Looking at Some Potential Free Agent Pitching Targets for the Phillies
Last night, Dan Haren signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Dodgers. In retrospect, it’s a deal I would have loved to see the Phillies make, but it probably was never going to happen as Haren has family on the West coast and wasn’t happy pitching in Washington being so far away. Still, it’s the type of deal that the Phillies should be considering this off-season. Reports have indicated the Phillies have expressed interest in Bronson Arroyo, which indicates the type of signing they ought to avoid — lengthier, more expensive deals. Recently, I had suggested the Phillies target Josh Johnson but he signed with the Padres on a one-year, $8 million deal.
Let’s look over some of the starters still left on the board that the Phillies could target.
Chris Capuano: Capuano only made 20 starts and four relief appearances in 2013 with the Dodgers due to a calf strain in April, a strained lat muscle at the end of May, and a strained groin in September. He’s 35 years old and a walking injury risk. He’s coming off of a two-year, $10 million deal with the Dodgers, but given the risk involved, he can likely be had on a one-year deal with a lower average annual value.
Scott Kazmir: After spending 2012 with Sugar Land in the Independent League, Kazmir bounced back with the Indians and rebuilt his value, finishing with a 4.04 ERA over 29 starts spanning 154 innings. He averaged better than a strikeout per inning pitched and nearly 3.5 strikeouts for every one walk. MLB Trade Rumors suggests Kazmir will sign a two-year, $16 million contract. Given that it’s the same AAV as the Johnson deal with the Padres, and Kazmir will finally turn 30 years old in January, this would be a nice fit for the Phillies.
Jeff Karstens: Karstens was solid for the Pirates in 2011-12, posting an aggregate 3.59 ERA in 253 innings spanning 41 starts and eight relief appearances. He missed all of the 2013 season due to surgery on his right shoulder to repair his labrum and his rotator cuff. He earned $2.5 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility going into the season. He will only fetch a one-year deal, likely one heavily based on playing time incentives. One year, $1 million with a chance to double his salary if he hits various playing time benchmarks would work for the Phillies.
Ryan Vogelsong: Vogelsong was in the Phillies’ Minor League system in 2010, but they released him only to have him go on and enjoy two years of great success with the Giants, including a championship in 2012. Bringing him back would be admitting a mistake, but Vogelsong’s value has once again diminished due to his age (36) and his nightmarish 2013 season. He finished with a 5.73 ERA and missed two and a half months in the middle of the season due to a broken hand suffered while batting in a game against the Nationals. He was struggling prior to the injury, however, going on the DL with a 7.19 ERA. When he returned in August, his stuff was greatly reduced — he struck out only 27 while walking 20 in 57.1 innings of work through the end of the regular season. Like Karstens, Vogelsong is likely looking at a one-year, incentive-laden deal, a reduction from 2013’s $5 million salary.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: After finishing fourth in AL Cy Young voting in 2008, Matsuzaka was a train wreck. From 2009-12, the Japanese right-hander posted a 5.53 ERA, suffering from an array of injuries. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011 but his 2012 season was no better. The Indians signed him to a Minor League deal, starting the year with Triple-A Columbus. He showed improvement, but they didn’t need him in the Major League rotation, so they released him in August. The Mets picked him up and immediately put him in their rotation. He was once again shaky in his first three starts, allowing five, four, and six runs without ever getting past the fifth inning. But in his final four starts, he posted a 1.37 ERA over 26.1 innings, including 21 strikeouts and nine walks.
The Phillies are in a position where they ought to target upside rather than stability. While not blessed with a surfeit of depth, they can still rely on Jonathan Pettibone, Adam Morgan (if he’s healthy enough), and Zach Miner-esque free agent dreck in the event their upside gambling doesn’t pan out. But a 3-4-5 in the rotation that includes Kyle Kendrick, Pettibone, and say, Bronson Arroyo isn’t likely to make them much more competitive than they are now. They’re still a solidly below .500 team and they will need a lot of help to regain relevance in the National League.