    Theatrics aside, Wilson has been a very good closer in the National League and will be recovering from Tommy John surgery this past April. Adding him to the bullpen makes a lot of sense short term and long term, especially if they have doubts about Bailey's stuff. 

    As far as the theatrics, the Red Sox are in some desperate need of characters in the clubhouse and on the field.

    The past two seasons, the Red Sox have fielded two of the least embraceable teams in my lifetime. Character and personality is a great thing to add to the clubhouse, especially if they can play.

    If the Giants decide not to offer Wilson a contract, feeling that they have in-house options to handle the role next season, Boston might be a perfect fit for "The Beard."

Mike Pelfrey

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    Mike Pelfrey might be non-tendered by the New York Mets due to injury, undergoing Tommy John surgery in May of 2012.

    The 28-year-old Pelfrey has given the Mets a ton of innings from 2008 through 2011, reaching or coming near the 200-inning mark during those four seasons.

    The Red Sox would obviously love to add someone to their rotation who could give the team 180-200 innings next season, removing a heavy burden from the bullpen.

    Pelfrey's career record is 50-54, admittedly a mark which comes as a result of playing on some poor Mets teams that have struggled under the financial pressures and problems of the current ownership group. It is unlikely the Mets will commit $7 or 8 million on the rehabbing Pelfrey next season.

    Among the cons of signing Pelfrey are: his high career WHIP of 1.458 and his very low strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.59, meaning that he will pitching to a lot of contact in the AL East.

    Pelfrey would be another buy-low option for the Red Sox that they could stash in the minors on a rehab assignment until June or so and then work him into the rotation mix.

Joakim Soria

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    Joakim Soria is an interesting name for the Red Sox if they are interested in bringing in someone to compete with and potentially replace Andrew Bailey.

    The Royals declined the 28-year-old Soria's $8 million option for 2013, making him a free agent this winter.

    Soria has been a model of consistency in Kansas City until undergoing Tommy John surgery in April of 2012. His career record is 13-15 with a 2.40 ERA and 160 saves with very impressive peripheral numbers of a 1.043 WHIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.92.

    You don't want your closer to walk people or give up hits to put guys on base. You want your closer to be able to strike guys out if needed, and Soria's 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings show he can do that.

    Soria might be ready at the start of the season or it might take until June or July for him to completely regain his form. He certainly would be a nice player for the Red Sox to add mid-season to augment their bullpen without having to trade anything.

Ryan Madson

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    Ryan Madson is looking to rebound from a lost 2012 season with the Cincinnati Reds after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April of 2012. Madson never threw a regular-season pitch for his new team after coming over from the Phillies.

    The 32-year-old Madson is a little bit older then current Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey, and previously suggested options Brian Wilson or Joakim Soria.

    The attraction with Madson is the he has had only one season where he was the main closer—2011 with Philadelphia. He had a successful season that he turned into his large free agent contract with the Reds.

    Asking him to come into a situation with little guarantee of being given the closer's job might be something he is open to.

    Madson has to rebuild his value and show that he is healthy. Adding him into a situation where he might be the closer, get some save chances or also be the primary setup reliever might be something that appeals to Madson for a year.

    Madson has pitched in a hitter-friendly environment—Citizens Bank Park—and is used to pitching in front of tough, demanding crowds.

    Madson's career numbers of 3.59 ERA, 1.294 WHIP and 2.86 strikeout-to-walk ratio all show that he has the ability to succeed in the American League.