2012 MLB Free Agency: Every Team's Pitching Target This Offseason
The saying has always been "pitching wins championships."
Obviously, it takes a little more than just pitching to make the postseason and progress through the playoffs and into the World Series, but pitching is arguably the most important part of the roster to focus offseason attention for most teams.
Although subject to slumps, just like their position player counterparts, pitching can be tailored to fit a team's strengths.
Certain teams may fair better with fly-ball pitchers. Some teams will need to utilize ground-ball pitchers. All teams benefit from strikeout pitchers.
Then there's whether the team lacks depth in the starting rotation, middle innings, specialty pitchers, setup men and closers.
The point of this particular slideshow is to identify the pitching roster need of each team and speculate which free-agent pitcher the team is most likely to target this offseason.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Kerry Wood
Arizona General Manger Kevin Towers built a fairly solid bullpen in his first season running the team in 2011.
He acquired David Hernandez, J.J. Putz and Joe Patterson last December. All three players were significant contributors to the Diamondbacks NL West Division title.
One area that the club could still use a little depth is a solid setup man. Midseason acquisition, Brad Ziegler, could provide some solid innings in the eighth inning.
Kerry Wood, if he is willing to sign outside of Chicago, would be the best and most likely fit for Arizona this winter.
Wood was 3-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 55 appearances for the Cubs last season.
Since being converted to a reliever out of necessity to prevent injuries as a starter, Wood has been very reliable and would provide the Diamondbacks with the bullpen depth to make another run at the NL West title and a postseason run in 2012.
Atlanta Braves: Hiroki Kuroda
The Atlanta Braves are one of the very few teams that really does not need pitching help this offseason.
Of course, that doesn't mean they won't venture into the free-agent market and try to lock up a veteran to help lessen the load on some of their young arms and provide experience to help mold them into big-league pitchers.
It's no guarantee that Randall Delgado, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran will all make the club out of spring training, so a veteran starter to eat some innings could be a valuable addition.
A trade for James Shields would provide them the best available arm, but at what cost?
A more realistic route is a competitive offer to Hiroki Kuroda.
Kuroda is most likely to either stick with the Dodgers or return to Japan to pitch a final season before retiring, but the Braves may be able to entice him with a competitive offer and the realistic opportunity to pitch in the postseason, something the Dodgers can't realistically ensure.
Kuroda was just 13-16 last season, but he did post an impressive 3.07 ERA while topping 200 innings pitched for the first time in his Major League career.
Baltimore Orioles: Rich Harden
The Baltimore Orioles need to clean up their starting rotation mess before they can be taken seriously as contenders in the AL East.
Chris Tillman may yet become a very good pitcher. He's certainly shown flashes, but he remains inconsistent.
Brian Matusz was removed from the rotation but is still young enough that he could turn it around.
Zach Britton gives Baltimore fans reason to be excited, but he needs more help along with veteran ace Jeremy Guthrie.
Last offseason, the Orioles gambled and lost on former Athletics pitcher Justin Duchscherer. That doesn't mean they shouldn't take another shot on a former Athletics pitcher and go after Rich Harden though.
Harden managed to stay healthy the entire second half of the season after overcoming a muscle strain that cost him the first part of the year.
His overall stats aren't impressive at 4-4 with a 5.12 ERA (his second season in a row with over a 5.00 ERA), but he showed flashes of dominance for Oakland and boosted his K/9 ratio to 9.9.
Boston Red Sox: Yu Darvish
John Lackey was an absolute disaster for the Boston Red Sox and injuries to Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka hurt their rotation in 2011.
Josh Beckett and Jon Lester were both good but not quite up to their own standard in 2011.
Erik Bedard is an option to return to the Red Sox in 2012, and the team did show interest in Rich Harden right up until the trade deadline. They could make a run at him in free agency this winter.
Yu Darvish seems the best fit for Boston though. The team has the financial resources to pay his posting fee and also negotiate a salary with him to bring him to Boston rather than remaining in Japan.
Darvish's statistics in Japan in 2011 were very impressive (17-6, 223 IP, 1.49 ERA, .843 WHIP, 261 K, 35 BB).
Chicago Cubs: Francisco Rodriguez
The Chicago Cubs will likely see a bit of a roster overhaul this offseason, their first under the oversight of Theo Epstein, as they they try to end their World Series drought.
One decision that the Cubs will need to make is whether they stick with Carlos Marmol as their closer or not.
Although he can be unhittable at times, he can also be downright awful at others.
A new closer seems to be in order for the Cubs, and there are plenty of them available this offseason.
In 31 appearances in the NL Central for the Brewers (following his trade from the Mets), Francisco Rodriguez posted a 1.86 ERA, 10.2 K/9 ratio and 3.30 K/BB rate.
He'll be just 30 years old next season and still has several good seasons left in his arm.
His familiarity (albeit limited) and success throughout his career should make Francisco Rodriguez the top target this offseason if the Cubs go outside their organization to fill the closer role.
Chicago White Sox: Mark Buehrle
The Chicago White Sox rotation is in pretty good shape, even with the possible departure of Mark Buehrle this offseason.
Their top offseason pitching target is none other than Mr. Buehrle, though.
He finished this season 13-9 with a 3.59 ERA, 205 innings pitched, 109 strikeouts, 41 walks and a 2.42 K/BB rate.
The Sox would probably be better served targeting middle relievers this winter, but Buehrle is a fan favorite who has spent his entire career in Chicago.
They will try to bring him back before targeting any other pitchers seriously.
Cincinnati Reds: Francisco Cordero
Francisco Cordero had a solid season as the Reds closer in 2011, posting a 5-3 record, 2.45 ERA and 37 saves.
The Reds would like to have him back in 2012 but not at the current price of his $12 million option.
They will likely choose the $1 million buyout and try their best to negotiate a cheaper price to keep him in Cincinnati for 2012 before they turn to the free agency or the trade market.
While I fully expect Cordero to be their top target, I wouldn't be surprised to see them make a run at Huston Street of the Colorado Rockies or Andrew Bailey if the A's listen to offers on their young closer.
Cleveland Indians: Bruce Chen
The Cleveland Indians have a good young core of pitchers in their rotation.They thought they were solidifying the rotation with their midseason acquisition of former All-Star Ubaldo Jimenez, yet he failed to return to his prior-dominant form with Cleveland.
With Carlos Carrasco likely out for the season following Tommy John surgery, the Indians could use another arm to help fill the gap for a season.
A veteran type pitcher that could eat up some innings and provide veteran leadership for the younger group.
Bruce Chen seems to fit the mold and won't cost the Indians a ton of salary space.
He finished 2011 with a 12-8 record, 3.77 ERA, 155 innings pitched and a 1.94 K/BB ratio.
It wouldn't be the biggest splash the Indians could make, but it would be a quality arm to help fill a temporary void.
Colorado Rockies: Jason Marquis
Long term, the Rockies pitching rotation will be solid, but they will need to find starters to fill out the rotation for at least the beginning of the 2012 season.
Jorge De La Rosa and Juan Nicasio will be back at some point in 2012 but will both probably miss the beginning of the season due to injuries.
Thus, the Rockies will need to find healthy pitchers to provide them with some quality starts until De la Rosa and Nicasio are ready to return.
Jason Marquis, despite recovering from his own season-ending injury, should be one of the first names the Rockies contact.
He was having a respectable season with the Washington Nationals prior to his trade to the Diamondbacks, posting a 8-5 record and a 3.95 ERA.
He also has prior experience with the Rockies, where he spent the 2009 season. He was 15-13 with a 4.04 ERA pitching in the mile-high altitude that season.
Detroit Tigers: Jose Valverde
The Detroit Tigers biggest area of concern this offseason is their bullpen.
The biggest hole they can fill is also one of the easiest.
Valverde has a $9 million team option in his contract that it seems very likely the Tigers will exercise.
Valverde posted a 2.24 ERA and was a perfect 49-for-49 in save opportunities.
Florida Marlins: Livan Hernandez
The Florida Marlins will be looking to upgrade their starting rotation as they move into their new stadium to open next season.
Javier Vazquez had a bounce-back second half and would likely be welcomed back if the two sides can come to terms on a new a contract for next season.
Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco, Chris Volstad and Josh Johnson occupy the other four starts.
Based on Johnson's recovery and Vazquez's return, the Marlins will likely turn their attention to Livan Hernandez as their top offseason target.
He didn't have the best season with the Washington Nationals, but the veteran is familiar with the National League East and should come very affordable.
He began his career with the Marlins, and it would be a sort of coming full circle type of reunion for the two sides.
Houston Astros: Guillermo Mota
Let's be honest, the Houston Astros have a lot of holes heading into 2012, and there is no one player that will fix them all.
One of the biggest areas of concern is the bullpen though.
Brandon Lyon is not guaranteed to make a return after undergoing surgery to fix a detached bicep and torn labrum.
A veteran bullpen arm will likely be the top offseason target as the Astros try to find a balance between remaining competitive and seeing through their rebuild to keep them in the mix long-term.
Guillermo Mota was effective in 52 appearances for the San Francisco Giants in 2011, posting a 3.81 ERA, and would represent the veteran experience the Astros could use to help mold their younger players.
Kansas City Royals: Edwin Jackson
The Kansas City Royals have a good lineup but need to upgrade their starting rotation this offseason.
Both Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis are free agents this offseason. The Royals will likely make a run at bringing both of them back, but they will still need to add another quality starting arm to the mix to help lead them to contention in 2012.
Edwin Jackson was a combined 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA for the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals this season.
He's just 28 years old and would instantly become one of the Royals top pitchers.
He earned $8.75 million this season but shouldn't see a drastic jump in his salary for 2012, keeping him in the Royals price range.
Los Angeles Angels: Hisashi Iwakuma
Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana make up a solid 1-3 in the Angels rotation.
Tyler Chatwood struggled in the second half of the season, though, and the fact that he was rushed to the Major Leagues became obvious.
Scott Kazmir was released due to his ineffectiveness, and Joel Pineiro also had a subpar season.
Hisashi Iwakuma almost went to the division rival Oakland Athletics last offseason and should be the Angels top target this offseason.
Iwakuma was solid again in his final season for Rakuten, posting a 2.42 ERA in his final season in Japan.
He'd slide into the Angels rotation and provide them with a solid No. 4 starter.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Hiroki Kuroda
Clayton Kershaw is the undeniable ace of the Los Angeles Dodgers staff, but beyond him, there are no clear star pitchers in the Dodgers rotation though.
Hiroki Kuroda has been very reliable for the Dodgers the past four seasons.
The Dodgers would like to have him back, and it seems he would like to return.
It's hard to imagine a deal not getting done, but even more so when you consider that Kuroda is probably their biggest offseason pitching target.
Re-signing Jonathan Broxton is also a priority for the Dodgers this offseason.
Milwaukee Brewers: Kerry Wood
The Milwaukee Brewers will decline the $17.5 million option on setup man Francisco Rodriguez. It's really not a question of if, but just a question of when that will happen.
With the starting rotation returning entirely intact, the Brewers will focus their attention on their bullpen.
In addition to K-Rod, Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins are also free agents.
The top offseason target should be Kerry Wood, who is familiar with the division thanks to a long career with the Chicago Cubs.
Wood would (wow that sounded weird re-reading that) offer significant help to Brewer's closer John Axford and lock down the eighth and ninth innings.
Minnesota Twins: Joe Nathan and Matt Capps
The Minnesota Twins are not likely to pick up the $12.5 million option on Joe Nathan's contract.
Matt Capps is also not a lock to return unless he agrees to less than his $7.15 million salary this season.
The Twins will likely decline the option on Nathan but do their best to re-sign him to a more club-friendly contract.
He showed signs of returning to his former self in the second half of the season and even at 37-years old, he could still be a solid bullpen arm for the Twins.
Similarly, Matt Capps (albeit much younger than Nathan), is another player the Twins will likely work hard to re-sign on a more club-friendly contract.
In the case of Capps, though, there will likely be a larger market for his services.
I think the Twins will prioritize bringing these two players back before dipping into free agency or the trade market though.
New York Mets: Jonathan Broxton
The Mets can use offseason help in both their starting rotation and bullpen.
Although they may seek a starting pitcher, I find it much more likely that they will wait and see how Johan Santana responds to his rehab.
After trading Francisco Rodriguez last offseason though, the Mets will likely make a run at the Dodger's Jonathan Broxton this winter.
Despite missing almost all of 2011 with injuries, Broxton is a two-time All-Star with an 11.5 K/9 ratio for his career.
He'd be a good fit in New York.
New York Yankees: CC Sabathia
I would assume that it's a pretty safe assumption that CC Sabathia is going to opt out of his current contract.
I don't really see him signing anywhere other than New York, but once he hits the free-agent market, that does become a possibility.
The Yankees top offseason pitching target is undoubtedly their current ace.
They should do all that is within their power to convince him not to sign out, but once he does, they will need to do even more to make sure that no other teams swoop in and steal him away from the Bronx.
Oakland Athletics: Rich Harden
The Oakland A's, like the Atlanta Braves, are another team that really does not need to address their pitching staff this offseason.
They have Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy, Dallas Braden, Josh Outman, Graham Godfrey, Guillermo Moscoso and Tyson Ross all returning to fill out their rotation (all spent some time in the rotation in 2011).
They also have their bullpen set, assuming they exercise the option on Michael Wuertz's contract.
The one thing that always seems to be a need in the injury-plagued Oakland clubhouse is depth though.
While it may seem a bit contradictory to consider Rich Harden the answer to an injury problem, he could be just that.
The A's could bring Harden back to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation in 2012 and as insurance for injuries. He slipped right back into the A's rotation as a result of injuries this past season after all.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Aaron Harang
The Pirates are another one of those teams that has good pitching depth and a ton of young talent.
Where they could, and probably should, look to improve over the winter is by adding a veteran starter to help with the development of some of the younger arms while eating up some innings to protect the bullpen from over use.
Aaron Harang is the perfect fit for the Pirates in 2012.
Harang has been an underrated starting pitcher throughout his career. He had a bounce-back season in 2011 after a pair of bad seasons in 2009-2010 with the Reds.
He posted a 14-7 record this season with a 3.64 ERA and 2.14 K/BB rate.
Philadelphia Phillies: Jonathan Papelbon
This slide is more a fit for the player than the team, but in reality, it would represent an upgrade at the position.
The Philadelphia Phillies are stacked in the starting rotation and really only have a pitching void at the closer position.
Ryan Madson probably should be the team's target this offseason, but he will be one of the most in-demand relievers on the market.
Jonathan Papelbon also figures to hit the open market given Boston's willingness to listen to offers for him the past two seasons and may be a perfect fit in Philadelphia.
For his career Papelbon has a 2.33 ERA, 219 saves, a 2.4 BB/9 rate, a 10.7 K/9 rate and a 4.45 K/BB rate.
Papelbon has one of those personality that screams to be in a major market. With the Yankees closer spot occupied and a return to Boston uncertain, Philadelphia just makes way too much sense for it not to at least be explored.
San Diego Padres: Heath Bell
Heath Bell has been one of the elite closers in baseball the past three seasons.
He was one of the biggest names on the trade market this past season prior to the deadline and should be the Padres top pitching target this offseason.
They will offer him arbitration in order to obtain compensatory draft picks if he signs elsewhere, but they will also do all within their power to sign him to an affordable long-term deal to stay in San Diego.
Bell could be back with the Padres in 2012 even without a long-term deal if he decides to accept their arbitration offer, although that would be significantly more costly for the Padres.
San Francisco Giants: Mike Gonzalez
The San Francisco Giants starting rotation is set and their closer role is filled by the most eccentric man in baseball (Brian Wilson, just in case you've been living under a rock the past two seasons).
The Giants bullpen was a strength for the second straight season as well.
Their only pitching need heading into the winter is a lefty reliever.
Mike Gonzalez, although not great with either Baltimore or Texas the past two seasons, represents one of the best lefty arms on the market.
He was very good in previous National League experiences, posting a sub-2.00 ERA twice and remaining under 3.00 three additional seasons.
His career ERA is 2.94 and he also has a career 2.51 K/BB rate.
Seattle Mariners: Yu Darvish
The Seattle Mariners have solid young pitching as well, perhaps the best rotation in baseball as early as 2013, but they could get even stronger if they win the bidding for Japanese star Yu Darvish.
The Mariners need another solid arm or two behind Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda and Darvish's 17-6, 223 IP, 1.49 ERA, .843 WHIP, 261 K, 35 BB pitching line in 2011 for his Japanese team is hard to beat by any other free agent pitcher on the market.
Mariners principal owner Hiroshi Yamauchi could continue his club's visibility in Japan after the successes Ichiro Suzuki has had with the Seattle Mariners and the profit the Mariners have benefited from worldwide by his presence.
The Mariners and Athletics open their season in Japan next season as well with a pair of games. Having Darvish start one of those games along with Felix Hernandez would be a huge boost to MLB's ratings and an even bigger boost to fan excitement (already high for the potential of an Ichiro vs. Hideki Matsui showdown).
St. Louis Cardinals: Ryan Madson
The St. Louis Cardinals tied up one of their top offseason priorities when they signed Chris Carpenter to a two-year extension in September.
Now, despite the success of Fernando Salas in the role, the Cardinals will need to address their closer position this winter.
They don't appear the most logical fit for Jonathan Broxton or Jonathan Papelbon, but either Heath Bell or Ryan Madson could be logical fits for the Cardinals.
Madson seems the more probable of the two star closers given his experience pitching in a hitting friendly ballpark in Philadelphia (and postseason experience).
Tampa Bay Rays: Kyle Farnsworth
The Tampa Bay Rays have one of the best pitching staffs in the entire league. With their starting rotation returning intact (perhaps minus James Shields if the team trades him), the only focus their pitching staff needs this offseason is on the closer role heading into 2012.
Kyle Farnsworth lived up to and exceeded expectations during 2011.
Farnsworth went 5-1 with a 2.18 ERA and 25 saves for the Wild Card champion Tampa Bay Rays.
His $2.6 million salary wound up being a bargain, and the Rays may have to step up their efforts and offer him a higher salary figure in 2012 if they want to retain his services.
Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish
The Texas Rangers addressed their bullpen issues prior to the trade deadline this summer, but they will have some question marks with their starting rotation entering next season.
They will need to either retain C.J. Wilson or find an adequate replacement if he leaves via free agency.
Some of their younger pitchers also tired down the stretch a little, although they have remained successful in the postseason, reaching the World Series.
Yu Darvish would be a solid acquisition for the Rangers, and many other teams as we've already established.
George King and Mike Puma of The New York Post believe the Rangers could pursue Darvish as a cheaper option than keeping Wilson.
Toronto Blue Jays: Heath Bell
The Toronto Blue Jays biggest pitching need is an upgrade at closer.
Frank Francisco, acquired from the Texas Rangers last offseason, filled the role in 2011 but had an up-and-down season.
Francisco saved 17 games and posted a 3.55 ERA but had lost the job by midseason, only to reclaim it when Jon Rauch got injured.
Heath Bell would be the perfect closer to contend against the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East late in the game.
If the Blue Jays fail to land Bell, expect them to make a run at Huston Street or Jonathan Broxton as well.
Washington Nationals: Erik Bedard
The Washington Nationals have a chance to have a VERY good pitching rotation in 2012.
Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman are both very solid and will nail down the top two spots in the starting five.
Brad Peacock and John Lannan should occupy the next two slots.
The Nationals have several candidates that could compete for the fifth spot, but a veteran starter is their best option to provide some experience to younger group.
Erik Bedard proved he was healthy in 2011 in a season split between the Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox and would provide the Nationals with a quality lefty arm to anchor their rotation and help mentor his rotation-mates.
Washington will also be in on the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, but it's just a little hard to see them landing the Japanese star.
C.J. Wilson and Edwin Jackson are other potential targets.