The reports are starting to come in that star-pitcher, Cliff Lee, has decided to take fewer years and less money, to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies. In doing so, Lee has turned down the opportunity to rejoin the Texas Rangers, where he won the American League Pennant, as well as turning down the chance to join the New York Yankees.
For both the Rangers and the Yankees, Cliff Lee was the number one priority of the offseason; so now what do these two teams do?
Here's a look at 10 moves, both before and during the season, these teams could make to strengthen their pitching.
The first, and most obvious, option is to trade for the 2009 Cy Young winner - Zack Greinke. Greinke has pitched seven seasons for the Kansas City Royals all while keeping his ERA under 4 and his WHIP around 1.20.
In return for Greinke, the Royals are said to be asking for major league ready positions players, particularly players who play shortstop, secondbase, or centerfield.
Both the Yankees and the Rangers are light on these prospects, but the Yankees could center a trade around Brett Gardner, one of their top catching prospects, and top infield prospect Eduardo Nunez.
Likewise, the Rangers could build a trade around Julio Borbon, however their next best prospects, Jurickson Profar and Engel Beltre, are not major league ready.
If either team decides to make one of these trades they can then go and sign Scott Podsednik (to add an OF with speed) and also sign utility man Bill Hall to add depth to their bench.
The next best pitcher (in terms of dominating stuff), available via Free Agency, is pitcher Rich Harden. Harden, without question, has some nasty stuff that can make hitters look very foolish. The problem is that Harden has had a lot of trouble staying healthy.
The Rangers gambled on Harden last year and lost; although he pitched 20 games for them, Harden accumulated a 5.58 ERA with a 1.663 WHIP. However, with a career 9.1 K/9 ratio, he's a pitcher worth taking a chance on.
Another idea for Harden is to move him to the bullpen. Harden could be a dominant closer or set-up man and the limited innings he would see being in the bullpen could keep him healthy. A healthy Rich Harden could be considered one of the best pitchers in baseball - just look at his stats from 2008: 2.07 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and a 11.0 K/9,
Duchscherer is another solid arm that comes with some risk; he missed the entire 2009 season and pitched in only five games in 2010. Furthermore, Duchscherer has only pitched one real season as a started (back in 2008 when he made 22 starts).
Despite the risk, he may be worth it because of the numbers he puts up when he's on the mound. He has a career 3.13 ERA and a career WHIP of only 1.13. He's a contact pitcher so for a team like the Rangers, who have good defense, he could be a nice option.
All baseball fans know just how great Brandon Webb can be. He won the Cy Young Award in 2006 and placed second in the voting for the award in both 2007 and 2008. However, baseball fans also know that he too, like other pitchers featured on this list, has suffered from many injuries. In fact, Webb has pitched in only one game over the last two seasons.
Given Webb's history of injuries, the asking price for him shouldn't be too high, and, if he is even a shadow of his former self, the Rangers or the Yankees may be getting that top of the rotation pitcher they were hoping for in acquiring Cliff Lee.
Excluding the one game he pitched in 2009, Webb has never seen his ERA above 3.60 for a season, never given up more then .8 HR/9, and has, only once, pitched less then 200 innings. However, given his proneness to injury, I would advise the team that signs Webb to keep his IP down (especially if you want to use him in the postseason).
The All-Hospital team keeps on coming, with our next option for the Rangers and Yankees being Chris Young. Young, like Harden, Duchsherer, and Webb has been riddled with injuries and was only able to make four starts in the 2010 campaign.
One thing Young has going for him is that he was able to come back, and be very effective, at the end of the 2010 season. In the September and October months, Young pitched three games while posting a 1.29 ERA.
This would be entertaining wouldn't it? Carl Pavano signing with the Yankees...again...after his four year, $39.95 million try last time...in which he started in only 26 games over the four years...and went 9-8. I think the Yankee fans would riot in the streets if they brought Pavano back.
Pavano, however, could be an option for the Rangers. Although he had that tough four year run with the Yankees, he proved he can still pitch by going 17-11 with a 3.75 ERA and a 1.195 WHIP for the Minnesota Twins in 2010. Those numbers are certainly worth considering.
Brad Penny is another injury-suffered option for both the Rangers and Yankees. Although he only started in nine games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2010, Penny, if healthy, can be a good addition to the back of any rotation.
Penny has a career ERA just above 4 and was third in the Cy Young voting back in 2007. For the right price, and a willingness to take a risk, Penny may see himself fighting for a spot in either the Rangers or Yankees rotation come spring training.
Finally, the last Free-Agent starting pitcher, the Yankees or Rangers could look into is Freddy Garcia. Like many on this list, Garcia has suffered setbacks from injuries, but he did pitch for the entire 2010 season, for the Chicago White Sox, compiling 28 starts.
In those 28 starts Garcia went 12-6 with a 4.64 ERA, and a 1.376 WHIP.
It's been a long time since Garcia has pitched like a top-of-the-rotation kind of pitcher (you'd have to go back to 2001 when he was third in the Cy Young voting), but, if healthy, he does have solid stuff that could help a pitching staff.
Although both the Yankees and the Rangers are in need of a top starting pitcher, adding depth to the bullpen could open opportunities of trade with other teams. Thus the starting pitcher does not need to go as deep into a game because the bullpen would be more capable of holding leads.
Instead of trying to obtain a number 1 pitcher, like Zack Greinke, the Rangers/Yankees could pursue a 2 or a 3 pitcher, like a Jonathan Sanchez type instead (not saying he is available - since the Giants did just win the World Series with his help, but someone of his status - meaning he has a large upside but also has some downside that could be used as leverage in trade discussions).
Both the Yankees and the Rangers have superb set-up and closers already, so adding more power arms to pitch the middle innings could shorten the game and thus lower the quality of the pitcher the teams need to add to their rotation.
Some solid relievers these teams will want to look into are guys like Pedro Feliciano, Octavio Dotel, and Juan Cruz.
Feliciano is really tough on left-handed hitters, holding them to a .214 BA with only 23 extra-base hits in his entire career.
Octavio Dotel showed that he still had electric stuff by having a K/9 ratio of 10.5 in 2010. He also has experience being a closer so pressure situations shouldn't bother him.
Juan Cruz didn't pitch much in 2010, only appearing in five games, but he throws hard and can get a key strikeout when needed.
The final option for trying to makeup for missing out on Cliff Lee for both the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees is a mid-season trade. Chances are there will be a few more aces available than there are now, but they may cost a premium. Here's a look at a few top starters that may be available.
Chris Carpenter. Carpenter is an ace, no question. In 2010 he went 16-9 with a 3.22 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. He is under contract for the 2011 season and has a club option for the 2012 season. Although he is a core piece of the Cardinal team, the Cardinals may be forced to move him in order to make room for the extension of Albert Pujols. If dealt in 2011, the receiving team would get an ace and the Cardinals would get more value because of the club option for 2012 that goes with him (assuming his contract doesn't have the option to be waived if he gets traded). He is older, though, so he would be a temporary fix.
Johan Santana. The Mets are in rebuilding mode and may listen to offers for Santana. He's signed through the 2013 season, with an option for the 2014 season, and, when healthy, he is one of the best. Although it would be good for the Mets to get a group of prospects back for Santana, I don't see him being traded this season. Since he has a few more years left on his deal, the Mets will probably hold onto him (since he had shoulder surgery and won't be back till the middle of the 2011 season) and try to trade him at a later time. Nevertheless, if the right deal comes along, the Mets may just trade him.
Edwin Jackson. Jackson is signed for just the 2011 season with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He has proven he can be a force on the mound. Given the right package, I don't see how the Diamondbacks, who are not expected to compete in 2011, wouldn't listen to offers for him.
Wandy Rodriguez. The Astros are currently talking with their star pitcher about an extension, but should those talks fall through they may look to deal him. With a sub 4 ERA and about a constant 8.5 K/9 ratio over the last three seasons, Wandy could be a big mid-season help to a team looking to make a run in the playoffs.
Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda signed a one year contract with the Dodgers this offseason, but if the Dodgers fall out of contention they may look to move him. Kuroda does, however, have a full no-trade clause so acquiring him may be complicated. Even with the complications, he could be worth it as he has a 3.60 career ERA to go along with a career 1.17 WHIP; plus he will put you in the ballpark of 200+ innings pitched for the season.