The market for starting pitchers this offseason is remarkably bare. There seems to be a consensus that C.J. Wilson is the best available option for teams and will get the biggest contract of any pitcher.
However, based purely on performance, Mark Buehrle deserves more than Wilson.
Wilson has the upside that teams love so much and are willing to take a risk on because if he lives up to his potential, he can be a difference-maker for a rotation.
The problem is there are a lot of if's that enter into the equation.
Wilson has never had great command and at 31 years old, it is highly unlikely that will get any better as his career continues. He had the lowest walk rate of his career in 2011 at 2.98 per nine innings pitched, which is nearly one walk better per nine innings than his previous career-best.
The biggest thing that Wilson has working in his favor is that he has only been a starter for two seasons, which means that his arm does not have the normal wear-and-tear that most 31-year-old pitchers do.
Buehrle, on the other hand, has over 2,400 innings pitched in his career and will turn 33 before the start of the 2012 season.
So why should Buehrle get more money than Wilson?
Two reasons: Consistency and durability.
In Buehrle's 11 full seasons as a major league starting pitcher, he has thrown at least 201 innings 11 times. He has posted an ERA under 4.00 eight times and has only had an ERA over 4.30 once.
Buehrle makes at least 30 starts every year because his mechanics are so smooth. He does not have the knockout pitch that Wilson does.
He is the definition of a finesse pitcher, but he has such good command and control of his pitches in the strike zone that he does not need to throw hard to produce.
In addition to Buehrle's consistency and durability, he is also the best fielding pitcher in MLB today.
Any team that signs Buehrle must have a good defense because opposing hitters are going to put the ball in play, but that is the only drawback to signing him.
Wilson strikes me as an A.J. Burnett-type pitcher, even though Wilson's stuff isn't as good. He is going to get a huge contract from a team that is desperate for pitching, but there is significant risk attached to him.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has spoken briefly with representatives for Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson and Wilson, and plans to contact Jeff Berry, who represents Buehrle.
A month ago, an agent who doesn’t represent Wilson predicted the lefty would command a five- or six-year deal for $15 million per season.
Three evaluators tabbed Buehrle over Wilson for the Yankees, and two picked Wilson even though they admitted having questions whether the opinionated pitcher would be a good fit in New York.
While I don't think that would be a good fit because his skills don't translate well against the lineups in the American League East, the team at least understands and respects that Buehrle is a more consistent option that Wilson.
It won't happen because Wilson has the upside of a No. 2 starter, but based on performance alone, Buehrle should be able to negotiate a greater average annual salary than any other starting pitcher on the market.