Not only are there a lot of free agent starters available, but a good number
of them throw from the left side. The Diamondbacks desperately need a
southpaw starter, as left handed batters hit .285 with 87 homers off of last
year's staff. Internally, only Evan MacLane, the southpaw acquired in the
Shawn Green deal, has a shot at making the rotation from the left side out of
spring training. Just MacLane, Doug Slaten, and Randy Choate are lefty
possibilities out of the bullpen.
The top tier available lefties are Barry Zito, Andy Pettitte, and Tom Glavine.
Zito has been living off of a pitchers park and an excellent defense behind him
for the past few seasons, and is going to be grossly overpaid by some team this
offseason. Pettitte generally handles right handed pitching better than
those who stand in the first base batter's box, so he's not a particularly good
fit. The soon-to-be 41-year old Tom Glavine decided not to exercise a
player option of $7.5 million to stay with the Mets, so may be expecting more
money than is reasonable. Josh Byrnes is simply not going to overpay for
this supposed cream of the crop.
So if he's going to fill this vacancy via free agency, Byrnes will have to
take a chance on a pitcher with some question marks. Ted Lilly was the
Miguel Batista of the Blue Jays' rotation last year; some good starts, some bad
starts, but a lot of innings pitched and a good overall ERA. Yet Lilly is
only one year removed from a 5.56 ERA season, so he is hardly a safe bet.
Bruce Chen is the epitome of a good year/bad year type of player, but last
season was his worst yet, and I don't think that the Diamondbacks want to get
The two most likely free agent lefties to sign with Arizona are Mark Mulder
or Randy Wolf. Points in Mulder's favor are that he is just 29, resides in
the Phoenix area, has been a workhorse in the past, and has allowed just two
runs in three career starts against Arizona (all wins). However, he has
had significant injuries the past two seasons, resulting in widespread
ineffectiveness, and is an extreme flyball pitcher, so might not succeed in the
dry heat of Arizona even if everything's right with him. Wolf has also had
injuries these past two seasons, but should come at a cheaper price, has also
handled the Diamondbacks well, and has been more effective lately when healthy
enough to pitch. He's also used to pitching in a home run park.
Besides saving money, the other advantage to acquiring a high-risk starting
pitcher is that if he gets injured or completely flops by May, the Diamondbacks
should have a better idea of which of their high-level pitching prospects would
be ready to replace them. To get another pitcher besides Livan Hernandez
who's good for 200 innings and a 5.00 ERA would be counterproductive, because he
might actually clog up a rotation spot for a more effective pitcher.
Finally, Byrnes could fill the rotation spot via a trade. Given the
fact that the market for starting pitchers has exploded over the past three
seasons, there are a lot of pitchers still signed under old deals who look like
great bargains in this new market. The problem is that the General
Managers who signed them know this, and won't give them up without a fight.
Sorry to disappoint the fans of 29 teams who are all certain that Dontrelle Willis will be in their club's rotation by the spring, but Larry Beinfest isn't
going to trade Willis for anything less than a genetic replica of Walter
One possible option is Mark Buehrle, who is under contract for $9.5 million.
The White Sox need to clear room in their rotation for Brandon McCarthy,
desperately need to re-stock their minor league system, and have dealt with Josh
Byrnes twice before already. However, even though you might have to pay as
much money for a less effective Ted Lilly, Randy Wolf, or Mark Mulder, you would
not need to give up any talent in order to sign them. While the
Diamondbacks do have surplus young talent at several positions, they also gave
themselves a lot of payroll flexibility last season.
They are one of the few fortunate franchises to have enough resources to
improve themselves either through trades or through free agency this season.
Josh Byrnes has cleaned up the mess that he inherited, and will be dealing from
a position of strength for the first time in his Arizona tenure.
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