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Toronto Blue Jays: Which Top Free-Agent Starters Fit Best with Jays?

Pete McCarthyContributor IIINovember 5, 2012

Toronto Blue Jays: Which Top Free-Agent Starters Fit Best with Jays?

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    The general manager meetings begin Wednesday in Newport Beach, Calif. If last year is any indication, the free-agent signings will begin shortly thereafter. Big names such as Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and C.J. Wilson were all signed by the last day of last year's meetings in Dallas.

    With the Blue Jays linked to every starting pitcher from A to Z—Anibal to Zack—it shouldn't be long before fans find out if this is the season Alex Anthopoulos pulls the trigger on significant free-agent spending.

    While Zack Greinke is the superstar on the market, there are a number of good—and possibly great—pitchers available.

    With no shortage of teams looking for rotation help, the top starters can all expect to sign lucrative contracts. How long and how lucrative, and whether the Jays will be involved with any of them, remains to be seen. A look at the present situations of these pitchers gives an indication as to how interested Anthopoulos will be and whether that interest will result in an agreement. 

1. Zack Greinke

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    • Age: 29
    • Nine MLB seasons
    • Former teams: Royals, Brewers, Angels
    • 1 Cy Young Award (2009)
    • Career Stats: 91-78; 3.77 ERA; 1492.0 IP; 1.247 WHIP; 8.0 K/9
    • 2012 (MIL/ANA): 15-5; 3.48 ERA; 212 IP; 1.196 WHIP; 7.9 K/9

    Coming off another excellent year split between the Brewers and Angels, Greinke will be looking to cash in big.

    How big?

    Well, consider that he turned down an extension with the Brewers reportedly in the area of five years and $112.5 million. He will become one of the game's highest-paid players. The only question is if he will "settle" for a Cliff Lee-like five years at $120 million or if he'll try to match Sabathia's seven years at $161 million.

    With the deep-pocketed Angels hoping to retain his arm, and the deep-pocketed Dodgers supposedly trying to pry him away, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if Greinke became the top-earning hurler in the league.

    Some have speculated that his history of anxiety issues will be a factor in negotiations, but his success under the microscope in Milwaukee and Anaheim's recent postseason races should put those concerns to rest.

    While Yardbarker's Jon Morosi vaguely linked the Jays to Greinke, the idea that Anthopoulos and Rogers Communications will seriously attempt to outspend the two California power-wallets seems absurd.    

    Prediction: split the difference—six years/$145 million

2. Kyle Lohse

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    • Age: 34
    • Fourteen MLB seasons
    • Former Teams: Twins, Phillies, Reds, Cardinals
    • Career Stats: 118-109; 4.45 ERA; 1973.0 IP; 1.369 WHIP; 5.6 K/9
    • 2012 (STL): 16-3; 2.86 ERA; 211 IP; 1.090 WHIP; 6.1 K/9

    Having a career season in a walk year usually works out pretty well for a player, and Lohse's career year was a fantastic one. His 2011 was excellent as well, but injury-plagued years in '09 and '10 might diminish the value of the 34-year-old.

    He'll still get paid, but the length of the contract might be an issue. That said, he was the anchor of a Cardinals rotation that had its share of setbacks but still managed to make the postseason, and his efforts toward that end won't be overlooked by GMs looking to add a front-of-the-rotation starter without having to commit long-term.

    Whether he can be added for three years will be the question. Will some desperate GM add a fourth (or even fifth) in the hopes that a player with some worrying injury history can remain effective until age 38? Boras' Law: If a GM can be suckered into adding additional years, he'll ensure they will.

    Lohse would actually be a pretty good pickup by the Jays on the right contract. He is a good veteran pitcher who has World Series experience and the ring to prove it. If healthy, he would provide stability on a young Jays rotation and, ideally, be on his way out as prospects are ready to step in.

    Two things are in the way of this happening: Lohse is likely to get a longer contract than Anthopoulos would be comfortable with (two to three years), and Lohse is represented by Scott Boras. The Jays do not have any Boras clients on the roster, and Paul Beeston has expressed his dislike/admiration of the super-agent in the past. The Jays will probably have to deal with Boras again in the future, but it's probably not going to involve Lohse.

    Prediction: Four years/$55 million (Maybe more if Boras convinces a team that Lohse can triple the U.S. GDP; don't put it past him.)   

3. Anibal Sanchez

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    • Age: 28
    • Seven MLB seasons
    • Former teams: Marlins, Tigers
    • Career stats: 48-51; 3.75 ERA; 869.0 IP; 1.346 WHIP; 7.6 K/9
    • 2012 (MIA/DET): 9-13; 3.86 ERA; 195.2 IP; 1.267 WHIP; 7.7 K/9

    Paradoxically, 2012 was a slight regression stat-wise for Sanchez, and yet he is likely higher on baseball's most coveted list than ever before—largely thanks to his contributions to Detroit's World Series run following a July trade from the Marlins.  

    He will be pursued by every team that has hopes of signing a hard-throwing pitcher with a history of success who is also very much in his prime...he'll be pursued by virtually every team is the simpler way of saying it. Or, at least every team that wants to compete with Detroit for his services, as they are intent on bringing him back.

    As the youngest of the top starting pitchers, and with demonstrated talent, he is likely to receive a deal in the 5+ range in length. How much is interesting to speculate on: with WARs of 2.9, 3.5, and 2.6 in his last three years respectively, it's not hard to imagine a team willing to go 6 years and $90M - especially with multiple teams in the bidding, as is expected.

    If there is one player that the Jays might open the vault on, it's Anibal Sanchez. His track record, his youth, his relative health (Tommy John in 2003/torn labrum surgery in 2007), and his ability all make him an appealing target. Still, Detroit, backed by Mike Ilitch's billions, have shown that they'll pay for what they want - as evidenced by Prince Fielder - and it will be hard to stare them down.

    Prediction: 5 or 6 years at $15M per

#4 Edwin Jackson

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    • Age: 29
    • Ten MLB Seasons
    • Former Teams: Dodgers, Devil Rays (and Rays), Tigers, Diamondbacks, White Sox, Cardinals, and Nationals
    • Career Stats: 70-71; 4.40 ERA; 1268.2 IP; 1.438 WHIP; 6.9 K/9
    • 2012 (WSN): 10-11; 4.03 ERA; 189.2 IP; 1.218 WHIP; 8.0 K/9

    Edwin Jackson is back on the market after his one year "pillow contract" with the Washington Nationals. What more does the league know about Jackson? Not much really. He has, over the last five years, become a fairly consistent pitcher over the length of a season. He'll provide about 200 IP, 150-180 Ks, an ERA likely in the high 3's to low 4's, and a slightly higher or lower than average WHIP. He has proven to be a very durable, decent pitcher - if unspectacular.

    He still mixes in the occasional meltdown with the occasional gem but, for the most part, has become a dependable mid-rotation pitcher. A number of teams wishing to strengthen the rotation without breaking the bank will kick the tires. The Orioles, Brewers, Red Sox, Angels, and others will take a long look at E-Jax.

    The team most willing to give him a longish-term deal, say four years, will likely land him; a limited no-trade clause would likely be welcome given the amount of packing he's had to do over the years. The money will be interesting - Jackson has been useful but has only one season, 2009 (3.9 WAR), in which he has been worth substantially over 2.0 WAR, otherwise he's hovered around that mark since 2008. He might be the rare player who is being paid almost exactly what he's worth. Does a 4 year $44-50M get the job done?

    The Jays have been connected to Jackson, reportedly sending 9(!) scouts to watch his last few starts. Of course, sending that many scouts might indicate a deep divide in opinion amongst the scouting staff. Edwin Jackson has expressed his desire to return to the Nationals, but they have declined to extend him a qualifying offer. That doesn't mean it won't happen, but the door is obviously open for his departure. Doesn't seem to be any reason the Jays couldn't get him if they really wanted to.  

    Prediction: 4 years/$48M

#5 Brandon McCarthy

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    • Age: 29
    • Seven MLB seasons
    • Former Teams: White Sox, Rangers, Athletics
    • Career Stats: 37-39; 4.02 ERA; 654.1 IP; 1.284 WHIP; 6.1 K/9
    • 2012 (OAK): 8-6; 3.24 ERA; 111.0 IP; 1.252 IP; 5.9 K/9

    Brandon McCarthy has evolved into a premier groundball pitcher with his nasty cutter. He has posted consecutive sub-3.50 ERA seasons with the A's and was their opening day 2012 starter. Unfortunately, he still is a magnet for injury, the last being his frightening - and life-threatening - comebacker to the head that cut his excellent 2012 season short. Hopefully there are no lingering issues with that injury, but the long list of arm and elbow issues that limited him to a high of 101.2 IP in his four years with the rangers will scare off a number of potential suitors.

    Gauging the market for McCarthy is incredibly difficult as he clearly has excellent groundball stuff but has been unable to stay healthy for a full 30 games. The A's declined to tender him a qualifying offer, but have not ruled out a return - their indecisiveness is understandable. However, it's almost certain that some GM will look past the injury history and roll the dice, so the A's better decide quickly if they want to retain the services of this talented but fragile player.

    McCarthy is still recovering from his freak injury, so a long-term deal is probably out of the question; but a team might be willing to offer two years plus a vesting option for IP at around $10M per. Another thing to consider is that he is totally un-insurable, so whoever signs him will be taking all the risk.

    Given the Jays recent experience with injuries, it's hard to see AA taking a flyer on a player with his history. There is a ton of upside with McCarthy though, the team that lands him is probably going to either win or lose big.        

    Prediction: 2 years/$20M

#6 Hiroki Kuroda

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    • Age: 37
    • Five MLB Seasons
    • Former Teams: Dodgers, Yankees
    • Career Stats: 57-57; 3.42 ERA; 918.2 IP; 1.182 WHIP; 6.8 K/9
    • 2012 (NYY): 16-11; 3.32 ERA; 219.2 IP; 1.165 WHIP; 6.8 K/9

    When Hiroki Kuroda signed with the Yankees last offseason, there was an expectation that he would find the transition from the NL West to the AL East difficult, to say the least. He did not. In fact, he was even more valuable to the Yankees than CC Sabathia in 2012. He continued to do exactly what he did for the Dodgers: put up great ERA and WHIP numbers and pitch a lot of innings. He continued his terrific pitching in the playoffs. 

    Well, his one year contract is up and he is another year older. He has often expressed a desire to return to Japan to finish out his career, but the way he is going that could be sometime in his 50's. In any event the Yankees need him, he seemed to enjoy his time in the Bronx, so there should be no reason why a deal won't be reached.

    If the Yankees do let Kuroda depart it'll be a clear signal that they are extremely serious about cutting payroll, to the detriment of their chances of returning to the playoffs. I don't see Yankee fans putting up with that. I would guess that he gets another one year contract in the $15M neighbourhood - if he wanted it, he could probably get a player option tagged on.

    If he were to hit the open market, it seems likely that he would sign a one year contract somewhere that is very likely to contend for a playoff spot in 2013, probably disqualifying the Jays. Too bad as he is a pitcher that has proven he can dominate in the East, and those are few and far between.

    Prediction: 1 year/15M (almost certainly with the Yankees)

#7 Shaun Marcum

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    • Age: 30
    • Seven MLB Seasons
    • Former Teams: Blue Jays, Brewers
    • Career Stats: 57-36; 3.76 ERA; 916.2 IP; 1.266 WHIP; 7.9 K/9
    • 2012 (MIL): 7-4; 3.70 ERA; 124 IP; 1.224 WHIP; 7.3 K/9

    All things considered Shaun Marcum is not getting a lot of love this offseason; Milwaukee non-tendered him and the major sports sites barely mention the talented but oft-injured 30 year old. When healthy he has put up great numbers across the board, but often deals with arm fatigue that limits his innings - a low of 124 IP since missing all of 2009 recovering from Tommy John.

    His horrendous 2011 post-season (14.90 ERA over 9.2 IP in three games) likely made the decision to part ways with Marcum easier. Nonetheless, the decision to non-tender is somewhat surprising considering how effective he can be with his extensive repertoire of pitches. One can only assume that his tendency to fade late in the campaign made him expendable to a team that gave up its top prospect (Brett Lawrie) in a swap with the Jays.

    Marcum will be looking to rebuild his value with the next contract, and could be a bargain if he has recovered as he claims. The problem is that, given his proclivity for using hard breaking pitches, the soreness and injuries are likely to reoccur in the future. The question then is: is he worth the extended trips to the DL that seem to be inherent in his makeup? With the right contract, yes. In his 124 IP in 2012, he was still worth 1.3 WAR; in 150 IP with Toronto in 2008 he was worth 2.7 WAR. At about $10M per year he may give you your money's worth with only 150 IP.

    The former Blue Jay was popular in Toronto and was the opening day pitcher in 2010. He was gracious when traded and he recently expressed his fondness for Toronto and willingness to return. If AA were to reach an agreement with Marcum, it would be received well by the fans. Can he put together 150+ innings with consistency though? Management's opinion on that will likely be the deciding factor on whether Marcum is back in blue come 2013. 

    Prediction: 3 year/$33M        

Ryan Dempster

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    • Age: 35
    • Fifteen MLB Seasons
    • Former Teams: Marlins, Reds, Cubs, Rangers
    • Career Stats: 124-124; 4.33 ERA; 2215.2 IP; 1.430 WHIP; 7.8 K/9
    • 2012 (Cubs/Rangers): 12-8; 3.38 ERA; 173 IP; 1.197 WHIP; 8.0 K/9

    Ryan Dempster was right to be reluctant to accept a trade at the deadline; the trade to Texas was an unmitigated disaster. After putting up stellar numbers during the first 100 IP of the season (2.25 ERA, 1.038 WHIP), he imploded after the Rangers acquired him to help their playoff run (5.09 ERA, 1.435 WHIP). He did post a record of 7-3 for the club, thanks to run support of 6.0. Any way you slice it though, the trade hurt Dempster's chances of cashing in this offseason.

    Incredibly, at age 35, he was putting up the best numbers of his career for the Cubs and making his terrible 2011 seem like an anomaly. Now, who knows what they're getting with Dempster. The park factor and opposition surely had a good deal to do with the collapse, but to what extent, and does that preclude American league or hitter-friendly-park teams from signing him? One would assume that they'll approach the fifteen year veteran with a healthy dose of skepticism despite his many years of being a very good pitcher.

    A return to the Cubs, or a move to a place like Petco or PNC park might be his best option. In any event it'll likely be for a lot less than he could have expected in June. A significant decrease in salary seems almost definite

    With any Canadian player there is a desire to "bring them home," but with Dempster's second half woes and difficulties in the AL - not to mention the Rogers' Centers relative hitter-friendliness - the Jays will likely avoid this aging canuck.

    Prediction: 1-year, $8M with vesting team option.

Dan Haren

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    • Age: 32
    • Ten MLB Seasons
    • Former Teams: Cardinals, Athletics, Diamondbacks, Angels
    • Career Stats: 119-97; 3.66 ERA; 1876.2 IP; 1.181 WHIP; 7.6 K/9
    • 2012 (ANA): 12-13; 4.33 ERA; 176.2 IP; 1.291 WHIP; 7.2 K/9

    Maybe the biggest buzz over the last week has been the aborted trade between the Cubs and Angels, with the Cubs set to receive Dan Haren in exchange for Carlos Marmol. On the face of it, it seemed like absolute robbery for the Cubbies - yet, according to the rumor mill they are the ones who ultimately backed away from the deal.

    Why would the Cubs, at the end of their tether with the erratic Marmol and on the hook for 2013 to the tune of $9.8M for him, relinquish the opportunity to swap for Haren? a $15.5M workhouse who, prior to 2012, had compiled 7 straight seasons of 200+ IP, and good ones at that. Furthermore, why didn't any other club feel that this was a pitcher worth taking a chance on? Especially as it seemed that Anaheim was willing to take salary on rather than pay a $3.5M buyout, which they ended up doing.

    As the deal with the Cubs seemed to be in place and medical records are one of the last formalities, the popular opinion is that something is very concerning about Haren's health charts. In any event, the lack of interest in a 32 year old with Haren's career line is shocking considering the number of teams that are usually more than willing to take a risk on a rebound season. 

    The guess at this point is that Haren will have to take a dramatic pay cut in order to reestablish value and reassure teams that his issues - whatever they are - aren't as serious as assumed.

    It is impossible to know what the level of interest from the Jays - or anybody else - would be without knowing more about the medical info.

    Prediction: 1 year 7M? Who knows?

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