What makes him so desirable?
Well, he compares favorably to other available lefties. Buehrle isn't injury-prone like Erik Bedard, expecting a monster deal like C.J. Wilson or inconsistent like Dontrelle Willis. In fact, Buehrle has been frighteningly regular from year to year.
His string of 11 consecutive 200-inning seasons is the longest active streak in baseball. He has started at least 30 games and won at least 10 in each of those campaigns.
Buehrle surrenders a few too many base hits. However, Major League franchises will still pursue him because he comes with an outstanding ability to locate pitches as well as World Series experience.
Buehrle would be a valuable addition to any starting rotation. The following five clubs would be especially grateful. Playoff berths eluded each of them in 2011. Buehrle could pitch any of them to October in 2012.
The consensus during spring training was that starting pitching would be a strength for the Red Sox. In dramatic fashion, though, the rotation faltered in September and the entire team came undone.
Josh Beckett entered the final week of the regular season with a sparkling 2.50 earned run average but inexplicably lost to the last place Baltimore Orioles in each of his final two starts (0-2, 13.1 IP, 12 ER, 14 H).
Co-ace Jon Lester went winless over his last four outings. Overall, 2011 was his least effective full season in the Majors.
Clay Buchholz never recovered from a back injury in June. Daisuke Matsuzaka underwent Tommy John surgery and is unlikely to pitch another inning for the Red Sox. Erik Bedard, Andrew Miller and Tim Wakefield all struggled as starters.
I won't even get started on John Lackey. He stunk.
Ultimately, Boston finished one game behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Wild Card race.
Going forward, Beckett, Buchholz and Lester are locks to remain on the starting staff.
Lackey is under contract for another three seasons. Management has no choice but to keep him in the rotation and hope for the best.
That leaves one vacancy for Buehrle.
I expect the Red Sox to be near the top of his wish list. They play superb defense (Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, etc...). As a guy who pitches to contact, Buehrle would have a lot of success.
Boston has a ton of money committed to their star players, but with Wakefield's and Jonathan Papelbon's salaries coming off the books, they will have the means to make an offer to Buehrle.
Cincinnati similarly wants to bolster its starting staff.
In 2011, Johnny Cueto established himself as a surefire No. 1 guy. Mike Leake improved from his rookie season and is also guaranteed a starting job.
Bronson Arroyo, Edinson Volquez and Travis Wood were all disappointments.
Arroyo holds an unfortunate franchise single-season record after allowing 46 home runs. Worse, he is signed through 2013. As his 35-year-old season approaches, there isn't a whole lot of optimism.
Volquez surrendered lots of long balls too but couldn't even last the full summer with the big league team! He was demoted to Triple-A Louisville for two months, over which time the Reds fell hopelessly out of contention. Volquez has no spot in this rotation unless he can rediscover his 2008 form (17-6, 3.21 ERA, 206 K).
Wood made great contributions in his debut season of 2010 but took a couple steps back in his sophomore campaign. His earned run average flirted with 5.00 despite a fortunately low home run rate.
Dontrelle Willis is likely to leave via free agency, and once-promising prospect Homer Bailey simply cannot stay healthy.
And of course, set-up reliever Aroldis Chapman—"The Cuban Missile"—is expected to change roles in 2012. All indications are that he will attempt to force his way into an overpopulated, underachieving rotation.
Buehrle does not slide into this situation neatly. However, Cincinnati saved money last offseason and will be looking to add some payroll this winter.
This franchise is already poised for a bounce-back year. Even a slight improvement could go a long way with the division's juggernauts, Milwaukee and St. Louis, fighting to retain Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols, respectively.
With Buehrle, the 2012 team would compete for the NL Central title.
The Nationals are better than ever. Their third-place finish in the NL East was the first in the organization's seven seasons in the nation's capital.
Stephen Strasburg is the X-factor. He returned from Tommy John surgery in September and overwhelmed the opposition in all five appearances. Few other MLB pitchers have his ability to command the strike zone and make batters look foolish (not even Buehrle can claim the latter).
Jordan Zimmermann stayed under the radar yet showed all the composure that a legitimate starting pitcher needs. He was shut down for the season after five months as a precaution but will be cleared for 200-plus innings in 2012.
Ross Detwiler took Zimmermann's September starts and pitched effectively. He'll be a rotation candidate.
Junk-baller John Lannan was the only National to last the whole season on the five-man staff. At 27, he's actually the most experienced member of this group.
Veterans Livan Hernandez and Chien-Ming Wang are both free agents and probable to land elsewhere.
Buehrle would be a natural fit in D.C. The Nationals desire a leader and have shown interest in dealing developing pitchers like Brad Peacock and Tommy Milone for outfield help. This means Buehrle would not have to compete for a rotation spot.
The line-up reeks of potential. Danny Espinosa, Michael Morse and Wilson Ramos should all build off productive seasons.
With any luck, Jayson Werth will rebound from a miserable year. Washington owes him about a gazillion dollars, so he better start earning it!
Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen anchor a well-comprised bullpen.
Also, don't forget about baseball's top prospect, outfielder Bryce Harper. Estimated time of arrival: September 2012.
Bold prediction: If the Nats acquire Buehrle, they'll dethrone the Philadelphia Phillies and win the division.
The Rockies' rotation is a mess.
They had nobody to depend on down the stretch after trading their ace, Ubaldo Jimenez, to Cleveland. Colorado received a couple awesome pitching prospects in return, Drew Pomeranz and Alex White. Both will have opportunities to start in 2012.
Jhoulys Chacin (31 starts) came closest to lasting the entire year, but he slumped through most of the second half.
Right-hander Jason Hammel will definitely stay a starter.
Meanwhile, 32-year-old Aaron Cook is not nearly worth his $11 million option. He'll be moving on.
Jorge De La Rosa and Juan Nicasio are recovering from surgeries and may reinforce the rotation mid-season. Still, Colorado needs to pursue somebody this offseason.
Buehrle really doesn't have much of an incentive to come to Denver. Although he would be the de facto ace on this staff, he'd be pitching half his games at Coors Field. The thin atmosphere and spacious outfield make it a hitter's paradise.
Aside from superstars Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies don't provide Buehrle with much offensive or defensive support.
I suspect this franchise to contend if they sign additional players and avoid injuries.
In lieu of those interesting destinations, Chicago remains a possibility.
The White Sox leaned on Buehrle in 2011. He led the team in wins, starts, ERA and innings pitched. He walked fewer than two batters per nine innings, evidence of his consistent strike-throwing.
On the other hand, Buehrle lacked the filthiness in his repertoire necessary to pick up timely strikeouts. Moreover, he did not pitch a single complete game (although he lasted eight innings five separate times). His weak September also justifies skepticism.
Starters John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Philip Humber and Jake Peavy will all stay in the rotation. Chris Sale and Zach Stewart will compete for the fifth spot.
Chicago has tens of millions of dollars tied up in lousy contracts with Peavy ($17 million), Adam Dunn ($14 million) and Alex Rios ($12 million) for 2012. As a result, Buehrle cannot be retained at $14 million per year, his constant rate since 2008.
The White Sox did not play up to their talent level last season, but they have an intriguing combination of youth and experience that is characteristic of most winning teams.
I can't say I know how Buehrle feels about the hiring of first-time manager and ex-player Robin Ventura. Their tenures in Chicago nearly coincided, but the two never played with or against one another.
Will he settle for a hometown discount? Maybe.
The bottom line is that Mark Buehrle will have options and not simply as a starter. He has opportunities to be a hero and pitch unsuccessful teams from 2011 to the playoffs next fall.