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From the Windup: Can't Afford CC or A.J.? Some Free Agent Pitching Bargains

Dec 15, 2008 – 3:00 PM
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Matt Snyder

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From the Windup is FanHouse's extended look at a particular portion of America's pastime.

While the Yankees throw big-time dollars and long term contracts at CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, and Derek Lowe mulls over lucrative long-term offers, some strapped-for-cash teams may be feeling a bit left out in the cold during this Hot Stove season. The small-market teams have a lower margin of error, and they can't afford to use their entire payroll on a risk like Burnett. If a team like the Brewers has a few holes in the rotation to plug, they should take the bargain route.

Obviously, taking a shot at a pitcher not many other teams want -- for various reasons -- doesn't necessarily mean you'll be successful.

I often think about how the Cubs signed Ryan Dempster a few years back for very little cost. He paid dividends this past season. On the flip side, the Cubs tried the same thing with Scott Williamson, and it didn't work out. With this in mind, here are 10 possible bargain starting pitchers. Obviously, the upsides of each guy vary based upon age, health, and ability.

1. Randy Johnson - The obvious drawback here is age, because he's logged over 4,000 innings on that left arm over the past 21 seasons. Still, he's only asking for a one-year contract. His ERA was a decent amount above average last year for Arizona, he threw 184 innings in 30 starts, and his K/BB ratio was still excellent (173/44). Teams could do much worse than plugging the Big Unit at the back end of their rotation, especially considering the added fanfare that team will receive when he picks up his fifth victory of the year (and the 300th of his career).

2. Jon Garland - His record (14-8) looked nice last year, but that was about it. He allowed 237 hits in under 200 innings, and only struck out 90 batters. That doesn't look so nice when teamed with 59 walks. All told, his 4.90 ERA and 1.51 WHIP were pathetic when considering his $12 million price tag. He'll be taking a significant pay cut this year. Still, he'll only be 29. He's compiled enough solid seasons -- especially a very strong '05 campaign -- to hope for an encore. At least you are guaranteed 190-plus innings out of him, which he's done for the past seven seasons. That's not bad at all for a fifth starter.

3. Jamie Moyer* - Much like Unit, Moyer's drawback is age. The difference is that Moyer survives not on power, but on guile. That should help him last a bit longer. This past season, he put together a very solid 3.71 ERA in a hitter's park. He's going to get hit every once in a while, but more often than not he's going to baffle hitters into a steady stream of popups and weak ground outs. I wouldn't expect 16 wins again, but he'll keep his team in games for the most part.

4. Brad Penny - From starting the 2006 All-Star Game to not even being wanted on the Dodgers in just a quick couple seasons. Considering his age and relatively low workload, the only reason the Dodgers wouldn't really want him back is if they believe his shoulder is still not healthy. If you can blame his pathetic '08 campaign on injury and look back at his stellar '07 work (3.03 ERA in 208 innings), it's worth a one-year contract to see if he can work himself back into shape by midseason.

5. Pedro Martinez - His days of being an elite starter are far in the rearview, as are likely the days of him being a good starter. Still, he'll only be 37 this year, and he wants to pitch. He's learned enough as a pitcher over the years to reinvent himself and survive without the high velocity. Finally, his name would be a big draw to a small market team looking to make a splash (Washington?).

6. Paul Byrd - He just turned 38, but there may be some gas left in that tank. He's not flashy, nor is he going to excel, but he can eat innings and keep your team in games. That's really all you want from a fifth starter. Plus, you get to see the old-school double-pump windup. So there's that.

7. Daniel Cabrera - The tease himself. You'll see spurts of greatness followed by extended slumps, to the point where it's reasonable to ask why this guy is even in the majors. We've been saying for years that he could be a front-line pitcher if he could just channel that immense ability and find some consistency with his command. He'll be entering his sixth year in the majors as a 28-year-old this season, so it's time to throw all expectations out the window. A change of scenery could help, and I believe you have to hope that he turns out like Oliver Perez as an absolute best case scenario.

8. Braden Looper - Last year was only his second in the bigs as a starter. He'll still only be 34 this year, so he's not old yet. He improved in most areas last season, so it's reasonable to believe he'll continue to improve, if ever so slightly. The downside is that departing Dave Duncan doesn't usually serve starters well.

9. Jason Jennings - Fans of really destitute teams, pay attention, because we're scraping the bottom of the barrel here with these last two entries. Jennings was a good starter for Colorado in 2002, earning the Rookie of the Year award. In 2006, despite a 9-13 record, he was a very good starter. His ERA -- 3.78 -- was much better than the league average, and this was pitching in Colorado (which, yes, is still a hitter's haven despite the humidor's rumored effects). He's been hurt the past two years, and quite ineffective when he did find his way to the hill. He'll only be 30, however, so a very low-priced gamble wouldn't be absurd.

10. Tim Redding - Redding sparkled for the lowly Nationals in the first half last season before falling apart in the second. Through the halfway point, Redding was 7-3 with a 3.85 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP. His second half numbers are nothing short of embarrassing, but what about a change of scenery here? Maybe Redding sucked in the second half because he lost focus playing on such a bad team? Who knows, but I do know that his first half numbers teamed with his age and low career workload make him an enticing low-risk signee for someone like the Reds or Brewers.

* - UPDATE: Right as I put the finishing touches on this piece, Jaime Moyer re-upped with the Phillies for two more years. The terms have not yet been reported, but you can bet it's a bargain.
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