MLB Free Agency

Ranking the 10 Biggest Starting Pitching Comeback Candidates in MLB FA Market

Josh SchochAnalyst IIINovember 5, 2013

Ranking the 10 Biggest Starting Pitching Comeback Candidates in MLB FA Market

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Every year there are players on the MLB free agency market that qualify as comeback players, and many of them are starting pitchers.

    This year is no different, as the offseason brings with it 10 pitchers who need big bounce-back seasons.

    Whether their comeback is needed because of injuries, poor performance or a leave from the game, these guys need a good 2014 season to get their careers back on track.

    Let's take a look at the 10 biggest comeback players among starting pitchers this offseason.

    *Note: Players are ordered with the biggest risk at No. 10 and the smallest risk being No. 1.

10. Johan Santana

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    2013 Team: New York Mets

    2013 Salary: $25.5 million

    2013 Stats: N/A

     

    Why He's a Risk

    Remember him? You might not.

    Johan Santana has pitched a grand total of 21 times since 2010. That's right, he's made an average of seven starts over the past three seasons, as opposed to the 34 he made in each of his Cy Young seasons.

    Santana will be 35 years old by the time the 2014 season rolls around, and he won't have pitched in MLB in roughly 20 months.

    Despite the fact that he was once one of the most dominant pitchers in the game, Santana will be a wild card when he comes back. We don't know if he'll be able to pick things up where he left off or if he'll completely fall apart.

    At this point, signing Santana will take a huge leap of faith.

     

    Why He Might Be Worth It

    Just as not knowing what to expect from him makes him a risk, Santana could also be worth the risk because we don't know what to expect from him.

    At this point, Santana is as cheap as he's ever going to be. If he's going to come back, he'll only be getting one or two offers from teams.

    That means that teams will be able to sign Santana for as low a price as they can possibly offer with the hope that he becomes a suitable starting pitcher.

9. Joe Saunders

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    Duane Burleson/Getty Images

    2013 Team: Seattle Mariners

    2013 Salary: $6.5 million

    2013 Stats: 32 GS, 11-16, 5.26 ERA, 1.60 WHIP

     

    Why He's a Risk

    Joe Saunders had a rough year in Seattle, posting an ERA over 5.00 for the first time in his career.

    He has been getting progressively worse since 2011, culminating in an embarrassing 2013 season.

    While he might not have had injury concerns and will only be turning 33 this year, Saunders' spontaneous combustion is troubling, as there is no reasonable explanation as to why he has been struggling except for undergoing a natural decline.

    This could be the most worrisome risk of any on this list, as there isn't a quick fix for natural decline.

     

    Why He Might Be Worth It

    The same reason that has Saunders has a risk could be the reason why he is worth the risk.

    Because Saunders isn't dealing with injuries, he might just need a change of scenery to get back to his old ways.

    Saunders has never been a star, and he probably never will be. However, it's still possible that he comes back as a solid starter if he signs with a team in a pitcher-friendly park.

8. Roy Halladay

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    Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

    2013 Team: Roy Halladay

    2013 Salary: $20 million

    2013 Stats: 13 GS, 4-5, 6.82 ERA, 1.47 WHIP

     

    Why He's a Risk

    Father Time has finally caught up with Roy Halladay, and the 36-year-old has been slowing down over the past few seasons.

    After winning the NL Cy Young Award in 2010 and finishing second in 2011, Halladay has begun to struggle. He posted an ERA below 3.00 in four consecutive seasons before 2012, when his ERA swelled to 4.99. He made just 25 starts that season and was ineffective when he was on the mound.

    Halladay's followed that up with a 2013 season that couldn't have been much worse. His numbers were terrible, and he dealt with injuries all seasons long.

    After undergoing shoulder surgery in May, Halladay attempted to come back but struggled. His season was cut short as his last start lasted just three batters due to "arm fatigue."

    Halladay is wearing down, and his days as an ace could very well be behind him.

     

    Why He Might Be Worth It

    It's possible that Halladay's struggles have all been due to his injury struggles.

    Despite the fact that his performance has been subpar when he is actually pitching, Halladay could possibly return as a solid starter with an ERA around 3.50 when he is 100 percent.

    Halladay is also going to be a very cheap option if a team is willing to take a chance on him.

    It's too much to ask for him to come back and be an ace again, but he could be a solid pitcher for the right price.

7. Mike Pelfrey

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    Brian Kersey/Getty Images

    2013 Team: Minnesota Twins

    2013 Salary: $4 million

    2013 Stats: 29 GS, 5-13, 5.19 ERA, 1.55 WHIP

     

    Why He's a Risk

    Mike Pelfrey was a solid pitcher, but he looked like an ace in his first three starts of the 2012 season. However, his campaign was cut short after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April.

    Pelfrey then tried to come back with the Minnesota Twins this year, but he struggled mightily. He posted the worst ERA of his career in a season in which he made at least 15 starts.

    After struggling so much after his Tommy John surgery, Pelfrey has become an unreliable asset.

    At this point it's unclear whether or not he'll ever bounce back from this devastating surgery, and signing him requires a leap of faith.

     

    Why He Might Be Worth It

    It's possible that Pelfrey only had one bad year after his Tommy John surgery.

    Despite the fact that he had a bad year after his surgery, Pelfrey might simply have had a hard time adjusting to the powerful AL bats he was facing.

    Signing with an NL team would likely help him, as the offenses in the NL are less explosive. He could also finally be 100 percent after his surgery, and signing him when his value is so low could be a smart move for an NL team.

6. Josh Johnson

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    Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

    2013 Team: Toronto Blue Jays

    2013 Salary: $13.75 million

    2013 Stats: 16 GS, 2-8, 6.20 ERA, 1.66 WHIP

     

    Why He's a Risk

    Josh Johnson was once one of the best pitchers in the game, but he's been declining over the past two seasons.

    After dominating in 2011, Johnson's season was cut short by injury and he failed to come back as strong as he was. He struggled a bit with the Miami Marlins in 2012 before completely falling apart in 2013.

    YearTeamGSW-LERAWHIP
    2011MIA93-11.640.98
    2012MIA318-143.811.28
    2013TOR162-86.201.66

    The Blue Jays lost 12 of Johnson's 16 starts this year, and his production when he was actually on the mound was terrible.

    Johnson has also been dealing with injury troubles since 2011. He was on the DL for an extended amount of time in 2011 with a shoulder injury, and his season was over after his start on May 16. This year was even worse for him, as he missed the entire month of May and his season was over on Aug. 6.

    Signing Johnson at this point is signing damaged goods. It's unclear whether or not he'll come back and be anything close to the pitcher he was in 2010 (2.30 ERA), but it appears to be unlikely.

     

    Why He Might Be Worth It

    Despite all the things that have gone wrong for Johnson in the past three years, there's still the chance that he can return to form over the next couple of years.

    Johnson will have had roughly eight months to rest and recover. That's enough time for him to get things back on track, and it's possible that he returns to form relatively soon.

    His struggles were also exacerbated by his move to the AL. Johnson was much better in the NL, which is much less offensively-oriented than the AL (eight of the top nine offenses in MLB were AL teams). Perhaps if Johnson returns to the NL in a pitcher-friendly park, he could become a middle-of-the-rotation starter.

    Johnson is also going to be very cheap to sign this offseason. He's high-risk, high-reward, and it could certainly be worth a few million dollars to take a chance on him.

5. Jason Hammel

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    2013 Team: Baltimore Orioles

    2013 Salary: $6.75 million

    2013 Stats: 23 GS, 7-8, 4.97 ERA, 1.46 WHIP

     

    Why He's a Risk

    Jason Hammel dealt with several minor injuries throughout the season, making just 23 starts over the course of the season, and being relegated to the bullpen for three appearances.

    The problem with Hammel is not that he suffered one lasting injury, but that he is injury-prone enough to sustain multiple injuries that hamper his performance throughout the year.

    Hammel's inability to stay healthy and make quality starts because of it is troublesome because he could deal with these problems for the rest of his career.

     

    Why He Might Be Worth It

    There is always the chance that Hammel's injury problems and disappointing seasons in Baltimore could be behind him.

    While it's true that these problems have plagued him for the last several years, Hammel could still come back at the age of 31 and put together a healthy season.

    If he avoids injury for a year, Hammel could still be a solid pitcher for the team that signs him.

4. Gavin Floyd

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    Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Team: Chicago White Sox

    2013 Salary: $9.5 million

    2013 Stats: 16 GS, 2-8, 6.20 ERA, 1.66 WHIP

     

    Why He's a Risk

    You can count all of Gavin Floyd's starts this season on one hand. That alone makes him a huge risk.

    Floyd pitched through the month of April before undergoing season-ending surgery on his right elbow. He missed the final six months of the regular season and won't have pitched for 11 months before the 2014 season starts.

    Floyd was also highly ineffective during the five starts he made, as the White Sox lost all five games he pitched in. He also posted a record of 0-4.

    After failing to consistently retire batters in the few starts he made, Floyd's value is at an all-time low.

     

    Why He Might Be Worth It

    Before he got hurt, Floyd was one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball, posting an ERA between 4.06 and 4.37 in four consecutive seasons from 2009 to 2012.

    While he is coming off a very serious injury, Floyd can be a middle-of-the-rotation guy if he gets back to 100 percent next year, but he'll be paid like a No. 5 starter.

    The question of whether or not Floyd can get back to his old ways as he enters his thirties remains, but it's possible that he can become a solid starter for a very cheap contract.

3. Ryan Vogelsong

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    2013 Team: San Francisco Giants

    2013 Salary: $5 million

    2013 Stats: 19 GS, 4-6, 5.73 ERA, 1.56 WHIP

     

    Why He's a Risk

    After a putrid 2013 season, the San Francisco Giants declined Ryan Vogelsong's 2013 option worth $6.5 million.

    While it's still possible that he re-signs with the Giants, Vogelsong won't be getting $6.5 million because of his poor performance. According to the Associated Press (via ESPN), the Giants declined his option.

    Vogelsong also dealt with injuries all year, as documented by the Associated Press:

    He broke two bones in the right pinkie area of his pitching hand and also dislocated a knuckle on a swing May 20 and underwent surgery the next day. He had five pins inserted in his hand during the procedure at Stanford, performed by orthopedist Dr. Tim McAdams.

    Vogelsong had two very solid seasons after returning from a four-year hiatus, but 2013 was not kind to the 2011 All-Star.

    At will turn 37 in the middle of the 2014 season, and his combination of age and lackluster performance has Vogelsong as a risky free agent this offseason.

     

    Why He Might Be Worth It

    Vogelsong had a down year at the age of 36, but after having his option declined, he will be making less money than originally expected.

    Because his financial demands will have gone down after his 2013 season, he might end up being worth the contract he signs.

    While Vogelsong's injury problems this season must be taken into account, he could easily be worth his contract.

2. Shaun Marcum

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    Tom Lynn/Getty Images

    2013 Team: New York Mets

    2013 Salary: $4 million

    2013 Stats: 12 GS, 1-10, 5.29 ERA, 1.35 WHIP

     

    Why He's a Risk

    Shaun Marcum is coming off the worst statistical year of his eight-year career. He had career-worsts in ERA, winning percentage and more, and he was simply ineffective.

    Marcum was also dealing with injuries throughout the year, causing him to start a mere 12 games.

    After not making his season debut until April 27, Marcum required season-ending surgery in early July, with his last start coming on July 6.

    Marcum has been dealing with miscellaneous injuries for the past two years, and his health has become a serious concern.

     

    Why He Might Be Worth It

    Marcum was once a solid No. 2 pitcher in a starting rotation, and it wouldn't be out of the question for him to come back and return to form at age 32.

    While Marcum's season-ending injury is a serious concern, he still has at least a few more years left in his career, and it's certainly possible for him to bounce back over the course of the next two or three years.

    While it's a bigger risk to sign him to a multi-year contract, Marcum's value could certainly rise over that time period.

1. Phil Hughes

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    2013 Team: New York Yankees

    2013 Salary: $7.15 million

    2013 Stats: 29 GS, 4-14, 5.19 ERA, 1.46 WHIP

     

    Why He's a Risk

    Phil Hughes looked like an ace in 2009 and won 18 games in 2010, but since then he's struggled mightily.

    Since 2011, Hughes' three ERAs have been 5.79, 4.23 and 5.19, respectively. He has been getting shelled, including giving up 59 home runs over the past two seasons.

    The biggest issue with Hughes is that his performance has been inconsistent at best. There have been times when he just looks lost on the mound, as seen when he gave up seven earned runs in 0.2 innings against the Seattle Mariners.

    Hughes hasn't shown the ability to be a solid starter over the past few seasons, and signing him would be asking him to finally put it all together.

     

    Why He Might Be Worth It

    The biggest issue with Hughes has been the fact that he has surrendered so many home runs.

    A big part of his problem is that he pitches in Yankee Stadium half the time, which has become more of a launching pad than a ballpark over the last few years.

    Yankee Stadium had the most home runs of any ballpark in 2012 and is a very hitter-friendly park. If Hughes were to pitch in a pitcher-friendly park against NL hitters, he could potentially be the ace that he was in 2009 once again.

    If a team like the San Francisco Giants could sign him to a short-term deal and spend minimal money, he could easily turn out to be the steal of the 2013 free-agent class.

     

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